Ukrainian Defense Reform continuous effort

Andrzej Fałkowski,
Dr., Lt. Gen. (Ret.), Member of the Defence Reform Advisory Board for Ukraine,

Former Deputy Chief of General Staff (DCHoD),
The Polish Armed Forces,

Senior Fellow,
Casimir Pulaski Foundation,

Defending the state against external aggression is the most important task not only for the Ukrainian defense sector but for the whole nation as well. It is difficult to reform the state’s defense system while waging a war at the same time.

In 2020, several important steps in the reform of Ukraine’s defense sector were achieved, despite the temporary upheaval caused by a significant change in staff. The new Minister of Defense, A.Taran, has taken the reins of the Ministry of Defense. The reforms have, as it were, started anew. Personnel changes were made among those responsible for the reforms. Priorities were redefined and deadlines for achieving the goals were altered.

Some reforms are progressing very clearly while others are not. For example, several important command and control (C2) decisions taken in the first half of last year were overall positively assessed by the Alliance. However, information about the subsequent outcome/implementation of those decisions seems rather inconsistent. In this context, the Minister of Defense has recently introduced a Comprehensive Functional Review of the Defense Management System in the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces. This effort should assist in identifying roles and responsibilities. But for the time being, C2 looks complex and confusing to understand and use. Not only the command structure itself remains unclear. It is also the case for many other technical details.

The recently approved law on new military ranks was meant as a step forward and a departure from the past. Its full implementation was rendered impossible by the lack of the necessary executive decisions. Admittedly, some worries are linked to adjusting the ranks to the NATO nomenclature in the context of old habits and sentiments persisting for many decades, especially without losing sight of the need to continuously sustain motivation during wartime.

In June 2020, the North Atlantic Council recognized Ukraine as an Enhanced Opportunities Partner. Ukraine is now one of six such partners, alongside Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden. Ukraine will be able to benefit from a tailor-made relationship with NATO, based on areas of mutual interest. This includes enhanced access to interoperability programmes and exercises, and enhanced sharing of information, including lessons learned.

In September 2020, a new National Security Strategy was adopted. The new strategy sets out fresh goals to achieve sufficient result, in the shortest possible time, in terms of the interoperability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other elements of the security and defense sector with the relevant allied structures. It requires a significant intensification of reforms that must be implemented in order to meet the NATO membership criteria in the execution of the Annual National Program under the auspices of the NATO-Ukraine Commission, and, ultimately, receive an invitation to and join Membership Action Plan (MAP). Thereafter, the Military Security Strategy is on track for implementation in early 2021. Together with the national security strategy, these are two critical strategic documents as some time has passed since the previous edition. It is high time to adopt them and redefine the principles of Ukraine’s security, its strategic environment and its surroundings.

These are the flagship changes introduced in Ukraine’s defense system over the past year. In the extremely dynamic political context, dozens and hundreds of minor and major changes occur in many areas every day. Kiev’s ambition to join the NATO MAP in the near future, maybe even in 2021, comes to the fore. Of course, it does not depend on anyone’s aspirations, but on how the reforms in Ukraine are assessed, not only in the sphere of defense, but also with regard to the functioning of the entire state. Not only the armed forces join NATO. The entire state does.

In this context, discussions on improving internal management within the state become extremely important. Undoubtedly, imperfect laws and practices do not weigh as much as an actual and current threat of losing independence. On the other hand, the integrity and cohesion of a state certainly affects its defense and development capabilities. After all, besides effective defense, democratic values are the most important dimension for the Euro-Atlantic family.

Is Ukraine winning the war against corruption? This is a very open question. Consequently, the defense and perhaps the sovereignty of Ukraine – or at least the support of the West for it – depends on the “purity” of governance in a way that no one can question.

When assessing last year’s reforms of the defense system, one may be tempted to state that there may be too much caution in introducing changes, as well as a tendency to over-regulate each sphere of defense activities, so as not to spoil current posture, or additionally weaken, even periodically, own defense capabilities.

Additionally, there are always too many appealing priorities in such situation. There is also a tendency to so-called deliverology, i.e. implementation without quality control, in order to achieve the apparent quick-wins.

