The Failure of Defense Planning in European Post-Communist Defense Institutions: Ascertaining Causation and Determining Solutions

Thomas-Durell Young. Journal of Strategic Studies. Volume 41, Issue 7. December 2018.

By any objective measure, defense institutions in Central and Eastern Europe have all but universally been incapable of producing viable defense plans that are based on objective costing and operational planning data. This situation exists in spite the provision of considerable Western advice and assistance, let alone reporting to and receiving assessments by NATO’s International Staff under Partnership for Peace, as well as via the integrated defense planning and reporting systems. An explanation for this systematic failure across European post-Communist defense institutions can be found in the continued slow development of an over-arching policy framework which directs and approves all activities of the armed forces, as well as the de-centralization of financial decision-making down to capability providers. The essay ends with an examination of the adverse effects of the early introduction of planning programming, budgeting system (PPBS), have had on the development of effective policy and planning capabilities within these defense institutions.

Within the context of examining defence institutions in Central and Eastern Europe, irrespective of their particular Communist legacies, all share the dubious distinction of being incapable of developing and seeing through to execution viable national defence plans. This failure to adopt basic Western defence governance concepts, such as producing and executing defence plans, has occurred in spite of having received considerable Western advice and assistance. This has been augmented by their participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP)’s Planning and Review Process (PARP), as well as those nations in NATO who participate in the integrated defence planning and reporting process. What is even more curious is that one is challenged to find defence officials in the region who have not been trained and educated in Western institutions (which, ostensibly includes instruction in defence planning). Finally, one should not dismiss the wide-spread efforts by the U.S. Department of Defense to ‘export’ its form of budgetary programming method to these newly created and existing transitional defence institutions: Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System (PPBS). Arguably, by any objective assessment of the considerable training, education, and advising efforts undertaken by ‘old’ NATO nations, one could conclude that there has been more than adequate advice and assistance proffered to produce basic and viable defence plans.

Yet, a review of publicly available information does not support such a conclusion. An evaluation of policy and planning documents from these defence institutions demonstrates that previous and ongoing Western efforts essentially have been a failure. Even those defence institutions that might rate highly on most analysts’ lists of being the most reformed in the region, viz., Poland, Slovenia, and Romania, also continue struggle to create defence plans that have been fully executed. That such basic concepts that encapsulate the precepts of democratic defence governance have been so slow to take hold in these defence institutions should be considered a cause for concern for two key reasons. First, like many other European defence institutions, the international financial crisis of 2008 hit these transitioning economies particularly hard. This has had the corresponding effect of reducing defence expenditures, whilst their defence institutions were reforming, and most of these armed forces were attempting to modernise. Thus, they have faced the challenge of creating new, or transitioning from legacy, force structures into smaller, professional forces with a greater emphasis on deployability during a long period of financial penury, leaving their transformation incomplete. Second, that many of these PfP and NATO member defence institutions are located adjacent to or have long historical ties with, Russia that since 2014 has adopted a more muscular approach towards its neighbours and the West, should be another cause of concern. Russian military effectiveness in its operations against Ukraine since winter 2014 should put paid to any thoughts that the Russian Army has not reformed itself considerably since its poor performance in the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. Indeed, one could posit a strong case that the inability of these defence institutions to create and execute sustainable defence plans only serves to encourage Russian adventurism.

The reason for the inability of these defence institutions to conduct basic planning and formulate executable defence plans is the result of the confluence of a number of factors. First, there are many defence institutions with no institutional memory of national defence planning, for example, members of the Warsaw Pact. Additionally, in some of these countries, the development of defence planning methods was a low priority due to their active engagement in conflict at their independence (e.g., Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) or was under the threat of conflict (e.g., Macedonia). Second, prevailing legacy norms, such as the degree to which decision-making within these institutions remains highly centralised, have also obviated against their ability to develop and employ such common practices as collaborating, co-ordination, and consensus-building in the planning process. Third, certain Western advice and assistance, whilst arguably well-meaning, had the effect of encouraging the institutionalization of the method of budgetary programming before the creation of strong policy frameworks supported by knowledgeable and experienced planners. This has had the effect of creating opaque processes and new bureaucracies which have come to dominate ‘planning’ in a highly centralised fashion and thereby isolating policy priorities from execution of defence budgets. Fourth and finally, old NATO nations and NATO officials have clearly not been specific enough and sharp in their critiques of these weak defence planning processes when reviewed in PARP, NATO’s integrated defence planning and reporting system, as well as in bi-lateral defence and diplomatic discussions.

This essay argues that defence planning concepts and techniques in Communist legacy defence institutions in Central and Eastern Europe are betwixt atavistic Communist concepts and new Western approaches to planning that has produced planning stasis. Specifically, these bureaucracies suffer from highly centralised decision-making; particularly regarding financial expenditures, weak policy frameworks, and as a rule, policy is conflated with Positive Law that combined makes it all but impossible to formulate executable defence plans. The article’s first section will provide a large representative sample of the planning failures of defence institutions derived from open-source literature and publicly-released documents. In the second section, the current writer will argue that an impediment to the creation of a proper policy framework and an ability to draft viable plans has been the adoption of budget programming methods that has had the effect of isolating policy from execution. In the conclusion, some solutions to these challenges will be offered.

