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Unfinished business

Christopher Bennett reviews literature examining military reform in the seven countries invited to join NATO at the Prague Summit.

By the next NATO summit in May 2004, the seven countries invited to join the Alliance in Prague in November should be fully-fledged members. The timetable is, therefore, tight for what is the fifth and by far the most complex round of NATO enlargement to date. Earlier rounds — the accession of Greece and Turkey in 1952, Germany in 1955, Spain in 1982 and the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in 1999 — involved in total as many countries as are now joining in one go. Indeed, it is only possible to proceed so rapidly in this instance because all invitees have been groomed to join the Alliance by participating in the Membership Action Plan (MAP) since 1999. But how well prepared are these countries militarily for membership and what remains to be done?

In the course of the next year, the situation is likely to become clearer as existing NATO members scrutinise invitees' preparedness before deciding whether to ratify their accession. This process, for which a year has been allocated, is not a formality. Indeed, as Karel Kovanda, the Czech Republic's permanent representative to NATO, pointed out in his contribution to this issue of NATO Review, his country's membership of NATO was held up by three months during the first post-Cold War round of enlargement until it had satisfied the US Congress that it was in a position to meet so-called Minimum Military Requirements.

While there has been considerable academic writing on military reform, comparatively little attention has been paid to this process in the seven invitees. The countries are for the most part small, with languages that are difficult for foreigners to master. The Challenge of Military Reform in Post-Communist Europe: Building Professional Armed Forces (Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2002) is, therefore, a welcome addition to the literature. Edited by a trio of British academics, Anthony Forster, Timothy Edmunds and Andrew Cottey, it is in part the result of a research project entitled One Europe or Several? funded by the United Kingdom's Economic and Social Research Council. Uniquely, it contains information-crammed chapters on all the invitees except Estonia, the smallest in terms of population. There are also chapters on military reform in the three countries that joined NATO in 1999, on Russia and Ukraine and on Croatia and Serbia and Montenegro. Although the contributors are a mixture of local and foreign analysts, all chapters are written to a very similar standard, no doubt because the editors set very specific guidelines. And the book starts and ends with particularly insightful chapters from Forster, Edmunds and Cottey.

In all the invitees, the armed forces inherited from the communist period were inappropriately organised, equipped and staffed to deal with the challenges of the post-Cold War era. In the three Baltic republics and Slovenia the task of building appropriate armed forces was especially great, since they had to be built almost from scratch. Although the notions of professional armed forces and professionalisation are complex, there has been broad agreement that military reform requires more professional armed forces. There is also widespread acceptance that the aim of professional armed forces is threefold: that the military accept that their role is to fulfil the demands of the democratic, civilian government; that armed forces are able to undertake military activities in an effective and an efficient way; and that the organisation, ethos and internal structures of the armed forces reflect these twin assumptions.

Forster, Edmunds and Cottey argue that professional armed forces are defined by four core characteristics, namely their role, their expertise, their responsibility, and their system of promotion. They have clearly defined and widely accepted roles, in relation both to external functions and domestic society. They have the expertise and skills necessary to fulfil these functions effectively and efficiently. They have clear rules defining the responsibilities of the military as an institution, and of individual soldiers. And promotion within them is based on achievement. Within the context of post-Cold War Europe, the book's editors argue there are four distinct models of professional armed forces: a Power Projection model, entailing armed forces substantially oriented towards the deployment of military power outside national territory; a Territorial Defence model, entailing armed forces primarily oriented towards national defence but also capable of contributing in a limited way to multinational power-projection operations; a Post-Neutral model, entailing small armed forces primarily oriented towards national defence but heavily reliant on mass mobilisation of reserves in time of war, and capable also of contributing to traditional peacekeeping operations; and a Neutral model, entailing armed forces almost entirely oriented towards national defence.

The four models are ideal types and do not necessarily reflect countries' individual experiences. Nevertheless, they provide the analytical framework through which contributors examine the strategic defence policy and professionalisation choices facing countries and compare emerging patterns of professionalisation in post-communist Europe.

