Chapter 12: Russian and American Intervention Policy in Comparative Perspective

by Jeremy R. Azrael, Benjamin S. Lambeth, Emil A. Payin, and Arkady A. Popov*

The preceding case studies have described and assessed the main instances of low-intensity force employment by the United States and Russia since the end of the Cold War. This overview revisits those cases from a comparative perspective in search of similarities and differences in the respective decisionmaking styles of the two countries. In particular, it considers comparisons and contrasts with respect to (1) opportunities and constraints; (2) motivations and goals; (3) organizational and bureaucratic practices; and (4) executive-legislative relations in each country. A brief concluding section speaks to some implications for Russian-American strategic relations.

Opportunities and Constraints

Because of its continued superpower status, the United States has both worldwide possibilities for the discretionary use of force and the strategic reach and sustainability required to follow through on them. In contrast, Russia has, at best, only regional intervention possibilities and limited incentives or capability to use force beyond the territory of the former Soviet Union. (This excludes the continued presence of large numbers of intercontinental-range nuclear weapons in Russia's military inventory, which are hardly pertinent to these situations.)

In contemplating force employment both countries face significant external and internal constraints. One is the attitudes of key foreign governments. With the end of the Cold War, neither country can justify force employment as a self-evidently necessary response to a demonized adversary. Both countries now need to be more sensitive to foreign perceptions of and likely reactions to their interventions. Anticipation of international responses to intervention has accordingly become more important to both countries.

As a result of these changes, each country now has powerful incentives for moral, political, legal, and economic burden-sharing reasons to call on allied support and seek multilateral solutions to regional crises. The closer the locus of a conflict is to home, moreover, the greater is the need for international endorsement to negate any appearance of "imperialism." At the same time, this heightened need for political support from other countries has been accompanied by a collapse of both countries' strongest claim for such support in years past, namely, the need for united action against a common adversary.

Many U.S. allies have been reluctant partners in Washington's efforts to build peace-keeping coalitions because of the end of any Cold War urgency and the increased costs in loss of trade and political acceptance in the affected regions. That reluctance has partly reflected inadequacies in American leadership, but the fact is that the United States can no longer count on its friends simply to fall into line whenever a summons to intervene abroad seems to beckon. As for Russia, the only allies it can call upon are some of the newly-independent states of the former Soviet Union, and most of these have proved to be reluctant and unreliable partners. This has forced Moscow more than once to act unilaterally in its efforts to control violence and maintain stability in its "near abroad," as in the cases of Tadjikistan, Georgia, Abkhazia, and Transdniestria.

There is a related constraint that involves each country's attitude toward the other. The U.S. government has put Moscow on notice that it will not lightly countenance any Russian encroachments that threaten the sovereignty of the newly-independent states. It also has declared that it will not look favorably on any Russian ambitions to claim suzerainty over Moscow's former Central Asian republics, let alone over Ukraine or the Baltic states. Words only go so far, however, for Washington has made it equally clear to Moscow that it has no interest in being involved in any peace-keeping involvements in Russia's "near abroad."

Russia has similarly taken a strong declaratory stance against the United States and NATO for acting as though they have a natural right to intervene, especially in the former Yugoslavia. Yet there is little that Russia can do about this beyond complain, just as there is little the United States can do to prevent or substantially influence Russian peace-keeping operations in the "near abroad."

Both countries face a broad incompatibility between the new global security environment and traditional military roles. The United States and Russia each have learned the hard way since the end of the Cold War that conventional armed forces perform poorly when put into harm's way but prevented from reacting in the classic manner in which they have been trained. The functions for which such forces have been designed do not include the crafting of domestic political institutions where such institutions are currently absent or fulfilling police roles where the parties in dispute are not committed to living by the terms of any settlement. The U.S. Army showed this clearly in Somalia, before operations there were terminated. For its part, the Russian military appears to have been less sensitive to such dangers, and more willing to inflict and suffer casualties. If anything, however, it has been even less successful than its American counterpart in regional peace-keeping operations, partly for this reason.

