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Preconditions for a Russian RMA: Can Russia Make the Transition?

Stephen Blank

Strategic Studies Institute
Army War College

International Studies Association
41st Annual Convention
Los Angeles, CA
March 14-18, 2000


Can Russia experience the revolution in military affairs (RMA) and reemerge as a premier military power? Four reasons justify asking this question. First, it only took Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia fifteen years to move from being unimportant military powers in 1925 to military preeminence in 1940-45. Second, answering this question helps clarify what constitutes an RMA and how a state and society successfully consummate it. Third, Russia’s invulnerability to foreign invasion due to its nuclear arsenal offers it options other than our technologically driven RMA. Perhaps we must investigate those neglected options.

Finally, Russian elites fervently believe that Russia remains a great, even global, power and will regain its earlier status. Many elites even expect or hope for a restoration that includes territorial revision of today’s territorial status quo at the expense of the post-Soviet CIS. 1 As Foreign Minister and Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov repeatedly argued that Russia’s potential makes it a global player. 2 A leading military thinker, General Makhmut A. Gareyev, (ret.) director of the Military Academy of the Russian Academy of Sciences wrote that,

The main idea of contemporary Russia is that it can, must, and will be reborn and develop as a great power. This is not determined by someone’s wishes, but by fundamental objective factors: historical traditions, geopolitical situation in the world, real economic, political, and spiritual needs, which would always manifest themselves and are impossible to ‘cancel.’ We must be ready to defend this idea. 3

This testament of faith reflects that elite mentality despite the tragic and destructive consequences of the quest for greatness at home and abroad. This fundamental belief has often led Russia’s elites to sacrifice economic welfare to the paraphernalia of great power status. The latest version of this process led the Soviet Union and now Russia into disintegration, poverty and default. Russia’s military-political elites see Russia facing marginalization abroad, perceive dangers, if not threats, everywhere, carry an unjustified and unachievable sense of great power entitlement, and generally cannot educate themselves or Russia about the limits of Russian power. For a true RMA to happen a fundamental change either for society’s betterment or towards a new form of authoritarianism must take place. The state, economy and armed forces must all undergo profound changes.

Prerequisites for an RMA

What would such an RMA look like? Colin Gray’s and R.G. Bowdish’s definitions are the most useful of the many definitions of the RMA because they focus on its socio-organizational aspects, not just technological and ideational ones. Gray states that,

An RMA is what occurs when the application of new technologies into a significant number of military systems combines with innovative operational concepts and organizational adaptation in a way that fundamentally alters the character and conduct of a conflict. It does so by producing a dramatic increase — often an order of magnitude or greater — in the combat potential and militaryeffectiveness of armed forces. 4

Bowdish states that an RMA is,

A fundamental advance in technology, doctrine, and/or organization, either singly, or in combination, that significantly transcends existing methods within a segment of the spectrum of conflict. 5

These definitions tell us that for an RMA to occur, it must be part of a broader, comprehensive, coinciding social revolution, that either precedes or stimulates it. Many scholars trace these comprehensive socio-economic-military changes back to the broader technological changes of the past generation that constitute changes in the very nature of production. 6 As a true military revolution develops, no matter where it starts, it alters society in countless unforeseen ways. The diffusion of new technologies and/or techniques throughout the armed forces itself transforms social relations in general.

Bowdish also recognizes that the actual military transformation need not originate in technology but could grow out of a revolution in ideas or social organization, e.g. the French revolutionary levee en masse. History suggests that Russia might find primarily non-technological solutions other than our fixation with a technologically driven RMA and thereby confound our complacent and narrow-minded expectations. Second, by writing "significantly transcends", Bowdish acknowledges that older forms of warfare remain valid even after the RMA occurs. Nuclear weapons have not eliminated conventional war and neither they nor nuclear weapons will simply die out or become unprofitable just because we have newer technology. Current Russian strategy stresses nuclear instruments precisely because Moscow cannot afford the RMA’s high-tech conventional weapons but must deter it and newer forms of warfare such as information warfare’s (IW) inherent threats. 7 Russia’s interest in preemptive or first-strike employment of nuclear weapons might be the only way to deter IW and high-tech conventional warfare. 8

Finally Bowdish’s approach also signifies that the RMA may apply only to certain kinds of conflicts or points along the spectrum of conflict, not war in general. However, any aspirant to military eminence will likely try to undergo the RMA to gain the capability for waging high-end wars. This is true even if they can only fight those wars on a regional basis. Robbin Laird and Holger Mey argue that our allies cannot follow the U.S.’ path towards an RMA and presumably this also applies to Russia. Instead these governments may be able to pursue RMAs that enhance their capacity for achieving only regional goals and networking requirements. 9 That would limit their ability to compete across the spectrum of conflict but they would certainly have achieved some form of the RMA. Paul Dibb makes a similar argument for Asia. 10 Of course, Russia may not need to imitate U.S. policy to fight only a large-scale theater conventional war. Just as those who defeated us avoided fighting our kind of war, Russia could follow their example by rejecting U.S. thinking about the RMA and the nature of future war. Then it would successfully orient its forces to other kinds of contingencies. But more likely there must be a large-scale, if still undefined, transformation throughout society for a meaningful RMA to occur. That transformation must penetrate all sectors of production and must generate appropriate innovative forms of economic, social, political, and ultimately military organization. That is, Russia probably must transform its government, economy, and armed forces.

But the armed forces cannot be passive recipients of external stimuli. They too must first develop new visions of future war, and devise viable operational concepts for employing its forces in those future wars. In turn, those concepts become realizable only when new and appropriate organizational forms spread to the military and optimize the armed forces’ ability to execute those new concepts of war. 11 Such reforms have proven elusive and difficult to consummate in Russia. Gareyev noted that the General Staff in the late 1970s recommended urgent changes in military organization. Fierce opposition from entrenched organizations and the stifling Soviet restrictions upon military thinking obstructed these reforms’ implementation until now when some of them have been decreed. 12 Without such organizational adaptation, no matter what else is achieved, the results will be at best partial ones.

