Critical look at the new Military Doctrine of Belarus.


At the end of July the new Military Doctrine was adopted in Belarus. The process of discussion of its main provisions by expert community has been lasted for half a year, and the key peculiarities of the document are known to everyone who has even a slight interest in the Belarusian political life. We will try to highlight the points that haven’t attracted the attention of analysts. Moreover, that these points are comparatively numerous.

What has already been said

For a start, it’s necessary to enumerate all the details of the new edition of Belarus’ Military Doctrine that were widely disseminated in the media. In general, the size of the document has become half as bigger as the previous version and more structured as well (10 chapters are grouped into 5 sections). However, the interpretation of certain provisions is not entirely unequivocal, about what we’ll mention further.

For the purpose of the Doctrine analysis it’s crucial to take into account the key factors that influenced its content. Obviously, the principal ones were the overall growth of tensions in the Eastern Europe due to increased level of rivalry between Russia and NATO as well as Ukraine conflict. Besides, the adoption of the new Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation in December 2014 played some role. The provisions of the last apparently were considered by national authorities on the stage of the development of the Belarus’ edition.

Those factors explain the emergence of a huge part of the new points in the document:
change in the perception of the military and political environment with due consideration of the rising role of non-state actors (in the first place, terrorist organizations) as examples of important international arena players;
increase in general level of anxiety in the assessment of the situation around Belarus, and recognition of theoretical possibility of our country retraction into the conflicts of various scales;
clear trend towards growing importance of the internal military dangers and consideration of the hypothetical probability of destabilization of the situation in Belarus;
change in the understanding of the nature of modern armed conflicts (active use of non-military measures against the enemy, information warfare, simultaneous use of regular troops with irregular armed groups);

extension of the list of measures to ensure military security as well as its factors;
strengthening of the need to develop multi-profile defense sector, with a focus on maximum utilization of the capacity of the domestic defense industry.

New and remarkable points

Now let’s talk about the features that may seem unnoticeable at first sight. As it was previously pointed out in the media, the document obtained a new chapter – “General Terms and Definitions”. Nevertheless, the Belarusian authorities have decided to ignore the notion of “hybrid threat” in spite of the announcement of the former State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Alexander Mezhuev. One possible explanation of this fact is seen in the unwillingness of the official Minsk to annoy its eastern neighbour. After all, the term is widely used in the EU and NATO documents, and primarily in the context of evaluation of Russian actions in Ukraine.

In chapter “Main military dangers” attention is attracted by the change in the interpretation of the term of “military threat”. For example, if in the version of 2002, the “build-up by certain States of its military potential with striking and offensive orientation” is referred to the list of main external threats, whereas today a similar provision is related to the category of «risks and challenges». In other words, the effect of certain components of the security situation around Belarus is now perceived less categorical. By the way, traditionally accepted in political science ranking of factors, that have an impact on the national security, on risks, challenges and threats (in ascending order of danger) should be also marked out as a new element in the doctrine, although it had been formulated in the National Security Concept of 2010. At the same time, none of these documents does not contain distinct criteria for the separation of above mentioned danger levels.

In particular, the new points in the list of external dangers (on the level of risks and challenges) include the following ones: reduction of potential of military and political alliances with Belarus’ participation in terms of preserving its collective security; the establishment and operation in states of paramilitary information warfare units; training of illegal armed groups for destabilization of the situation inside Belarus. If the last two provisions reflect the analysis of the experience of military conflict in Ukraine, the first is an example of implicit doubts about the viability of the Collective Security Treaty Organization as an effective instrument to maintain the collective security of its members. Apparently, the authors of the Doctrine took into account the cautious position of the organization’s executives towards the armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh region. Yerevan did not get a considerable support from his allies in the international organization that had been initially created for the settlement of such cases.

