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#1 - JRL 7003
Wall Street Journal Europe
January 3, 2003
Russia Can Learn From NATO
Mr. Valasek is the director of the Brussels office of the Center for Defense Information. Mr. Safranchuk heads CDI's Moscow office.

Late last year NATO Secretary-General George Robertson and Russian President Vladimir Putin produced an agreement on NATO-Russia cooperation for rescue missions at sea, air transport and mid-air refueling. This adds to an already long list of collaboration projects between the two former foes. NATO and Russia have now undertaken to cooperate on nonstrategic missile defenses, the transition of retiring officers in Russia to civilian life and coordination of policies on counterterrorism, for example.

The fact that such agreements are now regularly churned out marks a vast improvement over the situation in 1999 when Russia suspended relations with NATO to protest the Kosovo war. But NATO's cooperation with Russia still steers clear of areas where allied assistance can be of most benefit to Russia's military and society, such as NATO assistance with Moscow's stop-and-go defense reforms. There are some reasons for this. After decades of confrontation, the new partners find themselves under pressure to show results. Consequently, they focus on what is achievable rather than what is desirable.

Russia's big problem is that it cannot afford its one-million-plus-strong military. It has failed to downsize and reform the military. The alliance, on the other hand, has spent the past 10 years assisting former Warsaw Pact militaries in rebuilding their forces. The U.S. and other allies sent experts to all candidate countries to help them trim personnel, develop clear planning and budgeting procedures, and establish a legal framework guaranteeing democratic yet efficient civilian oversight over the military. Sure, Moscow's situation is different from, say, Poland's. It is not seeking to join NATO. And it is also much larger than any country that NATO recently tried to assist. But NATO can still help. The keys to effective and modern defense education, planning, and budgeting remain the same regardless of whether the country applying them seeks to join NATO or not, or whether it fights terrorism or more conventional enemies.

Still, there is little indication Russia plans to use NATO offers of help with military reform. A working group has been established but produced little beyond talk and paper. A few bilateral programs are in place; Western experts are advising Russia on retraining officers being released from military duty but these are mostly legacy programs initiated by individual states rather than NATO.

Russia's military remains deeply politicized and despite ties between NATO and some parts of the military, a culture of suspicion toward NATO remains strong among many officers and generals, who are also keen to preserve their fiefs. Military authorities in Moscow are wary of letting a former foe see its books and plans. This attitude may seem understandable given Cold War history, but is woefully out of touch with present reality. Worst of all, many Russian officers are still being taught, 14 years after the end of the Cold War, that NATO is their country's enemy -- many Russian defense and political documents make much the same point.

The current NATO -- Russia cooperation also tends to be veiled is the same cloak of secrecy and nontransparency as the two parties' military plans during the Cold War. In Moscow, people beyond the narrow circle of those directly involved in cooperation (mostly Ministry of Defense) know little about the points of cooperation under discussion; the Russian Duma and other agencies are mostly in the dark. This attitude only hurts the NATO-Russia Council, the vehicle for cooperation, as critics and impartial observers alike tend to conclude that nothing is being produced in the Council.

The fact is that Russia stands to benefit from the experience of NATO countries in this field. Russia's system of military education may be a good place to start defense reforms. Producing generations of leaders taught to fight an imaginary enemy in the West only weakens Russia's defenses against its real foes.

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