The reason is simple. Organizational transformations translate superior visions of future war or superior technology into superior strategic performance because organization is itself a form of technology. 13 A state that cannot match contemporary requirements of military organization, even if it possesses superior technology, will inevitably falter. Because more effective organizations are themselves superior technologies embodying more effective forms of technology, the RMA need not begin with or encompass only technological change. Evolutionary technological changes can follow profound organizational changes to revolutionize a state’s military capability. Peter the Great first transformed the state and army to magnify their capability to import existing technologies and organizational forms into Russia thereby revolutionizing it and transforming European history. 14 Therefore neither technology nor new ideas and visions about future war are the crucial factors of an RMA. Rather it is the state’s ability to create and develop institutions and organizations that maximize the potential inherent in those ideas and/or technologies. While technological and economic power are the acknowledged foundations of military power, without the administrative capacity to transform the state, military, and society in the appropriate direction, most, if not all states will achieve at best partial RMA’s. 15 If system integration lies at the heart of the RMA’s military dimension then we are discussing more than just high-quality production and engineering techniques but also highly refined forms of social organization. 16

A protectionist attitude towards socio-economic change inhibits the development of such societal forms, especially in already backward states and societies. Protectionism towards social and technological change in an open, transparent, and global economy must restrict and inhibit socio-organizational innovation. Therefore Russia’s rising protectionist trend against foreign economic competition and imports, coupled with nationalist rhetoric of the superiority of homegrown products can make Russia even more backward and uncompetitive than it is now.

State, Economy and the Armed Forces, The Russian Reality

Russia’s ability to find its way to an RMA hinges on its ability to master new forms of social organization. Unhappily, little indicates official recognition of what is necessary or action to build even its rudiments. Although Russia has reorganized defense industry 11 times since 1992, it still cannot compete or produce high-quality military goods for Russia’s army because the army cannot afford to buy them. Therefore it must export, often state of the art systems, to potential future enemies. 17 Too many elites still think defense industry is the locomotive that will reignite the economy and continue advocating throwing money at this monster. Yevgeny Anan’ev, former head of Russia’s arms sales company, Rosvooruzhenie, expressed this elite belief when he argued that,

In essence, weapons are now the most high-tech Russian exports meeting world standards today. Weapons represent around 80 percent of all Russian industrial exports. This alone justifies the creation of all of the necessary conditions for successful export expansion in the defense sector of our economy. 18

Anan’ev urged continued efforts to recover all of Moscow’s previous markets and implicitly to remilitarize the economy to promote arms sales. He claimed that increased arms sales are tied to the recovery of Moscow’s voice on the world stage. Arms sales follow Russia’s reassertion of its national interests and contribute to their successful promotion abroad. As he concluded,

Military-technical cooperation with foreign countries is still one of the highest priorities of state activity in Russia. It is the source of a high percentage of state budget receipts in hard currency, represents an important means of paying the state debt, secures the employment of a large segment of the adult population, and guarantees the continued existence of the Russian military-industrial complex, which now produces products in high demand in the international market, surpassed only by energy resources in their competitive potential. Russian military have good prospects, but progress in this field will require the utmost consolidation of the efforts of all the structures and agencies participating in military-technical cooperation and legislative bodies on all levels. 19

Russian defense and arms export officials unanimously insist that defense industry must export or die. 20 But if defense industry produces mainly or solely for export, how does it stimulate the domestic market or a Russian RMA?

Likewise the relationships among all sectors who wield political power is one of mutual impasse or a dead end. While there are signs of democratic regression, there are no signs of heightened governing capacity. 21 The devolution of power from Moscow often conceals the replication of quasi-autocratic forms of rule in the provinces and regions, and the perpetuation of archaic and oppressive social formations, not least among the armed forces. 22 Furthermore, because Russia’s political mainspring is broken and cannot adequately meet the classical challenges of building a strong army, economy, or state, Russia also cannot meet new challenges in health, controlling narcotics, ecological security, funding science, education, etc. 23 If it cannot meet those challenges it cannot achieve an RMA.

Certainly neither the economy nor society can produce this particular transformation their own. Enormous directed social change is needed here. But Russia today most needs triage. Russia’s society and economy are basically sick. Russia’s terrifying demographic and health figures portray a vast unprecedented breakdown in public health in an industrial society. The causes for this go beyond the grim ecological disasters recorded by Murray Feshbach or the amazing rise in communicable and infectious diseases. 24 They pertain to issues of life style, an incredible and pervasive alcohol abuse coupled with these aforementioned pathologies and the collapse of investment in medical and health research or technology (itself a major element in the general technological revolution that the RMA is part of). 25 The factors that are literally killing the country are inherently more resistant to immediate medical intervention and short-term control actions. They can only be truly eradicated by long, costly, stubborn campaigns. 26 Worse yet, health conditions, directly correlate to the disastrous post-1991 figures on GNP and economic standing. As Nicholas Eberstadt observes,

But if the Russian Federation’s relative economic standing continues to slip in the decades ahead, genuine Great Power status will drift ever further from the grasp of Moscow, irrespective of the priorities, ideology or skill of its leadership. Russia’s potential for mobilizing national power is severely impaired today by the sickness of its people— and sickness looks to be an even more crippling constraint on Russian power over the generation to come. 27

Even if Russia could deploy nuclear weapons and some islands of technological excellence in an asymmetric strategy against major rivals, this pervasive crisis and the scale of investments needed to overcome it severely constrain investments needed to stimulate the RMA domestically. 28