The book's editors identified three patterns of professionalisation among the armed forces of post-communist Europe, two of which cover all seven invitees. The first and largest cluster of states are those that aspire to the Territorial Defence ideal type. This group includes Romania and Slovakia, as well as the three countries that joined NATO in 1999, Croatia, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Ukraine. In both Romania and Slovakia, the military legacies of Communism included large, primarily conscript-based armed forces, high defence budgets and a history of Soviet-style command and control structures. In the post-communist period, both Romania and Slovakia expressed their national security priorities in terms of reformed national defence and closer integration with the West, with NATO membership the ultimate prize. And in both instances, foreign assistance and, in particular, the rigours demanded by the MAP have proved critical to the reform process. However, lack of resources continue to undermine progress.

In the Romanian chapter, Presidential Adviser Marian Zulean points out that, with the exception of 1994-95 and 2000-1, the country's GDP has declined continuously since 1989. Despite this, the money allocated for defence was increased by 35 per cent to $1 billion in 2001 to speed up reforms. No doubt, this rise was in part a response to a particularly pessimistic evaluation of the country's armed forces a year earlier by the chief of staff and defence minister. This report concluded that the military remained unprepared and poorly trained; that 70 per cent of the air force's pilots were not operational because of lack of flying time; and that the navy had received only 15 per cent of the fuel it required. Nevertheless, an engineering battalion of around 200 has participated in the NATO-led operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina since 1996 and a group of staff officers in KFOR since 1999. Both contingents were increased in 2001 after the terrorist attacks against the United States of 11 September.

In the Slovak chapter, Marybeth Peterson Ulrich of the US Army War College also devotes considerable attention to resources pointing out that a lack of money led to the suspension of flight training in 1999, until early 2000. The acquisition of sophisticated flight simulators has helped to make up some of this particular deficit, but attempts to abolish conscription and create an all-volunteer military by 2006 have foundered for lack of resources. At the same time, however, Slovakia did produce in 2001 its first National Security Strategy; has faithfully followed the MAP; and, after half a decade in which it had minimal military-to-military contact with Prague after Czechoslovakia split up, has intensified military cooperation and exercises with the Czech Republic.

Ulrich also considers briefly the legacy of Vladimir Meciar, independent Slovakia's first prime minister in power until 1998, who, she says, was "noted for corruption". Corruption is never far from the surface of any discussion of transition in Central and Eastern Europe, yet data are extremely hard to come by, with the result that few analysts are able to write about it. One who has had a go is Anton Bebler. A Slovene academic and former diplomat who is also the president of his country's Atlantic Council, Bebler contributed a chapter entitled Corruption Among Security Personnel in Central and Eastern Europe in the book Army and State in Postcommunist Europe (Frank Cass, London, 2001), which also contains a useful chapter on military reform and defence budgeting in Bulgaria by Dimitar Dimitrov. In his contribution, Bebler analyses historical influences, collects published sources for corruption — including data produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and Transparency International — and assesses conditions of service and levels of temptation before issuing a ten-point list of recommendations. It is sobering to learn that whereas the monthly salaries of military officers in Central Europe vary between $300 and $1,500, those of their peers in the poorest Southeastern European countries and in parts of the former Soviet Union range between $25 and $100, and are not regularly paid in some instances.

Most of Bebler's specific illustrations of corrupt activities come from the former Soviet Union and Southeastern Europe. He does not spare his own country, citing parliamentary inquiries into the profits from illegal arms sales from Slovenia to other former Yugoslav republics during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. At the time, Slovenia was subject to a UN-imposed arms embargo that was only lifted after the Dayton Peace Agreement came into force, ending the Bosnian War.