There are also resource constraints that limit each country's latitude to engage in regional peace-keeping operations. Since the Cold War ended in 1991, American defense spending has declined by more than fifty percent. In a worst case possibility, it could bottom out as low as $150 billion annually by the year 2002 if, as seems likely, Congress passes a balanced budget amendment. Russia's military funding crisis is more acute by far. Its defense budget is now in the $11-15 billion range, which puts it at only a twentieth of current U.S. defense spending. Because of the continuing resource shortage, a substantial gap has developed between the High Command's declared requirements for a lean, efficient, mobile, and high-technology combat arm and the reality of Russia's dilapidated military organization, low readiness and sustainability, sagging morale, and badly underfunded force modernization plans.

The phenomenon of spontaneous "mission creep" in peace-keeping operations constitutes yet another inhibiting factor in the intervention decisionmaking of both countries. As several Russian and American interventions have shown, initial non-combat roles have spilled over into counterinsurgency warfare, posing issues that did not figure in the original tactical objectives or mission planning. This phenomenon has become a major constraint on American intervention decisionmaking. It has been less constraining for Russia, as borne out by the latter's continued difficulty in extricating itself from a bleeding war of attrition in Chechnya--a war former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev assured President Yeltsin would be over after a two-hour operation by one airborne regiment.

Fear of entrapment constitutes yet another constraint. Much like concern over "mission creep," it has had a greater inhibiting effect on American than on Russian intervention deliberations, since Moscow has arguably had less discretionary room than Washington in the regional force employment challenges it has faced since the USSR's demise. The U.S. government harbors an almost systemic bias against intervention for that very reason. In the case of Bosnia, for example, no serious consideration was given in 1989-1990 to the use of force, either by the Bush administration or by Congress. There was discussion in the National Security Council and at the State Department over whether the United States should accept that Yugoslavia was doomed and try to manage the impending breakup. Few, however, supported the latter option, thanks to a belief--correct, as it turned out--that the only way Yugoslavia could disintegrate was violently. As the civil war escalated, there was further debate within the Bush administration over the potential benefits of using air power. But nobody was willing to consider putting in U.S. ground forces. On the contrary, there was a consensus against committing U.S. forces unless the objective was unambiguous and victory with a minimum of friendly casualties was certain.

The main constraint affecting American post-Cold War force employment decisionmaking, however, has been the fear of sustaining enough casualties to cause an erosion of popular support for peace-keeping commitments. This constraint has been aggravated by the 1991 Persian Gulf War's successful outcome, the down side of which was that the astonishingly low incidence of allied lives lost to hostile fire became the norm for all future U.S. military interventions, tying the hands of policymakers almost irrespective of the stakes. Anything more than a few dozen American soldiers killed now routinely triggers a sharp public reaction, followed by vocal second-guessing over whether the game is worth the gamble.

In Russia, there is likewise a mounting popular sensitivity to casualties. Throughout the ten years of fighting in Afghanistan, the number of Soviet troops killed in action was a matter of great secrecy, as coffins bringing the war dead home were merely whispered about by friends and family. That has changed noticeably as public reaction to the enormous number of deaths sustained on both sides in Chechnya has forced Russia's leaders to look harder at the possibility of a face-saving solution. If that reaction offers any key to where the Russian people's limit lies, however, it suggests that the threshold of Russian intolerance to casualties today is more in the thousands, than dozens.

Motives

Since the end of the Cold War neither Russia nor the United States have employed force in response to a real or perceived threat from the other, let alone a threat to vital national interests. In fact, with the important exception of the Gulf War, the United States has not even claimed that its military interventions were motivated by direct threats to its security. At most, it has claimed that its security could or would eventually be affected adversely if instability was allowed to fester in a given country or region. For better or worse, however, such remote threats have been a matter of genuine concern to key policymakers and were important motivating factors behind the U.S. interventions in Lebanon, Bosnia, and even in Nicaragua and Haiti.

Real or imagined security concerns have also played an important motivating role in Russia's post-Cold War interventions. In the eyes of many Russian decisionmakers, at least some of these interventions--e.g., in Chechnya--have been necessary responses to a clear and present danger to Russia's vital interests, up to and including its very survival as a single, integrated country. Even where there has been disagreement over the necessity or wisdom of using force, there has been widespread agreement that instability or conflict in the regions where force has been employed pose a direct, if not immediate, threat to Russia's own security. Furthermore, in Russia, perhaps even more than in the United States, there has been a preconditioned readiness in many quarters to subscribe to or go along with an expansive notion of security that has made military intervention seem an acceptable, if not necessarily desirable, response to even remote threats to national security.