In the RMA’s context, the failure to guide Russia from a Soviet system to autonomous self-generating stability has other costs. Full realization of the RMA demands a process that may start from above but becomes increasingly ever more rapid, continuous, autonomous, and self-generating social change. That process contradicts deep forces of Russian history. Russian elites have never assumed that society could or should autonomously generate the sinews of power. However, the very process of change is accelerating almost beyond any effective means of controlling it. States that fail to keep up will be swept aside as failing or failed states. As Steven Metz writes,

In the economic, political, and social realms, the decision-action cycle — the collection of and assessment of information, analysis, decisionmaking, the implementation of decision outcomes, and adjustment — is accelerating. As a result, the life span of ideas, concepts, procedures, and organizations is declining. For success in nearly any endeavor, creativity, and innovation must be continuous and episodic. This will play a major role in shaping the future security environment, in part because it brings immense, sometimes unbearable pressure on governments. 29

Only if Russia can generate new forms of state power that effectively substitute for or stimulate autonomous social change, then might it "beat the odds" and pose an unforeseen challenge to both our way of thinking and our power.

Economic Preconditions for an RMA

For a society and state to optimize the RMA they first must produce sufficient new political forms, organizations, or technologies and generate a constant domestic and foreign demand for them. That capability stimulates further, deeper changes in production methods and industrial organization as well. An economy aiming to sustain a RMA must likewise be optimized for growth and technological innovation. And even then catching up takes about a generation. Since today civilian technology generates production and the process of change, it rather than military production must have primacy. Russia has this equation backwards. As long as it is a largely rent-seeking economy an RMA is inconceivable. The predatory "virtual economy" cannot compete in an age of high-tech or adapt to the RMA’s requirements.

A competitive economy must supply timely high-quality quantities of what the military needs under wholly revolutionized conditions of production to produce new products, using new techniques and materials for a new military. Society, to stimulate the requisite military production derived from dual-use technologies, must cultivate and diffuse a pro-technology outlook that channels massive numbers of people and innovators into those areas of production. Society and the state must invest heavily over time in technology and innovation and promote them. This means promoting science, health, education, research and development and encouraging their diffusion through upgraded communications networks. Today Russia cannot and does not fund any of those sectors adequately. Russia’s current inability to fund research in the cutting edge areas of high-tech areas of science and the tradition separating pure from applied science and technology must be transcended for Russia to have any hope of military-technological competitiveness. 30

If the economy remains starved for investment no RMA or mass prosperity will be possible. What is perhaps most dismaying in Russia’s current strategic context is that apparently nobody has any idea of a strategic policy to foster growth or to implement that policy. Instead we see ubiquitous elite rent-seeking, clamors for protection from the market, and the heavy hand of the state that can neither manage the economy nor let others do so.

Military Conditions

Were a real growth strategy to take hold a technological and economic takeoff might begin. But the precondition for such a growth is a governmental "business strategy" that can actually implement it and develop new and legitimate sources of effective authority and power. One can hardly see any such state and government emerging in contemporary Russia. And until then Russia cannot have a capable army since a basically irresponsible and utterly corrupted government finds its analog in an armed force that is riven by corruption, criminality, and brutality, and pre-modern in crucial aspects. 31

The unending reports of Dedovshchina, official criminality, exploitation, brutality, and of soldiers performing labor services for local government in return for their provisions evoke Tsarism’s regimental economy, one of Russia’s most enduring and unique political and social structures that now dominates internal army relationships. It also obviously has a foundational character because it helps define the nature of existing regimes throughout Russian history. The regimental economy denotes a system of bargains between the state and commanders as well as relationships between the commanders and their men. In return for the state constantly failing to provide sufficiently for the men’s upkeep and training, officers had virtual Carte Blanche in using them during peacetime. Officers generally answered to nobody for their treatment of their men and retained a very large discretion even after serfdom’s abolition. They also could farm soldiers out to the local community for various work projects, e.g. road building. In turn, local authorities made up the difference between what the state failed to give them and what they needed for training and maintenance. This pre-modern system was often based on labor services and payment in kind, that predated a full money economy. But it also was a license for abuse of the men, lawlessness, corruption of all kinds, and an inferior army. 32

Much of that system remains or has been reinstated. Soldiers remain subject to a Tsarist-like brutal, corrupt, and violent regime of serfdom and arbitrary rule. Quasi-autocratic rule at the top translates into autocracy, brutality, and endemic criminality at the bottom. Troops starve, freeze, beg, commit crimes or suicide while corrupt officers go free, brutalize their subordinates, or play partisan politics. Not surprisingly in 1997-98 a noticeable rise in large-scale, often anomic, soldier violence directed against other soldiers and officers, as well as officer suicides as protests against aspects of the military’s degradation took place. Until Russia overcomes the regimental economy — and launching true military reform is an essential part of that process — Russia cannot generate the professional, technically sophisticated, well-trained, highly motivated armed forces demanded by the RMA.

For Russia to achieve military success the renovated armed forces, as participants in and objects of the ongoing social revolution, must have technically sophisticated and experienced manpower and officers. The armed forces, the state, and society at large must encourage innovation and high technical proficiency among all its men. They must be well-educated and well-trained. But beyond those obvious requirements the enrooting of high patriotic morale is absolutely essential. In no way is it incompatible with high technological proficiency and orientation. But officers must not only lead by example and demonstrated proficiency in the art of war and use of technology, they must also inspire their troops. For otherwise, even, or especially, if they command proficient men, they will forfeit authority and respect. And if they do not command such men, then the army is unreformed and essentially non-competitive in current conflicts. 33 Obviously the regimental economy precludes soldiers’ proficiency.

