Civil–military relations and Russian military modernization BETTINA RENz
Modernization is the political slogan of the moment in Russia. While plans for modernization are aimed particularly at the development of the Russian economy, the modernization of the Russian armed forces is an important aspect of the process. Current military modernization includes serious departures from Soviet strategies and structures. Planned reforms encompass the move from a conscript army to a professional force; from mobilization to permanent readiness; and from low-tech to high-tech. Some significant changes, such as the move from divisions to brigades or severe cuts in the size of the officer corps, have already been implemented at impressive speed. This has led to a magnitude of transformation ‘unparalleled in the history of the Russian armed forces since the end of World War II’ (McDermott 2009). Some longer-term objectives of military reform, however, will be more difficult to achieve. Complex problems not directly related to the military will need to be tackled if the armed forces are to be truly transformed. As discussed elsewhere in this volume, such problems include the global economic crisis and related financial restraints, as well as the Russian defence industry’s inability to deliver modern equipment in sufficient quality and quantity. This chapter assesses developments in Russian civil-military relations as a potential obstacle to the long-term success of military modernization. The first part of the chapter discusses the system of civilian control over the Russian armed forces. A number of notable changes have meant that some aspects of the reforms could be implemented with unprecedented vigour. Having said this, civilian control continues to be concentrated in the hands of the executive; the control functions of other actors, such as the parliament and civil society, remain limited. Making the military more cost-effective and accountable is a central aim of the current reforms. It is doubtful whether this can be achieved in the long term without making the mechanisms of civilian control in Russia more comprehensive. The second section of the chapter evaluates the complex issue of Russian society-military relations. Public attitudes towards military service are persistently negative and the prestige of military careers in Russia continues to be low. The effect of this on the military’s ability to recruit the quantity and quality of personnel required is easy to imagine. Unless this image problem can be addressed it will hamper the prospects of transforming the Russian military
into a professional force in the long term. The potential impact of problems in civil-military relations on the prospects of Russian military reform is significant. Dealing with these problems would mean engaging in reforms going far beyond just the military. The Russian leadership clearly has made military reform a priority. There is no indication, however, that the importance of creating the political circumstances conducive to achieving the long-term objectives of military reform has yet been fully acknowledged.