Sergey Karaganov wrote recently about Russia’s need for a military buildup. His article appeared in Vedomosti, Russia in Global Affairs, and finally on the Valday discussion club’s site.
He sets out to explain why Russia needs a buildup, and why conventional military power is still relevant in today’s world. He tries to square the buildup with a “record low” military threat to Russia. But most of his text criticizes Kremlin intentions.
Down on Russia’s armaments plan, he’s high (probably too high) on the results of Serdyukov’s defense reforms.
It’s worth extracting and distilling some of Karaganov’s points into a stronger concentration.
He gives this as a general rule, but doesn’t (but should) emphasize how this applies to Russia:
“. . . nation states have lost much of their original strength. Their ability to control information, financial, economic and political processes in their territories is wearing thin. Also, they are becoming ever more dependent on the outside world. There emerges another argument in favor of greater reliance on arms as the only tool of which the states almost entirely keep control.”
So Russia, like other states (perhaps to a greater degree), looks to its armed forces as the lone attribute of its sovereignty?
Russia, Karaganov contends, faces no external threat through the medium term. A strong China is a problem, but not necessarily a military one. Threats from the south are not like existential ones that shaped Russian history for centuries. And the threat of a U.S. strike on Russian territory looks “ridiculous.”
Karaganov continues, saying the buildup is more about politics than anything else:
“I believe that in the eyes of the Russian leadership the need for gaining greater military strength will stem first and foremost from the factors of the country’s international positioning and the predetermined prospects of its political development. Four years of sweet mumbling about modernization and practically no concrete action, except for Skolkovo, clearly demonstrates that neither society nor the elite is prepared for a modernization breakthrough.”
He describes why Russia’s ruler(s) opted for the buildup, then offers tepid support for it:
“It looks like the military buildup is expected to compensate for the relative weakness in other respects – economic, technological, ideological and psychological.”
“Criticizing this choice for being dissonant with the modern world is easy. To a large extent this is really so. But the modern world is changing so rapidly and unpredictably that quite possibly this choice is adequate.”
While lauding military reforms thus far, he admits:
“There are no well-considered re-armament plans behind them.”
“The process of rearmament is tough-going. The defense-industrial complex has been bled white. Still worse, it is not being reformed. It is now a pale shadow of the Leviathan of the Soviet era. Just what the Russian army was only recently.”
Karaganov continues questioning the rationale for, and consequences of, the buildup:
“The military buildup policy is not only generally desirable for the ruling elite, and, possibly, for the country, but also inevitable. The question is how and at what cost. It will be important not to overspend, thereby ruining the development budgets. In the meantime, it looks like a policy has been launched towards suicidal (for the country) cuts in spending on education, instead of its dramatic increase. The reduction will upset even the beyond-horizon chances of making a modernization breakthrough.”
“It would be very silly to overspend and over-arm oneself beyond any measure only to breed more enemies, who would be looking at Russia with horror.”
“What makes the risk of mistakes still worse is that there are practically no institutional restrictions on the arms race. Only two restraints exist at the moment. The finance ministers – the current one and his predecessor – have been doing their utmost not to give as much as they were asked for. And the defense minister has been trying to limit the appetite of what’s been left of the defense-industrial complex – thirsty for investment and, admittedly, corrupt as elsewhere. In the current political system the national parliament is unable to play any tangible role in shaping a new military policy and in forming the budget.”
“No less alarming is the absence of an academic or public discussion of military policy priorities. In the meantime, there was such a discussion, although in a very limited form, even back in the last years of the USSR. The academic think tanks created in those times are aging morally and physically. From the right, liberal side the current military policy is criticized by a handful – literally two or three – of authors. They surely deserve words of praise for being so bold. But they lack knowledge and are politically engaged and biased. In the center there is a group of experts close to the defense ministry, who are obliged to praise whatever it does and turn a blind eye on its mistakes. And on the left side – in the mass media that are fortunately not quite available to the general reader – one can find publications by tens and even hundreds of specialists representing the remains of the financially and intellectually ruined academic part of the Soviet military-industrial complex. I am not going to surprise the reader with the phantasmagoric threats these experts try to scare the country and themselves with. Quite often their descriptions have no bearing on the reality and are nothing but caricature replicas of Soviet-era fantasies.”
“But to realize what is to be done, it is necessary to purposefully promote independent social, political and scientific analysis of the processes that are underway in the military sphere. Or else there will be too many mistakes to be paid for too dearly.”
It’s pretty clear the new defense minister won’t be a brake on the OPK any time soon, if ever.
And Karaganov’s right, the lack of legislative or expert debate on defense policy is alarming. But where in Russia hasn’t outside input and influence on politicians and policymakers waned? His criticism of the state of press commentary on defense issues is a bit dramatic.
Anatoliy Serdyukov’s strength was making changes instead of talking them to death. This approach engendered lots of resistance. But, in the end, an intra-elite squabble rather than opposition to his policies brought his resignation.