Military service must become a noble, even ennobling, professional vocation. Successful armed forces must be depoliticized professionals who focus on foreign war and defense of the homeland, not internal politics and corruption. Innovative, independent officers with initiative must be encouraged. The armed forces must be well-paid, well treated, well-supplied, and well trained in technology, and possess abundant production reserves or access to them. The armed forces must be able to enforce contracts and demand quality control from defense industry. Lastly, all incoming military manpower should be proficient, motivated to perform with high technological proficiency, trainable in new skills, and equally highly motivated to serve their nation and state. They must also be able to understand their mission and have officers who can make it clear what they are fighting for. All aspects of the man-machine-interface must undergo profound and continuous transformation. Otherwise we see not an RMA, but rather at most islands of excellence in a sea of backwardness.

Russian Military Policy

Russia must also think more realistically about its security. Russia must harmonize strategic goals and instruments to what it can truly support, and forsake the inflated threat assessments and mystique of Derzhavnost’ that it can and must play a global superpower role abroad. This notion is apparently the only thing that unites Russian elites and it first arose specifically to frustrate democratic reform after 1992. Thus its dominance is inherently a force for regression. The untenable mystique of exclusive great power domination of the CIS and of equality with the United States in a special relationship excluding everyone else will lead to disaster. Overcoming this mythology is essential to completing the RMA. Russia cannot afford statements like the observation by Sergei Rogov, director of the USA and Canada Institute (ISKAN) that "The Russian Federation is unwilling to consent to bear the geopolitical burden of the defeat of the Soviet Union in the cold war or to be reconciled with an unequal position in the new European order." 34 Therefore he argued that,

First of all, Moscow should seek to preserve the special character of Russian-American relations. Washington should recognize the exceptional status of the Russian Federation in the formation of a new system of international relations, a role different from that which Germany, Japan, or China or any other center of power plays in the global arena. 35

Gareyev’s and Primakov’s views cited above are equally insupportable. Although Russia craves placement at the presidium table of all international issues; this outlook breeds inflated threat assessments and thus unaffordable military requirements. It also imposes an ideological divide between Russia that thinks in antiquated old regime categories while the modern world leaps into the new millennium. Ultimately the refusal to face unpleasant realities makes the military and other establishments fundamentally uncomprehending of global or foreign trends. Either they lack information or understanding of their plight and of the surrounding social reality or they simply refuse to accept reality. Russia’s sorry history of relations with NATO suggests that refusing to know has been a willful deliberate strategy as much as anything else. While Russian elites constantly charge NATO with being merely a military-political bloc by which Washington dictates to Europe three officers wrote in 1995 that NATO is,

Effectively the sole organization capable of generalizing international peacekeeping experience gathered by other countries. Use of its structures enables it to operate anonymously and to avoid the risk of awakening in states that are parties to conflicts fears regarding an upsurge in expansionist sentiments in one influential member of the international community or another. 36

Accordingly Russia still believes it confronts ubiquitous threats that demand huge armies in reply. While Russia’s latest national security concept, published in 1997, states that Russia sees herself as having no adversaries or enemies, is not under military threat and that the main threats are internal ones due to its failures in state-building and economics; closer perusal of it suggests that everything appears as a threat or danger. 37

Recent conversations with Russian military officials and analysts indicate the canonization of disturbing new trends in Russian military thinking, threat perception, and strategy in the aftermath of Kosovo. Russian leaders now officially link threats to Russia from ethno-national separatists with NATO support for them, tying together local wars with theater and even nuclear level wars. 38 While this process has important domestic ramifications for the military’s domestic political status and access to more budgetary and extra-budgetary resources, it also represents another effort to continue threat assessments and a vision of war going back to the 1980s.

Russian military leaders still insist upon a large army to meet all manner of threats. Military leaders still cling to visions of large-scale theater conventional or even inter-continental nuclear wars. Since the 1997 national security actually actually failed to set lasting priorities by making all threats equally important and consequential; military planning still argues the necessity of defending against all threats and on all azimuths. 39 As Alexei Arbatov wrote in 1997,

It follows from the new military doctrine and numerous statements made by top military commanders, including the present Minister of Defense (General Igor Rodionov at that time-SB), that planning contingencies are numerous and complex. They include being prepared for wars in the west, south, and east; large-scale and theater-wide operations, or some combinations of these which would make for war on a global scale. Russian forces must be prepared to fight alongside probable allies or to fight alone. Our armed forces allegedly must be capable of deterring a potential foe as powerful and sophisticated as the NATO Alliance, or as primitive as Muslim fundamentalist guerrillas, by being ready to fight effectively against either or both, if need be. It follows that Russian forces have to be ready to counter any hostile invasion of Russian territory, and capable of mounting military interventions in the “near abroad” and beyond when needed. 40

After Kosovo, as new pan-service and Russia-wide conventional and even quasi-nuclear exercises confirm, this threat assessment is now an official one. Many military commentators and officials also increasingly cite the threat that high-tech missile attack and information weapons attacks against strategic command and control targets could destroy Russia’s retaliatory capability. 41 From 1991-1997 the armed forces ratcheted up their requirements in Europe and Asia strictly on the basis of worst-case planning and wildly unrealistic modeling processes in order to avert reforms. 42

Therefore NATO enlargement is a threat because it forces Russia to move troops from other theaters to the West against NATO even in peacetime, allegedly opening Russia to attacks from the South and East. The definition of stability inherent in this assessment is simple, invulnerability against all threats. Absent a political accord with NATO that would banish fears of attack, Russia must have conventional, if not nuclear, parity with states all along its frontiers to create a “stability of force equilibrium.” 43

Russia also suffers from the deep-rooted world view that still sees security mainly in military and territorial terms. This outlook is not confined to the armed forces, nor do all military men promote it, but it is linked to Russian policy’s fundamental structural defects and distorts policymaking. This prevailing view also reflects the prior institutional failure and inhibits a rethinking of security policy and domestic reform. Although economics is supposedly the foundation of national power, it takes a back seat to Realpolitik and exaggerated claims for Russia based on a Hobbesian perception of the world and of threats to Russia. As one analysis of trends in Russian geopolitical thinking concluded,

However, beneath the recognition of the changes that economic and technological development, particularly in Europe and Asia have wrought on geopolitics, for Russians the concept of Eurasia remains rooted, as it has been historically, in control and defense of territory It should, in this sense, be seen not only as the current means of binding the country together against the internal and external forces that may threaten its unity, but also the continuing basis of Russia’s great power aspirations. 44

This view contradicts the prevailing global trend that conquest and retention of territory is inferior to optimizing participation in the global economy and markets, and that leverage in international economic markets gives more power and security than do traditional methods of building power. But it is an integral part of the mystique of Derzhavnost’.