The Evidence of Systematic Defence Planning Failure

Due to the limited space in this essay, not every legacy defence institution in Central and Eastern Europe can be assessed. Rather, the current writer has identified for assessment those defence institutions which analysts could considered to be ‘reformed’, in accordance with Western defence and military norms, by virtue of modernization and experience on combat operations. This line of argument will demonstrate the point of how profoundly under-developed defence planning is in these defence institutions. As such, a large representative sample is offered, which demonstrates commonalities in most planning ‘pathologies’. The evidence presented should enable a clearer understanding of the challenges facing defence officials in the region. The countries assessed are organised by their Communist legacy provenance, and their order is suggestive of their perceived sophistication in their ability to create executable defence plans.

Former Warsaw Pact Republics

Poland presents a complex picture of a legacy armed force, but which has gone professional and is equipped with sophisticated Western capabilities (e.g., F-16s, C-130 aircraft, Leopard 2A4 tanks, FFG-7 frigates, and Type-207 submarines). Given the impressive number of deployments by formed formations to Iraq and Afghanistan, the Polish Army has gained critical operational experience using Western and NATO military concepts. Yet, notwithstanding these impressive accomplishments, the Polish case remains a complex one and where defence planning shortcomings can be discerned by inference. To be sure, the Ministry of Defence and General Staff have published the standard panoply of strategy and planning documents. Yet these documents do not appear to be as influential in effecting policy change as those issued previously by the National Security Bureau, for example, White Book on National Security, which administratively falls under the presidency, and not the Ministry of Defence. As the J-5 of the General Staff formulates its development plans absent financial data, one can only question the influence of such financially-uninformed plans when they are executed by the Ministry of Defence which closely centralises financial management. Indeed, the lack of adequate planning is perhaps best illustrated in the ‘notorious’ challenges faced by acquiring F-16s for the Polish Air Force. Although the aircraft were first introduced in 2006, they only became operational in 2012. Moreover, the Polish Air Force, and evidently the defence institution, is obviously still struggling to understand how best to use this capability as witnessed by the fact that of the 5 deployments undertaken by the Polish Air Force in support of the NATO Baltic Air Policing operation, as of 2014, not one of these has yet to be comprised of F-16s, but rather have been undertaken by its MiG-29s. This is despite the fact that MiG-29s are ostensibly more expensive to operate.

Poland developed on its own and has long attempted to implement fully PPBS. As such, it has suffered a long record of disunity between the Ministry of Defence and the General Staff in planning and budgetary execution. The results of such an arrangement are predictable. The General Staff created the ‘Army 2006’ modernization plan, which in the end proved to be neither politically nor financially supportable. More recently, Polish planning methods again failed in the case of the ten-year technical modernization program launched in 2012. By the end of 2015, it was reported that this plan had not met its acquisition objectives due to the fact that the plan had not been properly costed.

Romania presents a troubling history of developing viable defence plans. In 2004, the Ministry of National Defence conducted a strategic defence review (SDR) to determine requirements and ascertain how best to finance defence. Yet, the General Staff, on its own authority in 2007, developed a ‘transformation strategy’ of the armed forces which essentially ignored government-endorsed policy guidance of the 2004 review. In 2008, facing the prospect of diminished financial resources, the Ministry of National Defence proposed conducting another SDR that was opposed by the General Staff because it had its own transformation strategy. Yet, that same document was not a standard (routine) planning document, nor was its requirement outlined in law. Rather, the document was drafted by the General Staff independently and presented to the National Defence Council, chaired by the President, thereby bypassing the Ministry of National Defence. Worse yet, it ignored and breached the process and procedures established in the 2004 Law on Defence Planning. Although the Minister of National Defence, as a member of National Defence Council, agreed the strategy, the Ministry of National Defence had only two weeks to analyze it before it was endorsed. Critically, the Ministry of National Defence never accepted all of the document’s conclusions; a major point of contention being that the General Staff did not cost the plan. Finally, as regards the translation of plans to budgets, despite having embraced and implemented in 2002 the U.S. exported PPBS method, in 2010, a Romanian defence official publicly acknowledged that the Ministry of National Defence still could not fully utilise it effectively in defence planning due to its intensive personnel requirements.

