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  • Problems of PostcommunismThe Military Under Democracy
  • Condoleezza Rice (bio)

The states that have freed themselves from Soviet rule are now facing an array of urgent and life-threatening problems. If democracy is to take root and thrive in Eastern Europe and the former USSR, the new postcommunist regimes must reform bankrupt economies, redistribute political power, and devise a new social contract that is based on self-reliance rather than state subsidy and control. Moreover, they must accomplish these daunting tasks through institutions that are still raw and untested.

Seldom in history have aspiring state-builders faced greater obstacles. There are problems on all sides, but perhaps none is more important than the development of an acceptable equilibrium between civilian and military spheres of authority. If the new regimes achieve success in striking this balance, stability and democracy will be greatly strengthened. Failure, on the other hand, will doom these new democracies at best to constant worry about what the soldiers will do in a crisis, and at worst, to military rule.

Problems of civil-military relations are salient in any transition from authoritarianism to democracy. Yet the civil-military legacy left over from Soviet days presents the new regimes with special challenges. That legacy is a paradoxical one in which extreme militarization of the economy and foreign policy coexisted with strong and effective civilian control of the armed forces themselves. Civilian control was first and foremost a product of the communist party's assertion of absolute authority to direct all matters of state and society in the name of [End Page 27] "scientific socialism." Ideology, reinforced by experience, taught early communist leaders to keep tight reins on the political power and ambition of generals. Now that communist hegemony has collapsed, the successor states must begin laying new normative and institutional foundations for the separation of the military from politics.

A Double Void

Though the problem is most acute in the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union, it is far from negligible in Eastern and Central Europe. Immediately after the revolutions of 1989, euphoria about the security environment swept the region; there was a strong sense that, in the absence of a Soviet threat, rapid and extensive disarmament might make the place of the military in society a moot point. That too rosy view has given way recently to the realization that while disarmament will proceed, it will do so slowly. In the wake of the war in Yugoslavia (which raised the specter of persistent regional instability), the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, and dashed hopes that invitations to join NATO might be forthcoming, the states of Eastern and Central Europe are facing the fact that they will probably need substantial military forces for some time to come. The problem of readjusting the civil-military balance is exacerbated by both the slow pace at which defense industries are converting to civilian production, and by a spreading awareness that rapid demilitarization has serious social costs.

The civil-military power vacuum in Eastern and Central Europe, like that in the former Soviet Union, is a product of the disappearance of communist authority. But the system in Eastern and Central Europe always featured dual control—both by the indigenous communist party and by Soviet political and military authorities, who interfered openly and frequently in the military affairs of these nominally independent states. Decisions about strategic planning, officer training and promotion, defense budgets, and so forth—the meat of normal civil-military interaction—were largely dictated, or at least circumscribed, by Moscow.1 The collapse of both indigenous communist rule and Soviet hegemony—eminently welcome developments in themselves—thus left a double void in civil-military relations.

As a result, the new democracies of Eastern and Central Europe must renationalize as well as decommunize their armed forces and officer corps. The relative importance attached to this issue has varied across the region. Poland's leaders, for instance, have been very concerned about the problem, but have failed to do much about it. Because the Polish transition was based essentially on a pact between the communists and Solidarity, turnover in the Defense Ministry has not been high. One can only guess at the...


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