On February 13, 2012 by Decree № 65 Alexander Lukashenka has approved the “Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on the joint protection of the Union State external border in the air and creating a joint regional air defence system of Belarus and the Russian Federation” (hereinafter referred to as JRADS). The agreement was signed by defence ministers of both countries on February 3, 2009, however, it wasn’t approved by the Belarusian side.
The fact of the approval of the Agreement has caused debates among Belarusian politicians and experts about the importance of this event and its potential threat to national sovereignty of Belarus.
It should be noted that the opinions were quite different. It is noted that the agreement on JRADS itself only organizes the system of relations between the defence forces of both countries, which has been used from the Soviet times. In general this is true, as the JRADS is part of the United air defence system of CIS countries.
Also, it was suggested that approval of the Agreement by the Belarusian side was connected with the election campaign in Russia.
At the same time there are also alarmist statements that the most important part of the national defence system will be controlled by the neighbouring state.
In our opinion, the latter statement is wrong. In order to confirm that it’s necessary to see the text of the Agreement.
Firstly, the agreement was made in order to develop the “Agreement on the establishment of a joint air defence system of states — members of the Commonwealth of Independent States” from February 10, 1995, the Treaty between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation “On Military Cooperation” from December 19, 1997, the “Agreement between the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation on joint regional security in the military sphere” from December 19, 1997 and the concept of a joint defence policy of Belarus and Russia, approved by the decision of the Supreme Council of Belarus-Russia Union of 22.01.1998 № 4. To put it mildly, none of these documents are can be called new. At the same time the sovereignty of Belarus hasn’t diminished since the second half of the 90s, and Russia hasn’t become stronger despite the triumphant statements of Kremlin-connected media.
Secondly, the Art. 4 of the Agreement reads that the parties are not obliged to transfer all their divisions to JRADS, and the list of units transferred can be adjusted as needed any time.
Thirdly, in peacetime the national defence components of the JRADS are used in accordance with national laws. The parties are just planning joint actions and organize interaction between the units.
Fourthly, the agreement is fixed-date and is concluded for five years.
But the most interesting thing is the appendix of the Agreement on “Regulations on the JRADS of the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation”, which defines the tasks and scheme of JRADS functioning. It should be said that there is nothing extraordinary about it. In general, the tasks assigned to JRADS repeat the current tasks of national air defence systems. In peacetime, the JRADS tasks are solved on the basis of an action plan, approved jointly by the Ministers of Defence of Belarus and Russia.
The usage of the air defence fighters on duty of one party to meet the challenges of combat duty in the airspace of the other one is only performed after an agreed solution of operational air defence command centers on duty of the two countries.
Particular attention should be paid to the functional responsibilities of the commander of the JRADS. And in peacetime they are rather small: to coordinate the air defence activities of the parties, to prepare proposals on the development of the JRADS, to develop the plans for combat use of the JRADS units. In wartime the commander gets the direct right to command JRADS.
The organization and the usage of JRADS is based on the following principles:
a) coordination of joint action in time of peace;
b) maintaining the direct subordination of the JRADS troops (forces) to national command in peacetime;
c) use of JRADS troops (forces) according to the single concept and plan in time of war;
d) equipping the JRADS troops (forces) with weapons and military equipment on the basis of a single military-technical policy;
e) a unified approach to defining the requirements for combat readiness and training of JRADS troops (forces), the organization of their operational and combat training.
From the above it is obvious, that all the fundamental solutions in the JRADS are used only by consensus. And it’s impossible to speak about the transfer of the Belarusian Air Defence Command to the other party. Speaking about the situation of armed conflict, which should result in transition of direct control over JRADS to the Commander, it’s necessary to note two things:
— there are no obstacles for a Belarusian to be the JRADS Commander;
— the possibility of an armed conflict in the area of responsibility of JRADS is extremely small.
It’s necessary to underline, that the creation of regional air defence systems is used by many Western countries: for example the American-Canadian Command of aerospace defence of North America (existing since 1958) and Air Command of NATO. Moreover, NATO countries show the deepest military integration. For example, the military leadership of the U.S. controls the UK nuclear deterrent (up to the use of nuclear weapons). The Franco-British military integration is going to a new level.
The signing of the Agreement itself has been long expected. Moreover, despite the lack of approval, de facto the agreement acted on most issues. It will be wrong to speak about the deepening dependence of Belarus on Russia because of a single military-technical policy: both parties use the same source of weapons — the arsenals of the Soviet Army. None of the parties has put into service, developed, or purchased in third countries anything new since 1991. Moreover, a single military-technical policy for Belarus means the access to the new Russian weapons and military technology. National defence needs re-equipment. Belarus can’t cope with it on its own, and it’s impossible to buy weapons in the West because of the material factor. There only two variants: the old one – Russia, or the new — China. However, China is still dependant on imported technology in the spheres, that interest Belarus, — aviation and air defence.
In our opinion, the military-political alliances should not be regarded as an a priori threat to sovereignty. They are some kind of instrument and if used in the right way they can be of mutual benefit to all participants.