The Czech Republic presents a highly documented and illustrative case of how the failure to create an effective policy framework has contributed to an institutional inability to produce defence plans. Table 1 shows a list of no less than 24 policy pronouncements produced by the Czech defence institution since 1995; a clear indictment of the inability of successive governments to create an effective policy-framework to ensure that policy priorities and objectives are implemented. This also manifests no small degree of policy incoherence. For example, as late as 2010, that year’s Defence White Book continued to argue the need to deploy forces whilst maintaining the ability to defend national territory; without acknowledging that since 1999, the latter is a collective defence task of NATO. As for defence planning specifically, the Czech Ministry of Defence, with US assistance, introduced the PPBS methodology and adopted long-term planning horizons out to 5-10 years. However, there was little effort made to explain this methodology to the Czech government which has, like most other democracies, a one-year budgetary system. In consequence, within a short time, it simply ‘crumbled’. Soukupova cites a Czech-language publication that claims that it was a disaster as not only was the methodology too complicated and complex, but it led to planning failures due to the lack of checks and balances. The Ministry of Defence admitted officially in 2011 that although formally implemented in 2002, it truly never did adopt the system. Perhaps worse of all, the method did not achieve one of its key objectives of increasing transparency with Parliamentarians as the later have not accepted multi-year programs, and so have largely ignored the Ministry of Defence’s inputs and only assign a ‘blunt number’ for defence.

Czech security and defence policy incoherence.


Strategic Documents
1995 White Book on Defence
1997 National Defence Strategy
1997 Intended Concept of Development of ACR till 2000, with foresight till 2005
1999 Military Strategy
1999 Security Strategy
2001 Security Strategy
2001 Doctrine of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic
2002 Concept of Development of Professional ACR and Mobilization of the Armed Forces of the Czech Republic
2002 Military Strategy
2003 Security Strategy
2003 New Concept of Development of Professional Armed Forces of the Czech Republic and Mobilization of the Armed Forces Reconfigured to New Resource Framework
2004 Doctrine of Armed Forces of the Czech Republic
2004 National Armaments Strategy
2004 Military Strategy
2006 Report on Defence Provision in the Czech Republic
2007 Defence Plan for the Czech Republic
2007 Transformation of the Defence Resort of the Czech Republic
2008 Long Term Vision of the Resort of Ministry of Defence
2008 Principles of Defence of the Czech Republic 2030
2008 Military Strategy
2009 Defence Policy of Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic between 1989-2009
2011 Security Strategy of the Czech Republic
2011 Defence White Book
2012 Defence Strategy of the Czech Republic (replaces Military Strategy of 2008)

Apropos Hungary, Dunay writes that ‘…for much of the 1990s, Hungarian civil-military relations were characterised by two largely incompetent groups facing each other: the new civilians in the defence sector and the old military “professionals”‘. This lack of expertise in both military and civilian officials resulted in poorly drafted and costed defence plans. A formal defence planning system was developed with the assistance of Western advisers in the mid-1990s, yet a detailed examination of the description of the process reveals what appears to be a needlessly complex set of discrete sub-processes. Evidence of its weaknesses was demonstrated when the Ministry of Defence conducted two defence reviews (1999 and 2003). These reviews had the objective of merging policy objectives with envisaged defence outcomes, yet recommendations for modernization were subsequently ignored by governments. The 2008 global financial crisis resulted in the government publishing two national-level policy and military strategy documents, but they lacked proposals how these recommendations could be implemented, particularly as regards modernization. Although the Ministry of Defence adopted PPBS in 1998, as late as 2010, a Hungarian official acknowledged that they did not have a ‘…real complex programme based approach, areas of resource planning have been isolated from each other, and the program budgets do not contain costs of manpower and running costs of military infrastructures’. In effect, programming, it is claimed, is isolated from budgeting as there are different timeframes and is governed by different regulations. Finally, notwithstanding the fact Hungary claims that the PPBS method it employs is based on capability-, vice being force-based, defence planners have found that using this method is too complex and complicated.

The Slovak defence institution was created from whole cloth in 1993 following the Velvet Divorce, but its weak institutional base impeded the development of a coherent armed forces as well as defence planning capabilities. This situation was somewhat improved after the General Staff was moved in the fall of 1999 from Trencin to, and integrated within, the Ministry of Defence in Bratislava, but inter-ministerial co-ordination remains a challenge. This lack of strong institutional management was documented in a US government report issued in 2000 that found that the army’s combat readiness was virtually nil as it, inter alia, conducted no combined arms training. In 1994, Slovakia reformed its defence budgeting and finance system, but it did not include defence planning in the new department which only caused greater confusion when in 1996 it decided to introduce PPBS. Yet, when PPBS was introduced, the Ministry of Finance rejected the methodology and insisted that the Ministry of Defence use the same method as in other ministries. The ensuing result was to reinforce centralised control, ensuring that both policy and plans were bureaucratically isolated from financial execution. A telling example of the disconnect between policy and financial execution was provided in 2013 when the Slovak Ministry of Defence publically acknowledged that the armed forces personnel structure was seriously unbalanced, 70 per cent of its ground equipment was past its life-cycle, and it could reach only 54% of NATO standards to achieve interoperability. The Ministry went on to acknowledge that this poor state of affairs placed in serious doubt its ability to defend the country, let alone meet its international commitments. This is a remarkable white paper for its complete candour of the poor state of the development of the Slovak defence institution and even acknowledges what it perceives to be its causation; which includes, inter alia, its poorly developed defence planning capability. The paper admitted that planning has been so underperforming that since 1993, it has yet to complete a single major project to re-equip the armed forces.

