Academic journal article Parameters

Legacy Concepts: A Sociology of Command in Central and Eastern Europe

Academic journal article Parameters

Legacy Concepts: A Sociology of Command in Central and Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Elements of the Communist concept of command continue to ramify throughout Central and Eastern European armed forces. They inhibit the orderly delegation of command, the consistent creation of defense capabilities, and the professional development of commanders and managers; they also impede these armed services from adopting the concepts of authority, accountability, and responsibility--concepts taken for granted in Western defense institutions.

An optimistic view of military leadership in the defense institutions of Central and Eastern European post-Communist countries prevails among Western officials and influences many of their decisions to support new allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Since most of these European countries have deployed forces in combat and peace-support operations with NATO after the Cold War, and many have received positive reviews, these assumptions are understandable. (1) Many Western leaders also presume commanders of post-Communist nations who have been exposed to Western philosophies of command during combined operations and the introduction of modern Western combat platforms and systems will naturally adopt similar practices of accountability and responsibility in their own organizations. This article examines the contrast of such contemporary expectations in the context of a trinity of Communist legacy command concepts: collective decision-making to avoid personal responsibility; conflating leadership, command, and management; and hypercentralized decision-making. (2)

Leaders in Central and Eastern Europe have yet to appreciate the effects of this trinity on the adoption of delegated decision-making on the development of a merit-based officer and noncommissioned officer corps and on the sustentation of Central and Eastern European military capabilities when they assess the viability of their armed forces under the shadow of Russia's new adventurism. Interest also piques when discerning the challenges that have occurred during recent modernization efforts. With some exceptions such as Yugoslavia's republic-based territorial defense forces, post-Communist defense organizations come from a conceptual legacy whereby all decision-making was highly centralized and quite different from Western mission command philosophies. (3) Thus, integrating Western weapons systems and platforms, designed to require critical thinking and decentralized operation, is formidable. The Polish Air Force provides an apt example: they acquired F-16s in 2006, declared them operational in 2012, deployed them on operations for the first time during the summer of 2016, and scheduled their first Baltic Air Policing mission for May 2017. (4)

The omission of similar Central and Eastern European defense institutions' preparedness to absorb more Western equipment, training, and exercises, let alone effectively use such resources, is not fully appreciated by Western leaders. In March 2016, for instance, US Air Force General Philip M. Breedlove, who was then commander of the US European Command, presented a comprehensive review of the state of security and defense in Europe to the US Senate Armed Services Committee. (5) Yet, his testimony in no way suggested a need to address the conceptual and philosophical foundations of these defense institutions. Thus, one can only conclude US planning and managing of military and defense advice and assistance to these critical allies is premised on the unchallenged, and indeed dubious, assumption that these organizations hold Western philosophies of command and governance.

The anatomy of post-Communist defense institutions in the context of organizational sociology, however, reveals strong political, institutional, cultural, and indeed, sociological influences that inhibit the adoption of basic Western concepts of defense governance. These legacy practices produce organizational pathologies which prevent delegating command authority in a planned and predictable fashion, producing defense capabilities, and developing commanders and managers at all levels. …

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