Economic motivations have not been significant in the post-Cold War intervention decisions of either Washington or Moscow. Of course, the vast reserves of Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti oil made for a definite, if unarticulated, planning factor behind the U.S. organization and conduct of Operation Desert Storm. Strategic considerations, however, were at least as important in American and allied policy planning leading up to the Gulf War. The main motivation of the Bush administration was a determination that Iraq not be permitted to establish the dangerous precedent that unprovoked aggression against a richly-endowed but defenseless neighbor could go unpunished.

Likewise in the case of post-Cold War Russia, Moscow's ravaging of Chechnya has not been, first and foremost, a matter of interest in securing oil pipelines. The "energy lobby" in Moscow has had limited influence over President Yeltsin. Indeed, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is, to say the least, very close to Russia's gas and petroleum barons, has been a leading proponent of seeking a nonmilitary solution to the problem posed by Chechnya. In both the American and Russian cases of intervention and force employment assessed in this volume, economic considerations have been a planning factor only to the extent that they have been consistent with more overarching strategic and geopolitical concerns.

Simply the desire to appear to be "doing something" has been an unspoken drive behind intervention decisionmaking, at least in the case of the United States. As human rights violations in Bosnia reached full swing during the Clinton administration, the Department of State grew increasingly inclined to counsel using force simply to project an image that the United States was "involved." In particular, the State Department wanted to conduct punitive bombing against Serbian artillery in Bosnia. That would have been a gross misapplication of air power, and the military rightly saw the idea as an invitation to trouble. Nevertheless, such pressures eventually led to the early piecemeal employment of U.S. air power in Bosnia.

A related motivation behind the intervention decisions of both countries has been a felt need to "look good," or to save face. There were serious divisions, for example, within the Bush administration over what to do about the problem posed by Haiti. The CIA saw Aristide as unreliable and the country offering little of value to the United States. The military, for its part, saw any American commitment to Haiti as a wasteful diversion of scarce resources needed for managing the defense drawdown. Naturally, there were disputes between the Departments of State and Defense over whether the United States should intervene. Eventually, the USS Harlan County was ordered to Port-au-Prince to demonstrate an American naval "presence." It was met at pierside by a mob of thugs and retreated, never to return. That Haitian mob called President Clinton's bluff and helped ensure the subsequent U.S. invasion, prompted in part by a desire by the administration to regain its lost credibility over the Harlan County incident.

Similar pressures to "look good" figured in the roles played by various actors leading up to Russia's assault on Grozny in December 1994. At least parts of the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs, for example, reportedly worked overtime to prove that they could meet the challenges laid down by Yeltsin's plan to invade Chechnya. Within the Kremlin, too, there was an evident desire to vindicate the loss of face suffered by Russia as a result of the badly botched clandestine incursions the previous month. A reported attempt by some staffers in the president's Analytic Center and on the Security Council to propose that Yeltsin halt Russian troops at the outskirts of Grozny and negotiate with Dudayev under a threat of war never made it past the first hurdle. Members of the Presidential Council likewise submitted a request that Yeltsin convene a Council meeting. No response to this entreaty was ever received. The president evidently felt no need for expert opinion and relied on the assurances of Grachev, who had promised a quick and decisive resolution. There was a pronounced "they can't do this to us" element to the final decision by Yeltsin and his lieutenants.

Finally, intervention decisions have been made in both countries from time to time for no more profound reason than the absence of any better ideas. Both the United States and Russia are configured toward unstructured and often shortsighted policy planning, with a tendency to commit forces without clearly articulated aims. In particular, ad hoc and impromptu assessments of "what is at stake" often decide what ultimately gets placed on the U.S. intervention calendar. By way of example, one can cite the successive U.S. decisions in 1982-1984 that were wholly reactive to events, with no clear, top-down policy guidance and only immediate tactical objectives at stake.