In this context, there are tangible discrepancies between the reform’s two major players i.e. the Ministry of Defense and the General Staff. Each of these institutions defends their own positions and views. The discrepancies concern the scale, the depth and the scope of reforms as well as their progress.

The Armed Forces are carrying out the burden of the reforms, while MOD pragmatically and academically works on the lines of effort, legislation, education and organization as it grapples with the daily challenges. Reform is combined with tremendous pace, pressure and expectations from the public and supreme authorities, operational problems, COVID-19, reform fatigue, etc. The non-competitive improvement of civil-military relations is of course a necessity. Situations like this can weaken civilian democratic control over the military.

It is also important that the entire Euro-Atlantic community has an insight into the real progress of reform and a picture of possible problems in order to observe and support the achievement of Ukraine’s long-term goals in line with the Annual National Program. As the picture and the progress of reforms become clearer, NATO nations will be able to provide consolidated and impartial support on possible ways of improvement for major aspirations in the defense reforms and beyond.

Last year allowed for the formulation of a number of recommendations that could be used in the military (or even political) process of advancing the defense reform. The most important of these is the better use of the NATO ministerial level (e.g. QUINT) to verify and stimulate Ukrainian defense reforms.

It is vital to more actively involve Western countries in the process of formulation of various Ukrainian strategic documents, so that they are consistent with the Euro-Atlantic raison d’etat and the security situation on the eastern flank of NATO and the EU.

When implementing defense reforms, both in the conceptual and executive phases, various forms of cooperation would constitute a significant advantage, because the Ukrainian side is interested in solutions other than those left by its post-Soviet heritage. This assistance may consist in providing selected documents, academic education, internships at the MoD (and other ministries and institutions) and bilateral visits. The ongoing work on the Strategic Defense Bulletin (SDB) is a great opportunity. However, the active use of consulting opportunities in the preparation of the SDB can be added to the arguments in favor of the MAP. Accordingly, it will be necessary to intensify the efforts put into the preparation of the SDB with the maximum involvement of advisors, if possible.

The burning issue is to establish industrial contacts supporting the reforms (including with defense industry state monopolist UKROBORONPROM) before it becomes dominated by some unwelcomed external influences, which is already happening. It is also necessary to try to conclude agreements with the strong arms industry of NATO and EU countries in order to establish cooperation, for example, in the field of production and repairs. It seems that the recent announcements that the transformation of UKROBORONPROM may become effective even a year after the adoption of the relevant law are too optimistic. So far, there have been many unsuccessful attempts. It is difficult to change a company that has done little in 20 years.

The Euro-Atlantic involvement in the work of the newly created Resistance Center would also be helpful. This would give our countries an insight into the Ukrainian military experience (LL). As part of multilateral and bilateral contacts, we must provide substantive, material and personal support.

In connection with the above, and in the context of other reforms (e.g. logistics, military medicine, joint exercises and interoperability), the LITPOLUKRBRIG in Lublin (Poland) can be a very good testing ground and enabler, not to forget its operational tasks.

Some countries have doubled their financial commitment to Ukrainian reforms this year; but just as it is important to support resources, it is important to support Ukraine with expertise and substantive advice. Consideration could be given to expanding the involvement in e.g. trust funds or staff allocation, organizing joint exercises, training, internships, etc.

At the same time, supporting Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts, including the demonstration of Western planning, programming, budget transparency and public procurement solutions, would also constitute a commitment appreciated by our Ukrainian partners, one that would involve relatively little costs, but could potentially trigger a huge change in mentality.

Ukraine’s status as a partner with enhanced opportunities and the continued and ongoing reforms do not prejudge any decisions on Ukraine’s membership in NATO. Allies continue to encourage and support Ukraine in its reform efforts, including in the security and defense sector, in civil control and democratic oversight, and in the fight against corruption. There is no turning back from the reform aimed at meeting the NATO membership criteria, adjusting the Ukrainian security and defense sector to NATO standards and strengthening democratic civilian control.

Expert article 2925

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