Professionalisation in Slovenia has taken a different direction to that in Romania and Slovakia. Indeed, Forster, Edmunds and Cottey lump Slovenia together with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all of which have adopted Post-Neutral type military force structures based on relatively lightly armed territorial defence forces, supplemented by large reserves and small armoured and/or power-projection forces. This model of military organisation is particularly suited to small states with few military traditions and limited economic resources. The purpose of the military strategy of these states is not so much to inflict military defeat on what is presumed will be a far superior enemy, but to make any invasion and subsequent occupation as difficult and costly as possible.

According to Igor Kotnik-Dvojmoc and Erik Kopac, both lecturers at Ljubljana University's Department of Defence Studies, Slovenia struggled to come to terms with decisions taken in the immediate aftermath of its 1991 ten-day war with Yugoslavia for most of the 1990s. Indeed, it was not until 1999 that a long-term strategy for the size and structure of the Slovene armed forces was adopted. Nevertheless, Ljubljana's desire to join NATO — a goal that Slovenes endorsed by a wide margin in a referendum on 23 March of this year — has been a significant factor motivating the reform process and has led, for example, to the creation of a special unit, the 10th Motorised Battalion, whose main purpose is international cooperation.

External influences have played an even greater role in the construction of armed forces and the process of their professionalisation in the Baltic republics. Indeed, in the Latvian chapter, Jan Arveds Trapans of the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces points out that: "Uncoordinated and inappropriate assistance is an important issue in the further development of professional Latvian armed forces." The country has, nevertheless, largely benefited from foreign involvement, which has included the appointment of a British colonel of Latvian origin as the deputy chief of staff between 1994 and 1997. Moreover, the country has moved a long way from the time of the Soviet withdrawal when, according to a NATO Parliamentary Assembly Report: "All that was left behind consisted of 26 sunken submarines and ships leaking acid, oil and phosphorus."

In a contribution that is interesting, among other things, for its description of Lithuanian resistance to Soviet rule until 1953, Robertas Sapronas of the Lithuanian Ministry of National Defence describes how expatriates have played an even greater role in Lithuania. Indeed, a number of former US officers of Lithuanian origin were appointed to senior posts after the 1996 elections and in 1998 a Lithuanian American was elected president. In this way, some military structures have been established using the US model. But as in Slovenia and the other two Baltic republics, the focus on power-projection capabilities and the cultivation of professional cadres within the armed forces, in part designed as a political message to NATO, has helped create a two-tier military and generated tension in terms of the allocation of resources.

Bulgaria's limited commitment to the development of power-projection capabilities places it in the Post-Neutral category. But, Laura Cleary of Cranfield University points out, unlike the Baltic republics and Slovenia, Bulgaria continues to rely on relatively heavy armoured formations rather than lightly armed territorial defence forces to defend national territory. The country started to move towards professionalisation late and has resisted the temptation to go for quick-fix solutions, cancelling equipment purchases that do not directly contribute to reform plans and adopting a medium to long-term approach. Here again, the introduction of the MAP has provided a more focused and more widely cast set of objectives for the military reform process.

The desire of most Central and Eastern European states to join NATO has given the Alliance considerable leverage in shaping the defence policies of these countries. Forster, Edmunds and Cottey point to the extension of NATO values and especially the development of shared understandings of what is meant by democratic, civilian control of armed forces and the normalisation of the relationship of the armed forces to society, as one of the Alliance's major achievements over the past decade. However, they question the future of professionalisation of armed forces after NATO accession, predicting that political pressure for defence reform may decline, along with political willingness to invest scarce resources in further professionalisation. Moreover, the lopsided nature of reform processes, in particular the creation and prioritisation of special units for international cooperation, may also mean that the overall effectiveness of the military — whether in or out of NATO — may be compromised.

NATO invitations were not the end of a process, but the beginning. There is a continuing need across the region for a more holistic approach to military reform and professionalisation. Fundamental questions still need to be asked about the role of armed forces in the post-Cold War environment and the appropriateness of particular models of military organisation to fulfil these roles. Until these questions are properly addressed, the invitees will not necessarily be able to play as influential a role in the Alliance as they and the existing members would like.

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