Likewise in both Panama and Haiti, the U.S. government was reluctant to intervene and was prompted to do so, in the end, only out of a sense that all lesser options had been exhausted. In each case, the United States backed itself into using force by either foreclosing other options or trying them to no avail. And in both cases, the United States became hostage to its own rhetoric. No vital interests were at stake, yet Washington's demonizing of the local opponents had the effect of putting America's credibility on the line. Divided councils within the U.S. government helped convince the Panamanian and Haitian militaries that they could sit out U.S. pressures with impunity, further working to leave Washington with little choice but to intervene in the end.

The Machinery of Policymaking

The United States emerged from the Cold War with a well-established mechanism for intervention decisionmaking, along with a policy process that had routine practices with roots running well back into history. In contrast, Russia entered the post-Cold War era carrying multiple burdens of its 74-year Soviet heritage, beginning with a closed and secretive system of top-down decisionmaking and directed policy implementation. Despite the seeming stability and seeming orderliness of its governmental forms and mechanisms, however, American decisionmaking too is often marred by ad hoc pluralism. Ill-defined operating procedures frequently enable persons or institutions with their own agendas to elbow in, with the result that whoever has the president's ear or the loudest or most persuasive voice is most likely to get heard. This contributes to a disorderly and nonrational process of weighing options at the top, in which opposing views and other alternatives do not always get an adequate reception. Relatedly, there are no clear rules of the game or specific intervention guidelines observed by the U.S. government. This means that intervention decisions are often idiosyncratic and situation specific. The relative influence of senior Executive Branch appointees, elected legislators, career bureaucrats, lobbyists and other interest groups, and the media all depends heavily on the issue at hand.

Unlike the ad hoc pluralism of the U.S. approach to intervention decisionmaking, the Russian process is highly underregulated and underinstitutionalized. It fragments control of decisionmaking and obfuscates accountability. It further suffers many of the pathologies of a new and semi-developed democracy such as mass politics, zero-sum competition between elites of the old and new orders, and weak governmental capacity. As a result, parochial interests are often able to seize control of the intervention policy agenda and to dictate the actions of deployed military forces. The problem is not too much input into decisionmaking, but too little. There are some excellent examples to be drawn from Moscow's misadventure in Chechnya, an experience which has revealed striking flaws in Russia's fledgling democracy. Among them are a lack of any strategy for preventing and neutralizing internal conflicts; an absence of a well-defined and effective information support mechanism; a low level of professionalism among those members of the bureaucracy responsible for decisions, as well as a lack of any discipline of law within the bureaucracy that might displace the old discipline of fear, and the lack of a true culture of opposition and public debate. In contrast, American officials are better equipped to learn from their missteps thanks to a policy process that features a more stable allocation of roles and responsibilities and institutions that are flexible enough to respond to new demands and requirements with relative alacrity, albeit with a lag.

Decisionmaking at the Top

In both countries, the president is the ultimate decisionmaker, and the office of the president is the key locus of intervention policymaking. In the United States, the presidency is highly institutionalized, although it always bears the imprint of a given president's personality and style. In contrast, the underinstitutionalized Russian presidency is little more than an embodiment of Boris Yeltsin and his idiosyncratic way of doing business, with little or no engagement of the larger policy community, to say nothing of public opinion. Such an approach worked well enough during the stormy days of the USSR's initial unraveling in August 1991, but it is less appropriate to Russia's now more stable political system. Today it offers a recipe for policy failure.

In the end, in his deliberations over Chechnya, Yeltsin became a captive national leader, made hostage to the irresponsible acts of his subordinates. To cite but one example, there was a willful refusal by senior on-scene commanders, and possibly by Russian generals at higher levels as well, to honor Yeltsin's order to halt the bombing of Chechnya in late December 1994. This is but one of many instances of the price the Yeltsin government has had to pay in lost effectiveness as a result of the sometimes aggressive voluntarism and noncompliance of its out-of-control military and civilian bureaucrats. The tragedy of Chechnya has starkly underscored all the shortcomings of Russia's force employment repertoire by making its leaders look confused, uninformed, and unable to heed public opinion. Worse yet, as indicated above, the five cases of post-Cold War Russian intervention do not show much of a learning curve over time.