Former Yugoslav Republics

Slovenia has long rated high in terms of its record of adopting Western defence and military concepts and its healthy civil-military relations. Yet, like other countries in the region, Slovenia has suffered from developing ambitious development plans, which even when endorsed by Government and Parliament, have been subsequently under-funded. In recent times, the failure of governments to fund endorsed plans has caused the planning system to seize, the plans declared un-implementable, thus resulting in planning stasis. Yet, even the implementation of those plans that have been endorsed and funded has been impeded by excessive micro-management of finances. For instance, the Chief of Defence controls no more than 5 per cent of his own budget, and the Mid-Term Defence Program is so restrictive as to limit the ability of battalion commanders to manage their units’ finances to achieve their assigned missions and tasks. Moreover, important conceptual gaps in methods remain. The Ministry of Defence has acknowledged that it has not succeeded in integrating more closely national defence planning efforts and using the data from the operational planning undertaken by the armed forces. Policy incoherence can also be found its 2009 SDR that established the need to restructure tactical formations. Yet, literally within pages of this statement, there is a discussion of the continued challenges posed by human resource management (HRM) and thereby failing to make this important connection between HRM and the organization of tactical formations. Furthermore, the Slovenian Ministry of Defence’s claimed objective of ‘gradually’ reaching a rank structure based on 1:2:5 (officers, non-commissioned officers (NCOs), soldiers) can only be interpreted as constituting a lack of policy commitment to develop more quickly an effective and cost-effective pyramidal rank structure, because as of 2013, these ratios stood at 1:1.8:2.8. These planning objectives are further undermined by the Ministry of Defence’s assumption that it will be able to modernise the armed forces by reducing personnel costs to 50 per cent, thereby allowing 30 per cent of the budget to be allocated to operations and maintenance and 20 per cent to procurement and infrastructure. Note that, the figure for personnel costs in 2013 stood at almost 70 per cent which makes such claims optimist at best.

Serbia, according to Seroka, of all Balkan states is the only one that has not seen the destruction of the ancien régime as a rationale for fundamental military reform. What is surprising is that as the successor republic that was ‘home’ to the Yugoslav National Army (JNA), one might have predicted that critical elements of the central ‘brain’ of that defence institution would have provided a solid foundation to provide a policy, planning, and management bases for the successor Serbian defence institution. However, due to Milosevic’s policy of centralizing power throughout the government, but particularly as regards the armed forces and police, an effective policy framework has been slow to take hold in Belgrade following the emergence of democratic governments. In consequence, the Serbian defence institution emerged from the 15 year Milosevic regime with a budgetary system that did not possess the ability to track costs. To successive reform-minded governments’ credit, shortly after the dissolution of the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, the Serbian defence institution published a seeming plethora of policy and planning documents and needed laws. That said, these policy statements and objectives do not appear consistently to include clear guidance and priorities to drive concrete reforms in critical areas of defence management. A further complication was that whilst the number of documents produced is impressive, they do not appear to have been issued in a policy hierarchy. To wit: ‘It is interesting that the [Serbian] Constitution does not mention a National Security Strategy, but only that a defence strategy should be passed by the National Assembly’. A document developed by the Ministry of Defence and circulated at the December 2006 South East Europe Clearinghouse meeting stated that the National Defence Strategy document, after the Constitution, ‘…represents the highest starting document and which is sort of base [sic] for all other strategic documents’. However, the juridical basis for this assertion was not made clear, nor did it clarify this document’s relationship with, for example, results from defence reviews and other policy documents.

An excellent presentation prepared by the Ministry of Defence in 2006 did establish a hierarchy: the National Security Strategy informs Defence Strategy, which in turn informs any defence white papers, as well as military doctrine, and finally all of which directs/informs defence reviews and subsequent Ministerial Guidance. One can question the utility of possessing within the defence institution a policy hierarchy (note that none of these planning documents appear to be tied to money) that comprises five discrete steps. Moreover, it is not known if this hierarchy is based upon policy, regulation, or law, nor is it clear that these documents are tied to specific policy/resource decision points in the defence planning cycle, assuming that they exist. Fundamentally, it is not evident that all of these documents (which would appear to comprise every possible Western generic ‘defence policy’ document) are necessarily important to the policy development and the planning processes in a defence institution of such a modest size. To add even more confusion to Serbian defence planning, the Ministry of Defence has retained the unusual practice of drafting, inter alia, a long-term defence plan, 2010-2020 in June 2011; and an SDR (April 2015), whilst both were approved by the government, but neither of which were ever released to the public. In the end, it is difficult to accept an optimistic observation of the state of policy development in the Serbian defence institution in light to the subsequent lack of an effective policy framework since in the years following independence, critical areas of basic defence management continued to remain unaddressed, notwithstanding some notably candid and self-critical self-assessments. Most importantly, it is difficult to trace policy to changes in the defence budget. For example, the 2006 SDR, which surprisingly received positive reactions from Western governments and NATO, was actually quite flawed as it was not based on costings.