In 1995, then Minister of Interior, General Anatoly Kulikov, wrote that virtually all of Russia’s neighbors and other interested powers actually — or potentially — threaten Russia’s integrity. Therefore, the main basis of threat assessments must remain the geopolitical one, which emphasizes the use of force in response. 45 Alexei Arbatov observed that before 1997 that this unending assessment of global threat reflects the armed forces’ natural tendency to retain the maximum number of traditional strategic roles and operational missions, while giving only lip service to new security realities. He noted that Russian armed forces’ military requirements are still driven by contingency planning for major war with the United States, its NATO allies, and/or Japan. Therefore "Nothing has really changed in the fundamental military approaches to contingency planning." The military’s interest in self-preservation drives its threat assessment, force structure, and deployment policy rather than threat analysis determining the armed forces’ true needs. 46 Evidently despite recent reforms there has been no major change in this critical aspect of defense policy.

New force deployments also suggest the continuing primacy of major conventional, if not nuclear, warfighting in policy regardless of talk about fighting local wars. 47 There may well be tactical adjustments to the requirements of such conflicts, e.g. urban warfare, but macrostrategic considerations seem tilted in an opposing direction. 48 For example, the entire state order for 1998 allegedly went to the SS-27 Topol-M ICBM.

Kosovo and The Threat Assessment

NATO’s Kosovo campaign inflamed the military’s preexisting bloody-mindedness. Kosovo confirmed Moscow’s belief that NATO enlargement first of all meant military threats to its vital interests that must be met at the source. Ethnic conflicts in the borderlands must be contained and Russian hegemony preserved lest they spill over into Russia.

Analysts confirmed that due to Kosovo the forthcoming defense doctrine was rewritten to insert sections on the use of tactical nuclear missiles (TNWs) in conventional scenarios. Although nobody can or will reveal the thresholds for using TNWs; this decision culminates a growing trend favoring the use of such weapons in a first-strike or even preemptive mode. 49 This decision reflects not just the unavailability of conventional forces which are in a catastrophic state, but also Russia’s inability to respond to the demands of the revolution in military affairs (RMA) and information warfare (IW). This decision renuclearizes the “bipolar” and Euro-Asian military agendas, reversing a long-standing and mutually beneficial trend but not helping Russia compete militarily with its peers.

Military interlocutors view Kosovo as the first of future real life tests of NATO’s new Strategic Concept that obliges Moscow to consider it as reality not theory or a purely political document. The Concept lets NATO intervene out of area and apply allied forces without UN or OSCE approval, strictly by internal decision and even where such application affects Russia’s doctrine and interests. Hence it disregards the equality Russia claims inheres in the NATO-Russia Founding Act and Russian interests. Therefore the Kosovo campaign, seen from Moscow, is an illegal act of aggression. 50

The Concept challenges the strategic military situation and the strategic balance. It can trigger practical destabilization of regional political situations and forces Russia to take this threat into account. This argument was already anticipated in 1997 by two key General Staff officers, General V.P. Potemkin and Col. Yuri Morozov. If Kosovo is not an aberration, Russia faces a unipolar outcome with highly dangerous consequences.

Strategic stability relates to the sphere of inter-state relations and is a structural element of international stability. In turn, international stability should be understood as a condition of international relations in which these relations develop without crisis, despite the existence of destabilizing factors in the political, economic, military, and other spheres. In the context of this approach, strategic stability should be understood as a quality of inter-state relations in the military-political sphere, which even under crisis conditions, prevents the sides from using methods of military force to achieve their purposes. This quality also prevents a quantitative and qualitative arms race and makes it possible to avoid provoking military activity.(italics in original) 51

If this be the case, Russia faces quantitative and qualitative arms races. While there is evidence of calls for, if not actual implementation of increased spending and investment in certain conventional sectors, e.g. high-performance aircraft like the SU-25; to counterbalance the United States, Russia must return to a hopeless and unwinnable nuclear arms race that will bankrupt it since these weapons are not usable except in dire conditions and have predictable results. 52 As they write,

In a monopolar model of the world in which the dominant role is played by some single state, the other actors in inter-state relations will invariably have to use a system of counterbalances. If this system of counterbalances is going to rest on nuclear weapons, then nuclear weapons could become a destabilizing factor in the twenty-first century.(Italics in the original) 53

Obviously both this threat assessment and the holding of large-scale exercises although the armed forces cannot feed and clothe its soldiers, indicate a growing tendency to remilitarize and renuclearize the entire East-West agenda. If that tendency became policy, it would bankrupt Russia and could lead it into more military adventures like Chechnya (if not worse ones) deepen today’s stagnation, and possibly ignite an explosion.