The principal decisions with respect to intervention in Chechnya are often said to have been made in the Russian Security Council, which was supposedly established in order to provide a high-level forum within which Russia's president can interact directly and concurrently with his key ministers and agency heads. Like the U.S. National Security Council (NSC), however, the Russian Security Council is not a deliberative body that can arrive at decisions on its own. Kremlin decisions acquire force only after the president, who is the Security Council's chairman, signs the appropriate executive order or decree. Nominally, the Security Council is a consultative body to the president. Any allusions to "collective decisions" made by the Security Council reflect a misunderstanding of where that organization stands in the constellation of Kremlin forces. Yet the hybrid nature of Russia's emerging democratic process is such that the votes of some members are considered "decisive," while those of others are only "advisory."

In any event, the decision to go to war against Chechnya was ultimately made by President Yeltsin alone. Those who apparently made the final inputs into Yeltsin's decision call were personal cronies. Yeltsin's bodyguard and close friend Korzhakov had even formed, in great secrecy, his own "analytical center" within the Presidential Security Service expressly set up to deal with the impending assault on Chechnya. As a result, the campaign was hastily planned behind the backs of those Executive Branch institutions, most notably the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs and the involved service arms, whose combatants would have to bear the brunt of the Kremlin's fateful miscalculations. The deputy defense minister at the time, General Boris Gromov, confirmed as much in his harsh ex post facto public criticism of the invasion.

The force of personality is also a notable factor in U.S. intervention decisionmaking. A striking example can be seen in the pivotal role played by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell in influencing the decision by the Bush administration to halt Operation Desert Storm after only 100 hours of ground fighting. General Powell also left a distinctive imprint on U.S. policy deliberations antecedent to the Gulf War by resisting the commitment of American forces until operational missions had been clearly defined and declared goals of the administration were deemed attainable. Earlier, during the Reagan administration, the often intense personal rivalry between Secretary of State George Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, and National Security Adviser Robert MacFarlane made emotionalism rather than hard analysis the main drivers of decisionmaking on repeated occasion. The resultant indecision and policy inconsistency caused by the shifting ascendancy of these three competing personalities had a decidedly negative impact on the effectiveness of American intervention policy in Lebanon. One unwelcome result was that Saddam Hussein may have learned a lesson about U.S. resolve from its debacle in Beirut in 1982, perhaps affecting his later decision to invade Kuwait in August 1990. In Russia, however, the impact of personality and the relative weight of individuals is more consequential because of the less-developed nature of Russia's policy-making process. There are no American cases, for example, in which personal ties between bureaucrats and generals with key local leaders not only determined decisions on the ground but of overall military and security policy in entire regions, as was the case in Ossetia-Ingushetia, Tadjikistan, Abkhazia, and Trans-Dniestria.

The Interagency Arena

Despite the persistence of closed decisionmaking at the top, Russia's mechanisms for force employment planning at the working level are beginning to look, on the surface at least, more and more like those of the United States. There are differences, however, in the intensity and timing of institutional conflicts over policy options within the Russian and American systems. In the United States, intrabureaucratic tugging and hauling tends to be greatest during the policy formulation stage. Once a policy course is set, government officials usually have incentives to get on board in the national interest and show solidarity with the president, with little tendency to mount rear guard actions in an effort to sabotage administration decisions. In Russia, by contrast, conflict tends to be most acute after a policy course has been set. Bureaucrats, even at very senior levels, feel less compulsion to show support for the president. Furthermore, the familiar adage "where you stand depends on where you sit" applies more in the case of the United States than in Russia, since the latter has less well-developed institutional cultures and interests. The often widely contrasting bureaucratic views of the U.S. State and Defense Departments when it comes to putting American forces in the line of fire, for example, do not appear to have a close analog in the outlooks of the Russian Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs.

In the United States, there are usually predictable and distinguishable "agency perspectives" on intervention issues. The Department of State, for example, views threats to commit the nation's military equities to possible action as a tool in the panoply of America's coercive diplomacy options. For its part, the U.S. defense establishment, including its civilian leadership, is typically not disposed to countenance American forces being sent into harm's way until and unless the president is unquestionably ready to commit troops on a large scale and has clear goals and a concept of operations calculated to ensure a successful outcome. Often this adamant and unyielding bureaucratic stance has the effect, whether by intent or not, of ruling out intervention altogether. Because of differences like these, Executive Branch leaders often have a hard time forming a consensus within the bureaucracy. Offsetting this ingrained tendency toward immobilism at the working level, however, is the fact that the higher one goes in the various institutions and agencies of the American bureaucracy, the harder it becomes to predict a policymaker's posture on policy issues simply by awareness of his organizational affiliation. In the higher reaches of Executive Branch governance, personal beliefs, experiences, and values typically overshadow and displace the more predictable inclinations of career bureaucrats.

