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The Russian Military in the 21st Century

Authored by Dr. Alexei G. Arbatov. | June 1997

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The very title of this monograph is quite ambiguous. On the one hand, only 3 years are left until the 21st century. This is too short a time to forecast or propose any serious change in a huge and complicated organization like the armed forces of a great power. On the other hand, each century lasts 100 years, and without a crystal ball it is impossible to predict the evolution of armed forces over such a long period, least of all at a time of dynamic and revolutionary shifts in the world's technologies, economics, the geopolitical scene, and the relative military balance between nations.

Hence, in addressing the prospects for Russia's armed forces, it seems realistic to discuss the future some 10-15 years ahead, to 2010. This is an appropriate timeframe for the fulfillment of large cycles of economic and military development in Russia and in other major states. It allows consideration of the possible realignment of principal international coalitions, and it provides time to implement major weapons programs. Accordingly, with a timeframe of 10-15 years, future trends are sufficiently imbedded in present reality to be discussed without entering the world of science fiction. Present policy choices may tangibly affect developments in 10-15 years. Besides, as presently being considered, the Russian military reform initiative is planned to proceed through its first two stages through the year 2005. What happens in that process will define how the Russian military proceeds from 2005 through 2010, the third stage of the reform initiative.

Within this temporal framework, the following monograph discusses Russia's military alternatives appropriate to its new security requirements, projected economic conditions, technological capabilities, and possible changes in the international situation which might affect Russia and its relationship with other major powers. Even at that, many issues relevant to the subject, like industrial and financial projections, problems of defense conversion, possible advances in military technology, demographic considerations, the draft and mobilization, have to be left out or discussed only superficially. All of these issues are part of the comprehensive notion of military reform; something larger than the narrow notion of reforming the armed forces. In this monograph, based strictly on unclassified sources, the latter topic will be the subject of analysis.


In conclusion, it should be emphasized that Russia's defense requirements to 2010 envision an army that is very different from that of any present military power. Although Russia's resources, allocated to defense, are presently comparable to those of Germany or France, its present and projected geostrategic situation, as well as the existing armed forces and defense industrial infrastructure hardly permit any reduction of forces down to the level of those nations. Besides, the costs ofreduction and conversion on that scale would be prohibitive.

Rather, the new Russian Army needs to be unique and innovative. It should be capable of taking its place among the armed forces of the nuclear superpowers in terms of its strategic forces and their capabilities, and doing so preferably within the framework of the START treaties. Its conventional forces will be far smaller than in the past but still somewhat larger than those of the most powerful European armies, while being structurally different. It will be uniquely Russia's Army, a force capable of defending the nation against plausible threats while fitting into Russia's new market economy and democratic political system.