While Russia might recover and in about a generation return to being a technologically competitive major military power; it is failing to use the present and the most benign security environment in its history. Eight years of anything but coherent reform have taken place. Arguably what we have seen is comprehensive demodernization, not even a semblance of reform whatever it may be called. 54 Russia’s security profile increasingly resembles that of the typical Third World state. 55

While Russia’s rich intellectual tradition of thinking about war can stimulate a rebirth; without effective, strong political leadership and organization, it cannot achieve an RMA even if it has theory and ideas on its side. Current thinking in Russia about future war and information warfare has much to teach. 56 So too the government and armed forces have begun organizing structures to investigate further information and other new technologies’ usage in war and, if need be, their actual exploitation in wartime. 57 Similarly, despite the "general crisis" of the Russian economy, men like Andrei Kokoshin and other writers on future war are exploring similar questions today. Kokoshin’s frequently reiterated vision of the relationship between the armed forces and defense industry clearly owes much to his understanding of the period of the Great Reforms and late Tsarism because of the resemblance between it and his vision. 58

Organizationally too there is a tradition of vesting the General Staff with the important task of being the brain of the army, the unblinking eye on the future. The enduring historical emphasis on the importance of forecasting and the role of General Staff, although it has been in eclipse after 1991, provides a potential organizational basis for restructuring the armed forces for future war. Not surprisingly, thinkers like Gareyev urge restoring the General Staff to its former prominence. 59

Indeed, future Russian leaders could learn from their forebears and seek organizational-political shortcuts or surrogates for technological competitiveness if not superiority. They might be inspired by Peter the Great or the Bolsheviks to to leapfrog over what are supposedly the imperatives of international economic laws. If they are sufficiently inspirational, charismatic, or forceful they will be able to imbue their followers with notions of progress that equate in contemporary terms to the slogan that "there are no fortresses that Bolsheviks cannot storm." Alternatively a new reformer might draw his inspiration from the Great Reforms launched under Alexander the II, 1855-81. Arguably those reforms were undertaken precisely to create the socio-economic foundations for a revival of military competitiveness in Europe. 60

Sadly, however, today’s Russian army is in virtually every respect the exact antithesis of that required to compete at a high technological level. Worse yet, the state is utterly incoherent to the point where it is officially acknowledged that Russia may actually disintegrate. Thus the crucial link is the state. It must become capable of governing itself and then society. It must put together a coherent economic policy that allows a free economy to grow but where it can effectively enforce the rules. It must command legitimacy, adopt a security policy that is first of all realistic in terms of goals, and ways to reach them. It must control the military, defense industry, and defense policy rather than surrendering critical elements of that policy to those sectoral factions.

Possibly in time there might be an evolution towards a democratic leader, a kind of Charles DeGaulle, who can so govern Russia. But is equally possible that, as in previous periods of Russian history where the society and state were in a dead end, that an explosion of energy generates a new authoritarianism and a new demonism. However while we know that this demonism ultimately exhausts society and the state’s capacity to advance after exacting ruinous human and economic costs, it is a mark of the failure of Russia’s transition that we still cannot tell which of these trends will win and whether those victors know this too.


Note 1: Andrei Kokoshin, Reflections on Russia’s Past, Present, and Future, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma.: Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project , 1998, p. 31; Address by Y.M. Primakov to the OSCE Permanent Council, Vienna, September 20, 1996 , p. 2, Transcript made available by the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United States; Alla Iaz’kova, “The Emergence of Post-Cold War Russian Foreign Policy Priorities,” Robert Craig Nation and Stefano Bianchini Eds., The Yugoslav Conflict and its Implications for International Relations , Ravenna: Longo Editore, 1998, pp. 111- 112; Edward Ozhiganov, “The Republic of Moldova: Transdniester and the 14th Army,” Alexei Arbatov, Abram Chayes, Antonia Handler Chayes, and Lara Olson, Eds. Managing Conflict in the Former Soviet Union , Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 1997, pp. 206-207; Vasily Krivokhiza, Russia’s National Security Policy: Conceptions and Realities , Richard Weitz, Trans., John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Ma.: Strengthening Democratic Institutions Project , 1998, p. 32  Back.

Note 2: “Yeltsin Address to Diplomats,” Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn’ , No. 6, June 1998 (henceforth Yeltsin Address); Moscow, Vooruzhenie, Politika, Konversiya , No. 2, February 1, 1997, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central Eurasia (Henceforth FBIS-SOV) , August 23, 1998 for an interview with Ivan Rybkin, then Secretary of the Security Council, and “Russia’s National Interests:, Johnson’s Russia List , August 15, 1997,; Paul Goble, “Can Russian Diplomacy Hold Russia Together,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Newsline , September 23, 1998; The Monitor , March 19, 1998 and September 23, 1998, Yevgeny Primakov, “Russia: Reforms and Foreign Policy,” International Affairs , (Moscow), No. 4, 1998, pp. 3-6.  Back.

Note 3: Gareyev is quoted in Mikhail Tsypkin, “Military Power in Russian National Security Policy,” Sanford R. Lieberman, David E. Powell, Carol R. Saivetz, and Sarah M. Terry, Eds., The Soviet Empire Reconsidered: Essays in Honor of Adam B. Ulam, Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1995, p. 204  Back.

Note 4: Colin S. Gray, “The Changing Nature of Warfare?,” Naval War College Review , XLIX, No. 2, Spring, 1996, p. 9  Back.

Note 5: Lt. Commander Randall G. Bowdish, “The Revolution in Military Affairs: The Sixth Generation,” Military Review , November-December, 1995, p. 28  Back.

Note 6: George and Meredith Friedman, The Future of War; Power, Technology and American World Dominance in the Twenty-First Century , New York; St. Martin’s Griffin, 1998, passim., Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War: Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century , Boston and New York: Little, Brown & Co., Inc., 1993, Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War , New York: The Free Press, 1991, Robert Chandler, Tomorrow’s War, Today’s Decisions , McLean, Va.: Amcoda Press, 1996, and idem., The New Face of War , McLean, VA.: Amcoda Press, 1998 are just some of the more well-known examples of this literature  Back.