In the American system, decisions to commit U.S. forces abroad are often set in motion by an interagency group of second- and third-echelon government bureaucrats. There have been notable instances, however, in which the decision process has been initiated at lower echelons. The intervention in Somalia offers a good example. No so-called Deputies Committee meetings were convened to consider the human rights violations that were being perpetrated in Mogadishu by gangs of armed thugs who were blocking food and medicine from getting to sick and starving citizens. Instead, a colorful cable from the American ambassador in nearby Kenya caught the attention of many in the bureaucracy and was forwarded by the NSC senior director for Africa to General Scowcroft and President Bush. Subsequent interagency talks concluded that the United States was the only actor with the necessary reach and resources to break the siege of Mogadishu.

As expected, the Department of Defense was initially reluctant to let itself get drawn into Somalia because of the drain on resources such an operation threatened at a time of severe budget and force reductions. True to form, the Pentagon lost little time testing the extent of the Bush administration's commitment to Somalia by offering a high-end estimate of the number of U.S. troops that would be required. It only yielded after it was led to understand that demands on the military would entail nothing more than an airlift. "Mission creep," however, soon affected the American troop deployment to Mogadishu, as many in the defense establishment had feared from the outset. This insidious trend was not reined in decisively until after more than a dozen U.S. servicemen had been killed and their bodies ignominiously dragged through the streets to the eyes of a shocked world--and an outraged U.S. military command--by Somali thugs.

The Pentagon similarly had little interest in wasting scarce resources to grapple with an analogous situation in Liberia several years earlier. In the end, the possibility of intervention in Liberia never made it to the senior decisionmaker level, getting stuck and buried in lower echelons of the bureaucracy. Part of the reason why Somalia and not Liberia made it to the president's desk was that, in the first case, the media spotlighted the appalling horrors that were being perpetrated against helpless civilians in Mogadishu, while largely ignoring the civil war in Liberia. Also, Congress exhibited more interest in Somalia than it did in the less-publicized case of Liberia.

Russia's more closed "political kitchen" at the top makes it difficult to evaluate similarities and differences between Executive Branch processes in Moscow and Washington. It seems clear, however, that Russia's international security policy agencies continue to bear the imprint of Soviet tradition and practice. Throughout the Soviet era, these agencies did not engage in bureaucratic politics as such. Rather, they worked more as executive agents of Kremlin fiat, relaying their "policy support" inputs to the Central Committee of the Communist Party, with few, if any, action recommendations. The ensuing process made for a well-functioning system of policy administration, which even included some internal checks and balances. Nevertheless, these bureaucracies, in the main, operated as transmission belts for state policy, not as independent actors in the formulation of that policy. As a result, such organizations as the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs have little experience of working together and coordinating with each other on issues in which they both have an interest.

The creation of an effective interagency network is further hampered by a Soviet-style propensity to compartmentalize classified information and minimize lateral (and sometimes vertical) information sharing. For these and other reasons, personality and personal access to senior decisionmakers remain more important determinants of a given agency's role and influence in Russia than in the United States. Sometimes an important initiative will go straight to the president from the Foreign Ministry without being coordinated with, say, the Defense Ministry or the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR). Ministers constantly strive to get a foot in the Kremlin's door, without the prior concurrence of their colleagues in other state institutions. This contributes not to policy-making orderliness but to chaos.

To recall an example of the arbitrariness that often results, Yeltsin's decision to invade Chechnya followed a breakdown in the policy process at the highest level. Thus, deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai's proposal to halt Russian forces at the outskirts of Grozny as a signal to Dudayev got smothered in Kremlin intrigue before it ever reached the president's desk. Because Shakhrai was young, ambitious, and respected by the president, his opponents in Yeltsin's inner circle were prepared to block his initiative merely on the ground that he had proposed it. More recently, Aleksandr Lebed has encountered similar rear guard opposition in his efforts to bring an end to the war in Chechnya.

