Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 1

The Kremlin moved a step closer — in formal terms at least — to injecting greater order into the functioning of its security and defense establishments when President Yeltsin in late December approved a "National Security Concept" drafted by the country’s Security Council. The lengthy document is intended to orient Russian policy-makers under the new conditions of the post-Cold War period. In the broadest terms, it outlines and prioritizes the major threats to Russia’s security, and establishes a set of domestic and foreign policy goals aimed at strengthening Russia’s geopolitical position.

Drafting of the national security "concept" began prior to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, but its completion foundered on international developments, as well as on the political upheavals that have regularly rocked the Russian capital and on the related infighting between competing political groupings. The long failure to reach a consensus on the "concept" also complicated the Kremlin’s efforts to draft a series of other documents, including the country’s military doctrine, that in theory should take the national security concept as their starting point. Approval of the National Security Concept could now help clear the way to continuation of the reforms in Russia’s armed forces — and in the forces of the various other "power ministries" as well — that were launched last year following the appointment of Gen. (now Marshal) Igor Sergeev to the post of Defense Minister.

The National Security Concept (see Rossiiskaya gazeta, December 26) is based on a trio of key, and related, assertions: namely, that Russia faces no immediate danger of large-scale aggression in the post-Cold War era, and that, because the country is beset with a myriad of debilitating domestic problems, the greatest threat to Russia’s security is now an internal one. Indeed, the concept describes frankly and at length Russia’s economic difficulties — which are presented as the greatest threat to national security — as well as the political, ethnic, and cultural tensions that threaten both the country’s viability and its territorial integrity. The document clearly suggests that today’s relatively benign international climate affords Russia an opportunity to direct resources away from the defense sector in order to concentrate on the rebuilding of its domestic economy and on resolving other internal tensions. On the whole, it presents this rebuilding effort within the context of continued democratization and the building of a market economy in Russia.

The document also states formally what has long been a cornerstone of Russian foreign policy: i.e., that the rebuilding of Russia is best served not by a passive diplomatic posture, but rather by an aggressive and multi-faceted diplomacy that is aimed at winning membership, or increasing Moscow’s influence, in various international organizations, while simultaneously striving to make Russia a player of import around the globe.

There are few ideas in the new security concept that have not long been heard in Russia, and some have already become the basis of existing domestic or foreign policies. It remains to be seen, however, what sort of reception the document will receive in Moscow. Of at least equal importance, it also remains to be seen whether the guidelines laid out so systematically in the National Security Concept will shape a cohesive approach by the Kremlin to domestic and foreign policy issues, or whether the document will become merely one more formal statement of intentions that, in the end, has little real impact on policy.

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