As regards translating policy priorities into budgets, a program structure was introduced with US advice, but it was essentially laid on top of the existing legacy budgetary structure. A detailed analysis published in 2009 of the implementation of PPBS in Serbia found three major shortcomings. First, the introduction of these methods was not adequately and clearly explained and understood, and thus, it produced detrimental institutional confusion. Second, a central co-ordinating authority was either weakly empowered or was not designated. (One could speculate that this was the result of the legacy managerial norm of continuing to centralise decision-making.) Third, and likely as a product of the two aforementioned shortcomings, there was an observable lack of communication within the defence institution concerning programming. McNab observes that a key implication of the above conditions in Serbia demonstrates the discernible lack of linkage between strategic planning and financial decision-making.

Macedonia has produced a prodigious number of policy, strategy, and planning documents since independence. Yusufi notes, however, that defence policy documents have not been created within a strict policy hierarchy and many of the papers produced by the Ministry of Defence have not had the envisaged effect of producing new decisions, or changes in policy. This, therefore, raises the question: why were these needless documents even drafted? As to the question of the translation of policy into plans, notwithstanding the introduction of PPBS, the Macedonian defence planning system as late as 2007 was not required ‘…to develop planning assumptions, recommendations or alternatives’. After years of effort and U.S. assistance from U.S. contractors, in 2012, the Ministry of Defence formed a working group to simplify its existing programing structure. Again, this suggests the obvious question: why was a less complex approach not developed from first principles?

Former Soviet Republics

The Baltic States, notwithstanding being front-line states vis-à-vis Russia, remarkably possess only modest defence planning capabilities. As observed by Paulauskas, as late as 2012, they were not capable of meeting their Alliance objective of each deploying, let alone sustaining, one battalion on operations. And, in case of all three countries, since their accession to the Alliance, all three have lost interest in effecting reform. Estonia presents a suitable case for deeper analysis given the considerable amount of publicly available information regarding its policy, planning, and execution practices. After gaining independence, Estonia received assistance principally from retired Finnish officers whose defence and military concepts of territorial defence are uniquely Finnish, stemming from the requirements of its peace treaty with the Soviet Union. With time, however, it became increasingly obvious to many in the Estonian defence institution that the Finnish approach was not in conformance with Estonian policy that was oriented toward admission into NATO with its provisions of collective defence. Yet, notwithstanding that Estonia became a member of the Alliance in 2004, its most basic defence concepts remain highly weighted towards fixed territorial defence, at the expensive of developing greater manoeuvre and the ability for its land forces to integrate better into NATO formations. To be blunt, too much focus towards, and resource directed to, maintaining fixed territorial defence within elements of the defence institution are a result of scepticism of the Alliance’s collective defence commitments. Causation is highly suggestive of a conflict in civil-military relations. Paulauskas’s comment that ‘Squabbles between the Estonian Ministry of Defence and the Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces are the stuff of legend in the circles of Baltic defence planners’ obviously speaks to no small amount of policy ‘incoherence.’

A common challenge that has long faced the Baltic States has been to develop costed defence plans, and this has become more difficult following the 2008 financial crisis and ensuing global recession, both of which hit the economies of these countries particularly hard. In the case of Estonia, the defence budget was cut by 38 per cent in the 2010-2011 financial year. As a result of diminished defence budgets, with the encouragement of the NATO International Staff, countries are being encouraged to adopt 10 year ‘long-term development plans’, as opposed the previous norm of 5 years due to diminished defence budgets. The Estonian Ministry of Defence dutifully developed the National Defence Development Plan, 2013-2022. Although the plan was received uncritically by some analysts, the National Audit Office assessed the plan in a most exacting light. Whilst lengthy, the key findings of its report warrant citation in full as they represent a revealing view of the state of underdevelopment planning and budgeting in the Estonian defence institution. These findings should be used to balance the perceptions amongst some Western officials that Estonia is managing its defence institution rather well:

  • Acting for the purpose of attaining the desired defence capacity has not been systematically managed.
  • There were no realistic long-term goals, agreed priorities or approved long-term procurement plans for planning and procuring material resources.
  • The Minister of Defence and the Commander of the Defence Forces did not have an up-to-date overview of the situation of wartime units for a long period of time.
  • ‘The Defence Forces are unaware of the extent of the civil resources they can count on.’
  • ‘Effectiveness of Formation, Maintenance and Replenishment of Resources Required for Increasing Military Capability and Mobilisation of Defence Forces from 2009-2012’ Summary of report (Tallinn: National Audit Office 30 May 2013).
  • ‘National Defence Development Plan, 2013-2022’ (Tallinn: Ministry of Defence n.d.)
  • Praks, ‘Estonia and NATO: Back to Basics after a Decade of Membership’, Newcomers No More, 194-195

That such basic policy and planning issues can go unaddressed or assumed away in such an important plan that is envisaged to direct the development of the armed forces for 10 years; in a front-line NATO state no less is disturbing. Fortunately, the Ministry of Defence, in large part, agreed and accepted the report’s recommendations, which is reassuring. But from a wider Western perspective, the report should raise eyes in old NATO nation’s capitals and cause no small degree of consternation.