As these examples suggest, the United States and Russia differ markedly in the way they process and utilize information in making force-employment decisions. In 1990, a CIA assessment played at least an indirect part in shoring up the reluctance of the Bush administration to expose American forces to the impending crossfire of the Yugoslav civil war. (The CIA was the first government organization to predict flatly that a violent breakup of Yugoslavia was inevitable.) In contrast, Russia has no counterparts to the CIA's national intelligence officers nor any structure at senior levels such as the U.S. National Intelligence Council for producing integrated intelligence assessments. Nor is there anything quite like the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment in the Ministry of Defense or General Staff. Likewise, no mission-area analysis as Americans know it is done within the Russian armed forces. There is no known Russian counterpart to the U.S. Air Force's Project CHECKMATE, which studies potential conflict regions around the world from an operational perspective in support of contingency planning.

To make matters worse, Russia's leaders must often depend on unreliable sources for their information. Thus, intelligence coming to Moscow from Chechnya was compromised from the outset, because Dudayev had co-opted those KGB agents who had been stationed in Grozny before the collapse of Soviet Communism. The lack of good inside reporting may have contributed to the Kremlin's unrealistic estimates of the situation, particularly with respect to the fighting capacity of Dudayev's forces. Similarly, there were no reliable Russian contacts with members of the Tadjik opposition whose real motives were never understood by Moscow. Instead, political judgments and decisions were based on information provided either by on-scene Russian commanders sympathetic to the Tadjik government or by the latter's own representatives. Invariably, such information was one-sided and distorted.

The Role of the Military

The U.S. defense establishment has considerable influence over the course and outcome of American intervention decisionmaking. Although it does not have a veto by any stretch, it has very strong leverage. One recurrent practice on its part has been to oppose, as a matter of principle, interventions that might undermine the prestige and respectability that it has taken the U.S. armed forces two decades to reconstitute in the wake of the Vietnam war. In all the cases of U.S. force employment examined in this volume, the military was averse to going in because of the absence of clearly-defined goals and consequent concerns over spontaneous "mission creep." When intervention was being seriously weighed, the Pentagon's tactic was never to say "no" outright, but to table operational objections on operational or technical grounds that made any intervention proposal appear to be unworkable in practice. (The problem for others in the U.S. decision hierarchy, of course, was that such a hypercautious approach often became an excuse for taking no action at all.)

On the basis of presently available information, the Russian military seems far less hesitant to intervene than its American counterpart. What matters most in today's Russia, however, is not so much the military's policy outlook and breadth of influence on decisionmaking as its subordination and accountability. In Trans-Dniestria, the 14th Army under General Lebed acted entirely on its own in bringing force to bear to stop an incipient outbreak of local fighting within just a day and a half. Although his 14th Army played a stabilizing role rather than one of local interference, Lebed was not thinking of the interests of Russia but rather about the well-being of his own forces. No corresponding command was given by Moscow; there were no presidential decrees or parliamentary resolutions. Lebed acted on his own, in total defiance of his instructions from Moscow. Instead of controlling the 14th Army, Moscow found its agenda in Moldova being driven by Lebed's independent actions. In effect, Lebed privatized the 14th Army, an act that would have been not just impossible but unthinkable in the United States.

Similarly, the progressive involvement of Russian troops stationed in Tadjikistan in an inter-Tadjik armed dispute was almost wholly spontaneous and unmanaged by Moscow. Decisions regarding the use of force were made either by junior officers on the spot or else through coordination between the Tadjik government and on-scene Russian commanders, with only minimal and inconsistent guidance from Moscow until very late in the game. All of this points to a badly underdeveloped civil-military polity in Russia, with the military often acting in rogue fashion, in either indifference or outright disobedience to Moscow. This was most recently demonstrated yet again by the clear lack of coordination between Russian field commanders in Chechnya and Yeltsin's newly-appointed National Security Advisor Alexander Lebed.

Executive-Legislative Relations

One trait which the American and Russian Executive Branches have in common is a deep distrust of their respective legislatures and a strong inclination to exclude them from the shaping of intervention policy. There is a natural desire on the part of Executive Branch leaders in both countries to prevent meddling from without by hundreds of elected representatives, each of whom is convinced that he or she has a rightful voice in the formulation of national policy, yet none of whom is accountable for that policy's content and consequences. Nevertheless, the gap between the Executive and Legislative branches is much narrower in the United States than in Russia, where there is no tradition of bipartisanship in Russia, and where the behavior of Duma deputies with respect to domestic and international conflict has been driven, at least so far, less by concern for the interests of constituents or the nation than by partisan and group interests, often with the express intent to antagonize executive power.