Note 7: Bowdish, pp. 27-33  Back.

Note 8: Stephen Blank, ”Nuclear Strategy and Nuclear Proliferation in Russian Strategy,” Report of the Commission To Assess The Ballistic Missile Threat To The United States , Appendix III, Unclassified Working Papers, Pursuant to Public Law 201, 1998, pp. 57-77  Back.

Note 9: Robbin Laird and Holger Mey, The Revolution in Military Affairs: Allied Perspectives , Fort McNair, Washington, D.C.: Institute of National Security Studies, National Defense University, McNair Papers, No. 60, 1999, pp. 5-7, 15  Back.

Note 10: Paul Dibb, "The Revolution in Military Affairs and Asian Security," Survival, XXXIX, No. 4, Winter, 1997-98, pp. 93-116  Back.

Note 11: Stephen Blank, "Preparing for the Next War: Reflections on the Revolution in Military Affairs," John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt Eds., In Athena’s Camp: Preparing for Conflict in the Information Age , Alvin and Heidi Toffler, Foreword, Santa Monica. CA.: Rand Corporation, 1997, pp. 61-77  Back.

Note 12: General Makhmut A. Gareyev (Ret.) If War Comes Tomorrow: The Contours of Future Armed conflict , Jacob W. Kipp, Ed., Yakov Vladimirovich Fomenko, Trans., London: Frank Cass, 1998, p. 76  Back.

Note 13: Blank, "Preparing for the Next War", pp. 61-77  Back.

Note 14: William C. Fuller, Jr., Strategy and Power in Russia 1600-1914 , New York: The Free Press, 1992, pp. 71-75  Back.

Note 15: This is hardly a new argument as noticed by Jing-Dong Yuan, "Studying Chinese Security Policy: Toward an Analytic Framework," Journal of East Asian Studies , XII, No. 1, Spring/Summer, 1999, p. 168 and the sources cited there.  Back.

Note 16: Dibb, pp. 93-116  Back.

Note 17: For example, Moscow, ITAR-TASS, in English, December 23, 1998, FBIS SOV , December 23, 1998, Delhi, The Asian Age , in English, December 23, 1998, FBIS NES , December 23, 1998; Vivek Raghuvanshi, "Russia Invites India To Shop for Arms," Defense News, March 11-17, 1996, p. 10  Back.

Note 18: Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta , in Russian,(Electronic Version), July 22, 1998, FBIS SOV, 98-222, August 13, 1998, Moscow, Izvestiya, in Russian, December 24, 1996, FBIS SOV , 96-248, December 26, 1996  Back.

Note 19: Ibid.  Back.

Note 20: Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta , in Russian,(Electronic Version), July 22, 1998, FBIS SOV, 98-222, August 13, 1998, Moscow, Izvestiya, in Russian, December 24, 1996, FBIS SOV , 96-248, December 26, 1996  Back.

Note 21: Vladimir Shlapentokh, "Will Russia Pass the Democratic Test in 2000,?", Washington Quarterly , XXII, No. 3, Summer, 1999, pp. 55-66, Dmitri Simes, After the Collapse: Russia Seeks Its Place as a Great Power , New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999, p. 194  Back.

Note 22: Stephen Blank, "Valuing the Human Factor: The Reform of Russian Military Manpower," Journal of Slavic Military Studies, XII, No. 1, March, 1999, pp. 82-86  Back.

Note 23: Sergei Medvedev, "Former Soviet Union," Paul B. Stares, Ed., The New Security Agenda: A Global Survey , Tokyo: Japan Center for International Exchange, 1998, pp. 78-81  Back.

Note 24: Murray Feshbach, "Dead Souls, Atlantic Monthly , January, 1999, pp. 26-27, Murray Feshbach and Alfred Friendly Jr. Ecocide in the USSR:Health and Nature Under Siege , New York: Basic Books, 1992, Murray Feshbach, Editor in Chief, Environmental and Health Atlas of Russia , Moscow: Paims Publishing House, 1995  Back.

Note 25: Nicholas Eberstadt, "Russia: Too Sick to Matter,?", Policy Review , No. 95, June-July, 1999, pp. 9-14  Back.

Note 26: Ibid.  Back.

Note 27: Ibid., pp. 19-20  Back.

Note 28: Ibid.,  Back.

Note 29: Steven Metz, Strategic Horizons: The Military Implications of Alternative Futures , Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1997, p. 3  Back.

Note 30: Sharon Leiter, Prospects for Russian Military R&D , Santa Monica, Ca.: Rand Corporation, 1996, Idem., "Prospects for Russian Military Research and Development," Paper Presented to the U.S.Army War College Annual Strategy Conference: Russia’s Future as a World Power, Carlisle Barracks, Pa., April 22-23, 1997, Jan Leijohielm et al, Russian Military Capability in a Ten-Year Perspective: Summary and conclusions from a Study for the Swedish Defense Commission , Wilhelm Unge, Trans., Stockholm: FOA (Forsvarets Forskinningsanstalt) 1999, pp. 13-16  Back.

Note 31: Blank, "Valuing the Human Factor: The Reform of Russian Military Manpower," pp. 77-82  Back.

Note 32: Ibid., pp. 82-86  Back.

Note 33: Ibid.,  Back.

Note 34: Moscow, Nezavisimaya Gazeta , in Russian, September 28, 1996, FBIS-SOV-96-211-S, September 28, 1996  Back.

Note 35: Sergey M. Rogov, "Russia and NATO’s Enlargement: The Search for a Compromise at the Helsinki Summit," Center for Naval Analyses, Alexandria, VA CIM 513/ May 1997, p. 10  Back.

