A Kansas State University professor has gotten to do what no other Westerner has: publish an article in Russia’s leading military journal that is critical of current efforts to reform the Russian military.
Dale Herspring, university distinguished professor of political science and a noted expert on Russia, received the invitation to publish his article “Russian Military Reform: A View from the United States” in the latest issue of Weapons Exports, which is published in Russian.
“It’s a fair critique of what they have done positively and negatively,” Herspring said.
Each issue of Weapons Export is typically read by 10,000-20,000 people. Herspring anticipates higher readership for this issue because of the inclusion of a Westerner’s perspective. Additionally, one of Herspring’s Russian friends has promised to send a copy of the article to a friend in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s office.
Herspring is a leading expert on civil-military relations. He has published 13 books and more than 100 articles dealing with Russian, American, German and Canadian civil-military relations. He is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a retired U.S. diplomat and Navy captain. During his time as a diplomat, he served at embassies in Warsaw and Moscow. While in the U.S. Navy, he participated in all of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. ship visits, and accompanied Adm. Dennis Blair, then the U.S. Pacific Command’s commander-in-chief, on his official visit to Russia.
Though Herspring has an extensive publication record, he calls the Russian journal article a home run.
“I’m sort of shocked that someone who spent two years there in the embassy and following military events is being published in a journal,” he said. “That’s never happened before.”
Among Herspring’s criticisms of the Russian military is its failure to delegate authority effectively. In the American military, noncommissioned officers, or NCOs, have leadership roles. But Herspring said the Russian military is characterized by frequent micromanagement by officers. The practice is widespread because of Soviet military protocol.
“If they didn’t do that 30 years ago, they’d get shot,” Herspring said. “Until they come psychologically to grips with what an NCO does, this will continue.”
Similarly, the Russian military also struggled with an overabundance of officers. The ratio of American military officers to enlisted personnel is roughly 1-15. At one time, the ratio for the Russian military was 2-1. However, cuts have occurred. But Herspring said in some cases where cuts were made, they weren’t strategic and were often illogical. For example, the nation’s general staff academy cut its new class of officers each year to 11, while many other military schools were cut altogether.
“No logic was provided to how and why they were closing schools,” Herspring said. “It was chaotic.”
Overall, the military has been reduced from 2 million troops to around 1 million, a positive reform, Herspring said.
Other positive reforms include a renewed focus on replacing outdated equipment and machinery. When Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 it took 15 hours for their tanks to enter the country. Even though the military conducted practice exercises two weeks prior to the invasion, repeated breakdowns slowed the invasion effort considerably, Herspring said. To ease the massive financial burden on the industrial complex, Putin provided an additional $3 trillion rubles, Russia’s currency, for purchase of the relevant military items that cannot be produced at home.
Putin also has responded to a longstanding complaint from the military regarding salaries. On Jan. 1, a 25 percent pay hike went into effect for members of military. The political move took money from social spending for the increased salaries.
Russia has maintained a lengthy history of shielding itself from criticism, Herspring said. Whether it originated internally or externally during the 79-year run of the Soviet Union or after, national criticism was muted through intimidation and a large administrative bureaucracy. Following the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991, Herspring said more voices emerged and new policies encouraged an active dialogue on both civil and military issues, though hesitancy has remained in acknowledging outside perspectives on those basic issues.
With publication of his broad critique, Herspring anticipates he has broken a barrier that will allow some of his colleagues to be published in Russia.
“I have opened the gates,” he said.
Herspring is currently finishing up his latest book, “Joint Responsibility and Civil-Military Relations, the American, Russian, German and Canadian Cases.”