In the Ossetian-Ingush crisis, for example, the Russian legislature was even more at fault than the Executive Branch in sending misleading signals to the warring parties. In effect, it played a spoiler role, seeking to obstruct Yeltsin's efforts to solve the conflict through talks. Similarly, Yeltsin's efforts to maintain at least a semblance of neutrality in the mini-war in Abkhazia were constantly undermined by a parliamentary opposition that was outspokenly pro-Abkhaz and welcomed every opportunity to discredit Yeltsin's leadership and embarrass him both domestically and internationally.

Prior to Russia's adoption of a truly post-Soviet constitution in 1993, the Parliament had a contestable but defensible claim to be not only the ultimate arbiter of the country's security policy but the principal locus of strategic decisionmaking. With the adoption of the current "presidential" constitution in 1993, however, the balance of power has tilted sharply toward the Executive Branch as regards decisions to employ force. In this respect, one could say that Russia has become more like America, where clear constitutional provisions narrowly circumscribe the role of Congress in foreign and security policymaking. Ironically, however, the supremacy of the Executive Branch is now so overwhelming in Russia that the Parliament has been freed to behave even more irresponsibly than before. By the same token, the Executive Branch has been freed of any need to seek the advice and consent of those politically independent "outsiders" and can therefore act even more arbitrarily than before. While strong presidential leadership is as essential to rational policymaking, it does not guarantee it and is subject to serious abuse in the absence of institutionalized checks and balances.

Implications for Russian-American Relations

The case studies in this volume offer at least a first-order answer to questions that Russia and America frequently ask about each other. For Russians, a key question is whether the United States is taking advantage of the disappearance of the Soviet Union to become a post-Cold War global hegemon--and hence a potential threat to Russia's security. For their part, Americans ask whether Russia continues to harbor imperialistic ambitions or is finally becoming a post-imperial power, inclined to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem of international security. These questions are not just academic, for their answers carry major implications for how each country views the other's emerging role in international politics, as well as for the prospects of the United States and Russia eventually forging effective cooperative security ties.

Although it would take a major study of each country to offer more conclusive answers to these controversial questions, there is nothing in any of the preceding case studies to suggest that either Washington or Moscow have particularly grandiose ambitions. If anything, the tendency in the United States has been toward isolationism rather than globalism. American military intervention in recent years have typically been reactive and even inertial rather than instrumental in pursuit of grand "strategic" goals. As for Russia, its force has been less reflective of any Russian "imperial" grand design than of a perceived need to ensure stability along the conflicted southwestern periphery of Russia and within Russia itself.

If the preceding case studies provide considerable reassurance against the likelihood of a U.S.-Russian confrontation in the foreseeable future, they raise substantial doubts about the near-term prospects for close cooperation, let alone genuine partnership in regional peace-keeping operations. The principal stumbling block is not an absence of common interests but a marked disparity in levels of political development. For all its vagaries, the highly institutionalized political system of the United States can be counted on to produce relatively transparent and responsible policies over time. In marked contrast, Russia's "transitional" system is far less stable and far more prone to unpredictable and inconsistent behavior. The various instances of Russian force employment outlined above offer repeated testimony to opacity at the presidential level, rampant chaos throughout the interagency arena, recurrent military insubordination at lower echelons of the implementation system, virtually nonexistent legal and legislative checks and balances, and a persistent absence of more than the most vague accountability on the part of the president to the electorate. All of this points to a Russian political system that may not be ready for some time to join Western partners in meaningful peacekeeping and other global security operations.


[*] Jeremy R. Azrael is director of RAND's Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. Benjamin S. Lambeth is a senior researcher at RAND. Emil A. Payin is director of the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Research, a member of the Presidential Council of the Russian Federation, and (as of September 1996) a special assistant to the President of the Russian Federation. Arkady A. Popov is deputy director of the Center for Ethnopolitical and Regional Research.


Contents
Previous chapter