Russia's Potential Claws despite Internal Turmoil, Moscow's Military-Industrial Complex Is Largely Intact; Its Conversion to Peaceful Production Must Be Accelerated

Article excerpt

ON Dec. 13, President Bush signed into law the congressional appropriation of $400 million to assist the former Soviet Union in dismantling nuclear weapons under the START treaty and unilateral initiatives. Less than a week later, on Dec. 18, Secretary of State James A. Baker III concluded his talks with the four nuclear-armed former Soviet republics, which assured him of their willingness to comply with the agreed-upon destruction of nuclear weapons.

These steps are important and much needed, but the present focus on the destruction of nuclear weapons should not be at the expense of attention to another important potential threat to international security: the Soviet military-industrial complex.

Of the three principal pillars of Soviet power - the Communist Party, the KGB, and the military-industrial complex - the first has been declared illegal and disbanded, and the second has been reorganized and its power largely neutralized. The third pillar has been affected to a considerably smaller degree, however.

This military-industrial complex is located principally in Russia. Boris Yeltsin views Russia as the successor to Soviet military power - including nuclear - and thus provides a certain protection to the military-industrial complex. Some of its plants - especially those of limited usefulness - are being converted to civilian use, and the complex is not as powerful as it used to be. Nonetheless, its basically centralized structure remains.

As the principal remaining authoritarian structure of the former Soviet Union, the military-industrial complex in Russia is a potential threat to democracy in the region, particularly in Russia. Only recently, in connection with the formation of the new Commonwealth of Independent States, concerns were voiced in the former Soviet Union of another potential coup, this time emanating from the military-industrial complex. In the longer run, its preservation in the present form is a potential threat to United States national security as well as that of other nations.

A parallel with Iraq comes to mind. After the heavy pounding of Desert Storm, US authorities assumed that the potential threat of Iraq was neutralized for many years to come. Yet the basic structure of power was preserved, and now we know that our assumptions were unduly optimistic. With passage of time, the present weakness of Russia could be misleading, too.

A direct approach to Russian authorities, encouraging them to restructure the military-industrial complex, is not likely to be successful at this time. Besides, it is a highly complicated process and a huge task that US technical assistance would find difficult to accomplish even if the Russians were cooperating. An indirect approach might be more promising.

UKRAINE has about 30 percent of the old Soviet military-industrial complex within its borders. It has no interest in preserving it, but what it needs is a considerably smaller, cost-effective defense industry along Western lines to support its own military forces, whose intended size has been scaled down from an original 450,000 soldiers to 200,000. …