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29 April, 2011  ▪  Serhiy Zghurets

National Security: Real and Imagined Threats

The government has rubber-stamped a new, draft military doctrine proposed by the defense ministry

Signed by the prime minister, this landmark document will soon be submitted for consideration at a meeting of the National Security and Defense Council. If approved there, it will be enacted by presidential decree.

The term military doctrine is usually used to designate an officially approved document which succinctly sets forth the views of a specific state on war-related issues. Doctrines are needed to officially declare how, against whom and on what grounds a state will be forced to engage in warfare and how it will defend itself. All of these documents are, in effect, temporary. In order to make society take them seriously, they are updated every 5-7 years. The military doctrine is typically modernized after a leap in scientific and technical progress which changes the way wars are fought. Another possible cause is drastic changes in the military and political orientation of a given country. Unfortunately, the latter is the case in Ukraine this time.

Ukrainehas had two military doctrines in recent history. The first one declared its Kyiv's non-aligned status and was adopted in 1993, soon after the dissolution of the USSR. This was the most demanding doctrine as it required that the army protect the state in all aspects. “If we were to have kept its requirements literally, we would have had to dig trenches along the entire state border, put the entire population in them and defend ourselves,” defense ministers themselves said. The second military doctrine came into force in the summer of 2004 when then president and Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, enacted it with a decree. Its initial version set the target of full-fledged NATO and EU membership. These alliances were viewed as the guarantors of security and stability in Europe. However President Kuchma issued another decree a month later, removing, without any reasoning, the phrase on Ukraine “preparing for full-fledged membership in these organizations” from the text. His successor, Viktor Yushchenko, made a U-turn by decreeing in April 2005 that the phrase “pursuing the policy of Euro-Atlantic integration with ultimate goal of NATO membership” be inserted into the text.

The signposts fixed in doctrines are important, above all, for the top brass and other institutions involved in processes with the somewhat dull name “defense planning.” The doctrine is the foundation for developing new, or elaborating existing, state programs to reform the armed forces and for determining the optimal structure and the arsenals and resources required by the armed forces, and so on. In simple terms, the army is “tuned” to stave off existing threats as formulated in the document. If objectives keep changing, work will be done and funds spent with nothing to show for the effort.

The third military doctrine about to be signed by current Commander-in-Chief Viktor Yanukovych claims to be defensive in nature: “Ukraine does not consider any state (coalition of states) its military opponent but will consider a state (coalition of states) its potential opponent if its actions or intentions suggest that military force will be applied against Ukraine.” The main conceptual feature of the new doctrine is the return to nonaligned status. Thus, any external threats have to be largely fought while relying exclusively on Ukraine's own forces and capabilities. The security assurances under the Budapest Memorandum, which are mentioned in the text, are nothing more than wishful political thinking.

What does this all mean to Ukraine at present? The two previous programs of military reform failed to create battle-ready armed forces despite all the time and money spent on them. Admittedly, less money was actually disbursed than originally planned. Since we do not have the practice of identifying the guilty when long-term programs are disrupted, Ukraine de facto has an army which attempts to compensate a lack of quality with more personnel and equipment – to little avail, I might add. It is becoming increasingly evident that this approach is wrong and doomed to failure.

The new doctrine sets higher goals before the military leadership than before. It is easy to predict the reaction of the generals: “It will take more money to achieve them. Give us the money, and we’ll do it.” However, the same Cabinet of Ministers which rubber-stamped the new military doctrine also set a cap on Ukraine’s defense spending for the next five years, and the sum is ridiculously small. Upgrades and advanced training are out of the question. The allotted funding will only suffice to maintain the army and perform limited amounts of repairs on hopelessly outdated equipment. The gap between the new targets set in the doctrine and the army’s actual capabilities will be even wider. In these conditions, there is no point in adopting a new military doctrine, regardless of how masterfully it is crafted. It will only be good for waving in the air in vain efforts to scare away any external or internal foe.

Importantly, the doctrine contains a very dangerous point. Threats to national security include, among other things, “attempts to discredit the government.” This line would make it possible to use Ukraine’s Armed Forces against the Ukrainian people.

What do we do now? We need to recognize that in the present circumstances in which the country has very limited financial resources and an extremely small scientific and technical base for launching a new reform of its defense system, it is impossible to reformat the current armed forces to meet the higher demands that come with a non-aligned status in the mid-term. Therefore, the question of a new reform of the country's defenses will soon become a hot topic. A successful reform requires a vision of how to carry it out and what it should accomplish. Defense reform will need to be convincingly explained to both society and the army itself. Ideally, an understanding of, and support for, future steps – including painful ones – will have to be secured.

Military brass is already working on yet another document entitled “The 2012-27 State Program to Reform the Armed Forces.” Stillthere is no common concept of what the Armed Forces should be like in the future. Nor is there any confidence that the new program will indeed take the army to a universally acknowledged achievement instead of getting bogged down on the way as was the case under previous attempts. In the short-term, these domestic challenges are much more real than any external threats mentioned in the new doctrine.

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