Georgia presents an intriguing case study as, like the Baltic States, it has been eager to adopt Western defence and military norms and has had very little Soviet influence in its defence institutions. From the early days of the Rose Revolution in November 2003, there has been a strong move to institutionalise the ministry in accordance with liberal democratic concepts. For example, by 2007, 85% of the organization’s employees were civilian. The relative success of Georgia creating a defence institution, based on Western concepts, presents a uniquely positive case, particularly when compared to its two Caucasian neighbours. Indeed, the provenance of the Georgian Ministry of Defence and armed forces is akin to the Baltic States, to include even basing its defence planning on the concept of ‘total defence’. As Larrson writes, ‘Georgia has never been a keen disciple of Russian military traditions’. Indeed, at the end of the Cold War, it was estimated that ethnic Georgian representation in the Red Army was seventy-second of Soviet nationalities (as measured as a percentage of officers per 1,000 citizens. Due to the continued and contentious stationing of Soviet and thence Russian Federation armed forces in country, which only left in November 2007 (from Batumi), the Georgian armed forces were created largely anew and are not direct descendants of Soviet formations. As such, there is little direct lineage to the Georgian armed forces from the Red Army/Russian Federation Armed Forces, unlike in the case of Ukraine, or Belarus. That said, in 1992, the bulk of conventional weapons and arms in Soviet caches were transferred to the new Georgian Ministry of Defence, thereby maintaining matériel linkages. Yet, an almost unique Georgian practice of the regular and wholesale dismissal of senior leadership (to include directorate heads) in the Ministry of Defence and General Staff following a change in Ministers has greatly impeded the creation of policy and bureaucratic continuity.

Like so many other defence institutions in the region, the Georgian Ministry of Defence has dutifully drafted and published every possible Western-type of defence policy and planning document (e.g., law on defence planning, SDR, National Security Strategy Concept, Minister’s Vision, National Military Strategy, and Defence White Book.) Yet, the defence institution’s ability to achieve policy coherence has been far from successful as planning does not fully influence the development of a defence budget that is reflective of policy priorities. Planning objectives have become quite clear after its 2008 war with Russia, as it has officially transitioned to a threat-based planning methodology, which is easier to implement and assess, vice a nuanced capabilities-based planning method. Yet even with (or despite therein) the plethora of published policy and planning guidance, accurate budgeting remains elusive. Notwithstanding the adoption of various defence policy and planning documents, as well as the introduction of PPBS, a recent essay argued that the Ministry of Defence was still experiencing difficulty developing and executing long-term planning and resource management. An explanation for this state of affairs could be found in the method itself and manner by which PPBS was introduced in Georgia in 1998. Initially, PPBS was essentially layered on top of existing Soviet legacy financial management procedures to produce added layers of unwanted opacity. Even after the initial Georgian PPBS method was ‘reformed’ with Dutch assistance in period of 2006-07; which included creating a financial management system that was based on a 4-year planning and budgeting cycle, this was still ignored when Georgian defence officials prepared their subsequent budgets, a full 15 years after it was originally introduced. Indeed, as late as 2013, the defence planning and resource management system were officially acknowledged as being still underdeveloped due to the immaturity of the defence system.

Ukraine provides a highly documented example of a defence institution that has consistently been incapable of creating viable defence plans despite being a seemingly sophisticated and large defence institution. The literature allows a deep analysis of the individual failures of policy guidance, the creation of un-implementable defence plans, and how financial planning and management does not support the achievement of policy priorities. As regards the development of defence policy, notwithstanding the public issuance of many policies, one sees that the development of a policy framework continues to remain an elusive objective. This has been impeded by the existence of a Positive Law juridical system, perverted by the legacy of the Communist contempt for the rule of law, which has produced an unholy conflation of policy with law. Moreover, one sees the continuation of another Soviet practice that bases the entire conceptual raison d’être of the armed forces on ‘scientifically’ developed Viysʹkova Doktryna, or ‘military doctrine’. This nomenclature leads to no end of confusion for Western officials and analysts as this legacy conceptual foundation document has very little to do with the Western concept of doctrine. The origins of these documents stem from Soviet times and was developed employing the most exacting ‘scientific’ standards to produce the one official source that addressed all aspects of military affairs. From strategy to tactics, these series of documents were believed to encapsulate all that was needed to be known to operate the armed forces, whilst all the while, forever reinforcing the concept of total centralization of control. As such, there was never a question of anyone having the authority to interpret Doktryna, or that it might contain shortcomings. Moreover, its characteristics then can best be thought of not as philosophical, but rather as essentially theological, reinforced by its status as having the force of law: it is transgressed at one’s personal peril. Notwithstanding efforts to reform the defence institution to adopt Western defence and military norms, the Ukrainian government endorsed a new version of its military doctrine in September 2015.

