In 1961, three days before leaving office, United States President Dwight Eisenhower warned against the military-industrial complex, a term that resonates to this day. But in fact, the outgoing commander-in-chief had originally intended to speak of “a military-industrial-congressional complex” because he believed he saw the rise of an alliance of forces among all three as posing a serious threat to the future of the country. He was ultimately dissuaded from doing so, lest he offend powerful US legislators, an indication that his original intention was on target. And in the decades since, members of Congress—in the past themselves often military officers and more recently because their districts host important defense facilities and because their constituents support such spending—have again and again pushed for and succeeded in giving the Pentagon more money for programs than various administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, have wanted to.
Even those opposed to such spending see this outcome as a normal reflection of multiple constituencies vying for influence in a democracy as well as of the importance of division of powers within the government. But few have recognized that even in countries without effective democratic institutions or real divisions of power, an alliance between the military and members of parliaments, however much either or both are controlled by the executive, can still play a powerful role in pressing for increased military spending. And even when legislatures are circumscribed by a lack of independence to pass laws, its deputies may still be able to use the parliamentary “bully pulpit” to put pressure on the government to move in the directions they prefer—lest the government face withering criticism.
That is what is now happening in the Russian Federation. Last week, Vladimir Shamanov, a retired colonel general of the Russian Armed Forces who currently chairs the Russian Duma’s (lower chamber of parliament) defense committee, savaged the Russian government for failing to provide adequate funding for the military. Following Shamanov’s remarks, his committee approved a budget for the Armed Forces over the next three years that was 145 billion rubles ($2.2 billion) greater than the government had requested. Commentators described this move as a “mutiny” against the executive branch by lawmakers, even though one of them, Vladimir Stepanov said it is “obvious” that “no one will give the military additional funds.” Still, he added that at least now, more attention will be paid to problems within the armed services (Versia, October 21).
The amount of increase, to be sure, is only a tiny fraction of the overall Russian defense budget. The annual budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Defense exceed three trillion rubles ($45 billion). The defense committee’s upward corrective may, thus, be ignored by the government, which often allocates money in ways that fundamentally contradict budgets passed by the parliament. At the same time, the Duma’s agitation for more defense funds may even have been encouraged by some in the Kremlin who wish to see the government of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attacked and thus further reduced in stature relative to President Vladimir Putin.
But playing to patriotic attitudes could also simply be good politics. Thus, ever more Duma deputies—most of whom have at least some military experience, and especially those who were senior officers prior to being installed in the parliament by the Kremlin upon their retirement from service—can be expected to make the case for more defense spending now and in the future.
A couple years ago, one Moscow portal compiled a list of ten such retired officers currently in the Duma who are likely to call for ever higher military budgets (Vsevybory.ru, August 3, 2017). In addition to Shalamov, they include Nikolay Antoshkin, a Hero of the Soviet Union; Aleksandr Sherin, a former military pilot; Andrey Krasnov who fought in Afghanistan, Chechnya and South Ossetia; Viktor Zavarzin, a former general in command of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) forces in Tajikistan; Vladimir Bogodukhov, who earlier served as a commander in Afghanistan and a senior commander in the first and second Chechen wars; Yury Shvytkin, a former riot police (OMON) colonel; Roman Romanenko, a former cosmonaut; Ivan Teterin, who fought in Chechnya and then oversaw counter-terrorism actions in the North Caucasus; and Anatoly Vyborny, a senior military prosecutor. All except Sherin, who is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) faction, are members of the ruling United Russia party.
The presence of such people, the heavy prevalence of military veterans in the Russian parliament, and the example of Shalamov together suggest that it may be time to speak of a military-industrial-Duma complex in Russia. Even if this situational coalition cannot win all the battles it may choose to fight, it nonetheless gives the Russian Armed Forces another form of leverage over the government. This can be expected to further tilt the budgetary playing field toward higher defense spending regardless of what policies Putin or Medvedev seek to promote. At the very least, the presence of so many former senior officers in the Duma is important to monitor.