Saturday, May 16, 2009

The New (Spring 2009) Issue of Parameters

The Spring 2009 issue of Parameters is now available. The contents include two-article sections on the issue of proportionality in war, and Afghanistan, a well-balanced article by W. Andrew Terrill on "Deterrence in the Israeli-Iranian Strategic Standoff," and a piece by Roger N. McDermott on "Russia's Conventional Armed Forces and the Georgian War."

I read McDermott's article with particular interest given my own recent examination of the idea of a "resurgent" Russia in The Space Review. McDermott's article does not devote very much to the Russian military's personnel problems, but its examination of other issues is thorough and compelling.

In his assessment of that country's armed forces during the five-day conflict, McDermott mentions improvements in mobility and command and staff arrangements (as compared with Russian conduct in the 1990s), but as one might expect, most of the post-Soviet military's glaring weaknesses have not been corrected, least of all widespread unreadiness and the burden of operating with obsolete equipment. This is especially the case in the area of communications and electronic warfare, Russia's weaknesses in which were especially evident in the failure to suppress Georgian air defenses (which notably cost Russia a Backfire bomber), use satellite data in artillery targeting, and most surprisingly, to employ precision-guided munitions. (Russia's failure to successfully employ its GLONASS satellite system seemed particularly striking to me given the prioritization of that system by the Russian government, which has extended to relatively heavy supplementary spending to maintain the system's extent and operability. Part of the explanation apparently lies in a shortage of GLONASS receivers inside the Russian armed forces, which according to data McDermott cites, had it trying-and failing, because of the "blanking out" of Georgia on the system-to use American GPS.)

It is also evident in the age of many of the major weapons systems used (the Russian army, apparently, relying heavily on 1960s-era T-62s and BMP-1s).

On the whole, McDermott judges the conflict to be Russia's last 20th century war, fought with legacy Soviet systems and legacy Soviet practices; and the actualities of the conflict belied the idea of Russia resurging as a military power (conveyed by, among other things, recent high-profile military exercises and the renewal of long-range bomber patrols). He also discusses the idea that the conflict has been used to sell reform internally (a contentious issue), and notes (accurately, I think) that given Russian economic realities (which I analyzed in part two of my Space Review article) and political ones (reform will mean a sharp reduction in the officer corps, among other contentious details), successful reform is anything but assured.

There is also a lengthy review essay by Larry M. Wortzel on recent writing on North Korea, and a number of worthwhile book reviews, including Andrew Bacevich on Richard Haass's War of Necessity, War of Choice (admittedly, containing few surprises for anyone familiar with either of them), Jeffrey Record on Jane Mayer's The Dark Side, and Stephen J. Blank on Colin S. Gray's War, Peace and International Relations.

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