As a result of the all but absence of a policy framework, attempts to effect change in the institution have been difficult. An example of the disconnect between policy and planning can be found during the reformist government of Viktor Yushchenko (under Minister of Defence Anatoliy Grytsenko) which produced a number of ambitious new policies and documents that envisaged structural redirection and new investments to obtain new capabilities. For example, the announcement of the decision to professionalise the armed forces was found not have been costed as it was later admitted by the government that the financial liabilities of this reform over a period of two and one-half years constituted the equivalent of the entire defence budget allocated for 2006. This initiative, as was the case with other reforms, was never fully realised due to the lack of a proper costing of the current force, let alone ascertaining the costs of needed reforms, a problem replicated in the development of the State Program on the Armed Forces Development, which until 2005 was not even co-ordinated with the Ministry of Finance. The results of these immature defence planning and analytical processes range from a complete inability to implement approved defence plans, to weak management systems where resource decision-making is arbitrary, disaggregated, and ineffectual.

What is revealing is that in 2000, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence introduced planning and budget reforms to create a program-budgeting methodology to transition from simple budget-execution to producing planned outcomes. In turn, the General Staff in 2005 developed its own planning management software (Resource) to calculate costings and guide program budgeting, but there is no evidence that this data has ever been used systematically to inform decision-making. In reality, Resource is more akin to force management software, vice being capable of supporting national-level defence planning. The repetitive failure to produce a viable 5-year state development program of the armed forces that survives its first year is a clear manifestation of the inability of the institution to tie priorities to planning execution. For example, for the 2006-2010 version of this plan, the financial shortfall between what was anticipated, vice what was allocated by the Ukrainian Parliament, was a startling 25 per cent. With a small amount of understatement, a Ukrainian officer wrote, ‘We can say that until now in Ukraine we have not had a clear solution on how to optimise the cost of defence, how to allocate resources via rational planning, and finally, how to improve overall efficiency.’ This observation can only be underscored by the fact that in 2010, some 87 per cent of the defence budget was allocated to personnel costs.

Finally, an often ignored element of defence planning is how ‘money’ is conceptualised by the defence institution and its officials. In essence, in the Ukrainian defence institution, money as a concept is not perceived by military; or even civilian defence officials, as constituting a key management tool. Rather, money is perceived as a given: it is there to pay salaries and more is always needed in order to create military forces. As a result of this misunderstanding, spending never changes to adapt to new policy or priorities, and so plans are never developed to create options. They are all based on the legacy assumptions from Soviet Military Economic Science that society’s duty is to provide the money to realise the military’s plans, which are based on their scientifically developed military doctrine. In consequence, Ukrainian plans have not been realised because they have not been linked to money; and because there is never enough money, no one is responsible for planning failures. Proper governance is further inhibited by the long-standing and rarely challenged assumption that State Program Laws will be fully funded in future years. The fact that they never have been has led officials to conclude that defence is ‘underfunded’ (after all as the State Program is established in law) and not that there is a need to reassess planning priorities and assumptions.

Effective financial management is challenged by the fact that there are a number of software systems (e.g., Resource, Parus, and Ruslo), which have never been fully integrated, and thus are incapable of supporting dynamic planning and management. A further complication is that the financial program structure is changed almost annually, likely due to the inability, to date, of the Ministry of Defence to align its 46 planning tasks with 7 budgetary programs. Most critically, armed service commanders are not designated as program managers and therefore have no authority to change where money is spent within their command to create military capability. Finally, cash-flow is unpredictable. The Special Fund (from the sale of excess defence assets) supports activities that have become autonomous of the direction and requirements of the armed forces, for example, education, medical, and frankly enables corrupt practices. Towards the end of the financial/calendar year, the United Treasury account is perennially depleted and there is rarely enough money to pay even personnel costs. Any mal-alignment of the budget with defence programs cannot be quickly adjusted as the law precludes a transfer of funds amongst budget programs without prior approval by the Cabinet of Ministers, which can take from 2 to 3 months. And, experience has demonstrated that it is almost impossible to shift funds between Operations/Maintenance and Capital expenditures budget categories. Although the above describes the Ukrainian defence institution, its weaknesses and rigidities can be found in many, if not most, of legacy defence institutions.