In the list of internal dangers the first place is taken by “weakening of the sense of patriotism and the level of citizens’ readiness for the armed protection of their own country”. Even if we put aside the talks about the total falling of moral principles in the modern society, what is apparent is that Belarusian authorities are aware of the fact, that due to the ongoing rise in prices and reduction of people’s incomes, the number of supporters of the idea to defend their country in the event of any «trouble» is getting smaller and smaller. For fairness’ sake it should be noted that, according to IISEPS poll organized in June, in case of hypothetical retraction of Belarus in the conflict between Russia and NATO, Moscow will be supported by 33.6% of Belarusians and the Alliance — by 13.4%. Of course, it would be a reckless mistake to accept blindly the data of such a research. However, it reflects the absence of unity and solidarity of the Belarusian people in the face of external danger. The exact numbers may be remained on the conscience of the sociologists.

Now we need to clarify what is considered as a military threat in the Doctrine. The first provision says that the threat is “the concentration of the armed forces of another state (coalition of states) along the State border of the Republic of Belarus, pointing to the real intention to use such military force against the independence, territorial integrity, sovereignty and constitutional order of the Republic of Belarus”. Really controversial question is how to determinate the reality of such intentions. One of the possible explanations of such vague interpretations is that it gives Belarusian authorities more flexibility in the assessment of certain events, whether it concerns NATO multinational battalions in the West or Russia motorized division in the East.

In principle the Doctrine has become less categorical in its assessments and expanded the scope of its application. If previously the focus was on strengthening of the common defense space with Russia, now it’s clearly viewed the understanding of the necessity to establish constructive cooperation with the large number of actors on the world stage, and not only in the post-soviet space. This means a wider use of international organizations mechanisms in order to neutralize military threats on the global (UN) and regional (OSCE) levels, the development of good-neighborly relations with all border states. Therefore, we may see the recognition of the need to work at different levels of military security, from the global to the domestic ones.

In the description of military administration bodies, managing the state’s military organization, attention is drawn to the absence in the list of the Ministry of Defense. In the previous edition, the military department was mentioned. In the current one only the General Staff of the Armed Forces is listed, as a performer of the Security Council orders during the operation of martial law. The reason for such an omission remains a mystery. Whether the role of the Ministry in matters of the Armed Forces management during the peacetime has become not so important, that sounds a bit absurd, or the developers the Doctrine decided to focus more on examining the structure of these bodies only in relation to wartime.

In the field of development of military capability it’s necessary to dwell on such new moments as the improvement of the quality of military personnel training, enhancement of ideological work in order to foster patriotism and raise the prestige of military service.

For reference: the overall average passing score of the students, admitted to the Military Academy of Belarus in 2016, amounted to 170 (out of 400 possible). If not to take into account the results of the groups represented exclusively by female persons (three of 22), who had demonstrated some of the highest passing scores, the overall figure drops to 156. Not to mention that in certain specialties, such as “management of the tank units” score has slid down to 108. And this is the future of the young reinforcement of the officer corps. Hard to believe that a freshman with such results will be a worthy defender of the motherland and the Belarusian system of military education can do wonders in stimulating of study program mastering. With the decline in defense spending and the unresolved problem with the outflow of young officers from the Armed Forces, the state is forced to rely on strengthening of “political” consciousness of military servicemen without significant increase in their material well-being. Whether these measures will be effective, that remains to be seen. At least, the existing problems are fixed on doctrinal level.

Program of action is identified, and what with the implementation?

In general, the Military Doctrine should not include a thorough justification of its feasibility. Such acts represent a reflection of the recent changes in the development of the security situation and, respectively, form a kind of “road map” for the future actions. And for the most part this task was fulfilled. Problem areas are designated, risks and challenges are fixed, the measures – identified.

Taking into account the common-European trend to increase defense spending, Belarus, battling with the consequences of the economic recession, risks losing the battle for the preservation of military potential. Many things will depend on the success of the military sector reform as well as Russia’s readiness to provide all possible assistance in maintaining the combat readiness of the Belarusian Armed Forces with new supplies of weapons. Because it appears that the leadership of Belarus hasn’t got its own resources.