Note 36: A.S. Skvortsov, N.P. Klokotov, N.I. Turko, "Ispol’zovanie Geopoliticheskikh Faktorov v Interesakh Resheniia Zadach Natsional’no-Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti," Voennaya Mysl’ , No. 2, March-April, 1995, p. 22  Back.

Note 37: Moscow, Rossiyskaya Gazeta , in Russian, December 26, 1997, Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Central Eurasia , 97-364, December 30, 1997  Back.

Note 38: Author’s conversations with Russian military officers and analysts in Helsinki and Moscow, June, 1999  Back.

Note 39: FBIS SOV , December 30, 1997  Back.

Note 40: Alexei G. Arbatov, The Russian Military in the 21st Century , Carlisle Barracks, Pa: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa., 1997, p. 3  Back.

Note 41: Moscow, Argumenty i Fakty, in Russian, November, 1997, FBIS SOV , 97-334, December 7, 1997, Stephen J. Cimbala, "Russia’s Nuclear Drawdown: Justice Delayed or Denied?" European Security , VI, No. 3, Autumn, 1997, p. 81 and to confirm the rightness of these fears cited by Cimbala, see, General Ronald R. Fogelman, “Theater Ballistic Missile Defense,” Joint Forces Quarterly , Autumn, 1995, p. 76 Since Fogelman was then chief of Staff of the Air Force, his discussion could be taken for accurately reflecting at least the U.S. Air force’s strategic preoccupations and intentions.  Back.

Note 42: Major General Anatoly V. Bolyatko (Ret.), "Russian National Security Strategy and Its Implications for East Asian Security," Stephen J. Blank, Ed., Russian Security Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region: Two Views , Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 1996, p. 34; Alexei Zagorsky, "The Post-Cold War Security Agenda of Russia: Implications for Northeast Asia," Pacific Review , VIII, No. 1, 1995, p. 95; Alexei Arbatov, Ed. and Commentary, "Russian Air Strategy and Combat Aircraft Production: A Russian View," Randall Forsberg, Ed., The Arms Production Dilemma: Contraction and Restraint in the World Combat Arms Industry , CSIA Studies In International Security, No. 7, Cambridge, Ma.: MIT Press, 1994, pp. 27-60; Reiner Huber, “NATO Enlargement and CFE Ceilings: A Preliminary Analysis in Anticipation of a Russian Proposal,” European Security , V, No. 3, Autumn, 1996, pp. 396-403; V. Tsygichko and Reiner Huber, “Assessing Strategic Stability in a Multi-Polar International System: Two Approaches, Robert Lowe Trans., Unpublished Paper, 1997  Back.

Note 43: Major General A.F. Klimenko,”International Security and the Character of Future Military Conflicts,“ Voyennaya Mysl’ , No. 1, January-February, 1997, p. 10  Back.

Note 44: David Kerr, "The New Eurasianism: The Rise of Geopolitics in Russia’s Foreign Policy," Europe-Asia Studies , XLVII, No. 6, 1995, p. 987  Back.

Note 45: Anatoly Sergeevich Kulikov, “Russian Policy in the Sphere of National Security: The Essence and Magnitude of Internal Threats to Stability and Order,” European Security , VI, No. 3, Autumn, 1997, pp. 16-37  Back.

Note 46: Arbatov, "Russian Air Strategy", pp. 49-60  Back.

Note 47: This was clearly evident in the Zapad-99 exercises of June, 1999  Back.

Note 48: Ibid.  Back.

Note 49: As told to the author in June, 1999 by Russian military analysts who must remain nameless  Back.

Note 50: Ibid.  Back.

Note 51: V.K. Potemkin and Yu.V. Morozov, "Strategic Stability in the Twenty-First Century," European Security , VI, No. 3, Autumn, 1997, p. 43.  Back.

Note 52: Ibid., p. 39  Back.

Note 53: Ibid, pp. 41-42  Back.

Note 54: Stephen F. Cohen, "Russian Studies Without Russia," Post-Soviet Affairs , XV, No. 1, 1999, pp. 37-55  Back.

Note 55: E.G. Timothy Shaw and Clement E. Adibe, "Africa and Global Developments in the Twenty-First Century," International Journal , LI, No. 1 Winter, 1996, pp. 1-26; Mohammad Ayoob, the Third World Security Predicament: State Making and the International System , Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1995  Back.

Note 56: Lester W. Grau and Timothy L. Thomas, "A Russian View of

Future War: Theory and Direction," Journal of Slavic military
Studies, IX, No. 3, September, 1996, pp. 501-518; Timothy L. Thomas, “Deterring Information Warfare: A New Strategic Challenge,” Parameters, XXV, No. 4, Winter, 1996-97, 81-91; Timothy L. Thomas, “Russian Views on Information-Based Warfare,” Airpower Journal , Special Issue, 1996, pp. 25-35; Timothy L. Thomas, “Dialectical Versus Empirical Thinking: The Key elements of the Russian Understanding of Information Operations,” Paper Presented to the U.S. Army War College, Annual Strategy Conference, April 22-24, 1997, Carlisle Barracks, Pa.; Edward Waitz, The US Transition to Information Warfare,” Journal of Electronic Defense , December, 1998, p. 36; Sergei Modestov, “The Possibilities for Mutual Deterrence: a Russian View,” Parameters, XXVI, No. 4, Winter, 1996-1997, pp. 92-98  Back.

Note 57: Ibidem.  Back.

Note 58: Stephen Blank, Challenging the New World Order: The Arms Transfer Policy of the Russian Republic, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pa. 1993, pp. 8-33 for an analysis of his views and policies after 1992.  Back.

Note 59: Gareyev, p. 144  Back.

Note 60: Alfred J. Rieber, the Politics of Autocracy: Letters of Alexander II to Prince A.I. Baryatinsky, Paris: Mouton, 1966  Back.