Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov gave a report at an annual meeting of the Academy of Military Sciences held in Moscow in late January. The report attracted the attention of the Russian public mainly due to the criticism of the General Staff it contained.
What did the minister say? Above all, he criticised military scientists for failing to study to the appropriate level modern conflicts and wars, in particular, Soviet and US experience in Afghanistan, the NATO operation in Yugoslavia, and the two Iraqi wars.
The thinking of Russian commanders and chiefs of military staffs has mostly been fixed at the lowest, tactical level, Sergei Ivanov believes. And this should come as no surprise, because it was formed though the prism of the counter-terrorist operation in Chechnya, through which many army officers passed and where they gained invaluable experience of troop control during the armed conflict and co-operation with other military and security structures.
However, although this experience has proven to be useful, it is still not up to the relevant level for the army. The task of staffs and commanders is to prepare for operations on a completely different scale, including air, space, naval and ground elements, where the control system requires an incomparably more serious approach.
In Iraq, the Americans showed how to exercise troop control in real time and an ability to rectify quickly mistakes made in units' combat training. This served as a basis for their swift victory over the Iraqi army, Sergei Ivanov concluded. He added that Russia had to study this experience thoroughly and creatively develop it.
The question, of course, is how? The minister expressed an idea that, to start with, the top management structures of the state's military organisation, in particular, the General Staff had to be overhauled.
The General Staff should become "the brain of the army" in deed, not in word, believes Sergei Ivanov. At the same time, the General Staff should be freed from the uncharacteristic functions with which it has been overburdened in recent years. These are, in particular, manning and troop formation, logistic control, excessive control over specific events, and various forms of routine work.
The General Staff should rely on the solidity of the principle of one-man management, the unity of military control, the violation of which "engenders machinations and irresponsibility for the entrusted job".
Many observers have pointed out that, when speaking about the violation of the one-man management principle, the defence minister cited an example from a hundred years ago. Then the imperial army's chief of the General Staff was subordinated directly to emperor and had the right to report directly to him, which interfered with the activity of the military establishment and, in the final analysis, discredited the sound idea of the division of the bodies of military control. However, military experts know that there was a similar case in recent Russian history, when the Chief of the General Staff, bypassing his immediate commander, i.e. the defence minister, reported to the president, who is concurrently the supreme commander in chief, and to the Security Council secretary, setting the commanders in chief of armed forces against one another. In this way, he imposed on the country's leaders his rather disputable proposals. Indeed, their implementation and the ensuing rectification of the mistakes made led to serious military-political consequences. This is what the words "machinations and irresponsibility" mean.
It goes without saying that Sergei Ivanov does not want this to happen now that he is minister. However, many military analysts believe there is no guarantee that the principle of one-man management will not be violated unless "the personality factor" of individual military commanders is not dealt with in the management system of Russian army staffs and troops. Evidently, this means that managing the sophisticated military structure is like conducting a huge orchestra. And there can be only one conductor.