RUSSIA'S ARMED FORCES ON THE BRINK OF REFORM
Stephen J. Blank
March 16, 1998
The views expressed in this report are those of the author and do
not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the
Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S.
Despite over a dozen years of talk, the Soviet and now Russian military has not undergone a true
military reform. What did happen was a form of degeneration and disintegration, but not a
methodically planned and directed transformation and/or adaptation to new conditions.
Consequently, defense policy, in all of its ramifications, has remained essentially unreformed
and remains an impediment to Russia's accommodation to today's strategic realities.
This study presents an assessment of Russian defense policy as Russia has begun, in late 1997 and
1998, to grapple with the enormous challenges that inhere in the process of military reform. The
outcome of what can only be a protracted process will have profound implications, not only for
Russia, but for its neighbors and partners, chief among them being the United States. Given the
coincidence of this reform process with what many believe to be a revolution in military affairs
and the continuing urgency of reducing nuclear threats, the ongoing observation of Russian
military policies remains very important for the United States.
The Strategic Studies Institute offers this report on Russian military reform to contribute
further to the analysis of the critical issues at stake in the process.
RICHARD H. WITHERSPOON
Colonel, U.S. Army
Director,Strategic Studies Institute
The Russian armed forces, by all accounts, are fast approaching a point of no return. The crisis
in the armed forces is directly traceable to the policies of the Yeltsin government which have
alternated among politicization, fragmentation of those forces into multiple, contending
militaries, and the creation of a quasi-authoritarian political process where military policy is
decided by irregular institutions that account to and answer to nobody other than President
Yeltsin. Similar problems plague the defense economy which is probably still too large and at the
same time misdirected, while being unable to support the forces presently under arms. In any
case, nobody knows how many men are under arms or the cost of maintaining them, or where defense
Not surprisingly, military policy and the so-called current military reform more resemble
bureaucratic exercises in turf-grabbing or the court politics of the Tsars then they do real
reform. While efforts are underway to downsize the armed forces, spend less on them, and revamp
the force structure, these moves seem driven by concerns other than strategic rationality.
Moreover, they threaten to bring about a further devolution of central power to the regions and
heightened possibilities for state fragmentation.
At the same time, Russian writing on both nuclear and information war (IW) continues to manifest
the same kinds of inability to think rationally and coherently about strategy and could lead the
government to adopt military policies that will lead to disaster and which are misapplied to the
real threats that Russia faces. Russian nuclear policy and much, but not all, thinking about
information warfare could either lead to a military catastrophe or, in the case of IW, to an
internal civil war. In either case, the only answer to the crisis of the armed forces and of the
state is more, not less, democracy, and a truly stable defense establishment tailored to the real
economic needs and capacities of the country. Unhappily, neither of these possibilities seems
likely to be realized anytime soon.
To view the complete study in an Adobe Acrobat format,
Strategic Studies Institute
United States Army War College
This page last updated by Rita Rummel on
6 Apr 98.