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Novaya Gazeta, October 20, 2003

The Defence Minister Surrounded by Generals

Interview with Alexei Arbatov, Deputy Chairman of the Defence Committee of the State Duma by Irina Gordyenko

Question: Russia does not have a strategic enemy across the ocean. No enemy means peace, right? Are the military reforms in Russia preparations for peace?

Arbatov: Any changes in the structure of the Armed Forces are, first and foremost, preparations for a war. These preparations prevent aggression.

The threat of aggression against Russia by foreign countries does not exist these days. There is, however, a possibility of conflicts between foreign countries that Russia may find itself dragged into, say in the Caucasus, Central and South Asia, or a conflict between the United States and Iran or South Korea.

Question: Soviet military doctrine was quite precise, viewing Western imperialism as the enemy. Is there anybody nowadays agaist whom we can say unequivocallythat we are preparing ourselves for war?

Arbatov: Unlike its Soviet predecessor, Russia's military doctrine is defensive. It does not personify external enemies. As I see it, Russia is facing new types of threats and challenges - fundamentalism, armed separatism, terrorism, arms smuggling, trafficking, poaching, organized crime. They all jeopardize the national security of the country.

Question: There was the Warsaw Pact once. Do you think Russia should join some military alliance to withstand the threats?

Arbatov: The era of such military-political unions is over. The Warsaw Pact was the first to collapse for a number of reasons. NATO too is entering a period of uncertainty. The enemy as we all knew it once is no longer. When it conducts military operations, the United States relies on alliances and coalitions formed for the specific purpose.

Question: And what about the CIS Collective Security Treaty that Russia signed? Surely this is an alliance against the threats and challenges you listed?

Arbatov: The so-called Tashkent Treaty (signed by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia) cannot be viewed as a fully-fledged military-political alliance. There is no common enemy or collective armed forces. There is no principle of consensus in collective decision-making, a must in all military alliances.

Question: Does this mean that the army under the circumstances is merely an appendage of the secret services, without any purpose or objectives of its own?

Arbatov: The last document the General Staff discussed consists of three components. The first part was political and actually quite reasonable. The second part was military, strategic and operational, describing the nature of possible conflicts and ways to prepare for them. The Alliance is not mentioned in the document directly, but everything there indicates that it is referring to NATO . The matter concerns an enemy possessing advanced air-space forces, information systems, high-precision weapons systems, etc.

The third part concerns the armament program, budget, military-technical policy and conflicts with the first two parts. This section promotes the interests of the military bureaucracy that does not want the army reduced or military reforms implemented. It is hardly surprising. Who wants a reduction or changes in his own ranks?

Question: Generals always complain of a shortage of funds for rearmament. Meanwhile the military budget grows every year, judging by official reports. How much does the military need to stop complaining?

Arbatov: The colossal size of the army, consistig of 1 million servicemen and 0.8 million civilians will eat up any amount and demand more. Maintenance of the huge army accounts for over 70% of the military budget: the leftover is not sufficient for rearmament and combat training. Furthermore it does no concur with political and strategic tasks.

Nobody needs such a huge army in peace time. The US Army is 1.3 million men strong, and that is too much for the Americans, even though their economy is ten times the size of Russia's economy and military budget is twenty times that of Russia's.

Question: Our defense minister is supposedly civilian. The idea was fought by the military establishment, but when Ivanov became minister over protestations and objections, the country was told that the military viewed Ivanov as a stranger...

Arbatov: The top military command is a complicated mechanism welded together by common views, corporate solidarity and professional ethics. I'm convinced, however, that the defense ministry should be civilian. I am not referring to the individual minister, I mean the institution. The minister needs an ample apparatus of civilian and military aides, advisers, and specialists helping him to draw his conclusions. But when it is just a single civilian, he inevitably will find himself surrounded by generals. He will inevitably find himself a hostage of their evaluations, suggestions, covert compromises and programmes.

Question: But the military command is not monolithic. There is a struggle of ideas, interests, and so on. Even the struggle between various groups of generals. Generals see Ivanov as an outsider. Can he play the role of arbiter?

Arbatov: No. Ivanov is not playing any such role, as nobody approaches him with alternative ideas. Branches of the service answer to the General Staff. As I see it, generals come to Ivanov with a single position or single opinion. It restricts his abilities to wield any clout with military development and military policy.


See also:

The Russian Army

Russia and NATO

Novaya Gazeta, October 20, 2003

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