Misapplication of Programming

From the evidence compiled and analyzed supra, it is evident that European Communist legacy defence institutions, irrespective of their provenance, suffer from an all but systematic inability to execute defence policies and priorities. Even where policy and priorities have been debated and articulated, there is ample evidence of the lack of planning capabilities that can translate priorities into envisaged financial execution. Whereas there is a clear lacuna in strong and consistent policy frameworks in these legacy defence institutions, what is less obvious is that almost all of these defence institutions are also lacking in basic ‘data’, with which to plan. As a result of their Communist legacies, where information and questions never flowed upwards, defence institutions struggle to frame properly planning challenges. All too often, defence officials are not aware of the need to base decision-making on operational planning analysis produced by the armed forces to understand which tasks the current force are capable, or incapable, of performing. Equally, the development and effective utilization of costing data in informing decision-making in these defence institutions has been slow to develop. To be sure, one can find in some countries locally developed and imported costing software, but these data are rarely used in a systematic fashion to enable senior officials to make informed decisions. Indeed, it is not at all unusual that these financial data are not only ‘classified’, but are not widely distributed even within the defence institution itself.

In response to the obvious need for expert advice and assistance, the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense offered assistance programs to these countries to introduce the American concept of programming, based on the US DoD ‘PPBS’ training programs. The objective of these programs was to spread the knowledge of ‘modern’ planning and management methods the better to inform defence decision-making. In its most basic definition, programming seeks to allocate funding by ‘programs’ (or efforts/activities, e.g., operations and maintenance, acquisition, personnel, etc.), as opposed by organizations, and is premised on a multi-year programming horizon. These multi-year assistance programs were launched in the early to mid-1990s, and prospective NATO members were evaluated in 2001-2002 to ascertain the state of sophistication of their planning and programming capabilities. Indeed, ‘PPBS’ has become a catch-all concept and term that even the NATO International Staff has come to use it as a benchmark in their evaluations of the state of defence reform of aspiring aspirants and Partners in PARP.

Determining whether ‘programming’ is the best or worse budgeting methodology is beyond the scope of this paper. However, what is a legitimate question is to ascertain whether the adoption of ‘PPBS,’ as it has been implemented, has been beneficial to these legacy defence institutions as measured by their ability to produce viable defence plans. The evidence available regarding the effectiveness of PPBS demonstrates that the method by which it was ‘exported’ was done with only superficial knowledge of the actual conditions that existed within these defence institutions. That in many cases, this method has been laid atop existing legacy financial concepts is evident of this misapplication (e.g., Serbia and Ukraine). Thus, one needs to question the wisdom of advocating the adoption of such a conceptually complex, and contextually unique, methodology to any reforming young democracy emerging with rigid, opaque, and highly-centralised control systems with Parliaments and Cabinet governments. For instance, a key assumption of the U.S. PPBS methodology is multi-year funding; a concept that is an anathema to Ministries of Finance in Central and Eastern Europe, many of which do not use, let alone understand conceptually, ‘programs.’ What also speaks against the utility of multi-year programming is the pernicious effect it has by insulating budgeting from policy decisions as programs are ‘locked’ into envisaged future defence budgets. Because the methodology was ‘sold’ as a complete package of planning, programming, and budgeting, it was assumed that it would provide all that was necessary to assist a ministry make the transition to an efficient, transparent, and accountable system. Rather, what has developed is that programming has become bureaucratically entrenched and determining how money is spent irrespective of policy priorities, and inhibiting the development of a policy framework.


In effect, and obviously completely unintended, the PPBS methodology has reinforced legacy norms in many of these countries, in large part because many of these newly trained budget officers still define ‘programs’ not as management tools to be ‘owned’ by those entrusted with producing outcomes (e.g., a chief of air force to provide 24/7 air surveillance and policing capability), but rather as budgetary instruments over which the defence institution remains centrally and tightly controlled from the top. In such organizational cultures, no decision is too minor not to be referred to the highest authorities for decision. At best, the PPBS methodology has been ineffectual; at worse, the method’s adoption has applied a false patina of unwarranted Western modernity and legitimacy on these defence institutions. Clearly, all of the defence institutions in the region which are employing PPBS, or any programming structure, should examine these methods to determine whether they are indeed enabling (or inhibiting) the execution of defence policies and plans.

In consequence of policy, planning, and programming incoherence, these legacy armed forces largely remain mal-organised, often with ‘hollow units’, financial and manpower deprived, and are too large for their existing defence budgets. What is necessary is a healthy sceptical review of first principles and concepts that govern the formulation of policy and its leading role for the development of plans, and their execution via budgeting. This is likely to be the sole means by which systematic weaknesses in these defence institutions can be identified and institution-specific, and less complex solutions, developed. Lastly, as a note of caution, one solution to this ongoing planning conundrum one sees with increasing frequency is the adoption of long-term defence plans (e.g., in Estonia and Slovakia) as a policy and planning answer that the organization so desperately needs. Just as the realization of financial stability in defence budgets has yet to materialise, so too will long-term plans not provide long-desired planning stability. For in the end, sensible planning must assume both best, as well as, worse case scenarios. It will be only through a hard review and replacement of Communist legacy concepts, assumptions, and institutional logic with Western defence governance concepts, will these defence institutions finally be able to execute policy priorities through the development of viable defence plans.