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Russia: Military Experts Differ On Significance Of U.S. Military Spending Increase

  • Francesca Mereu

U.S. President George W. Bush has proposed an increase of $48 billion in U.S. military spending, the largest such rise in two decades. The mid-January announcement is largely in response to Washington's new role in the international war on terrorism. The Russian government -- Washington's old Cold War foe -- has yet to officially comment on the proposal, but two military experts in Moscow are taking opposing views concerning the significance of the U.S. announcement.

Moscow, 25 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- There has been no official reaction from the Russian government to U.S. President George W. Bush's proposal for an increase of $48 billion in additional spending on the American military.

Bush said the extra money will be used, in part, to give service personnel a pay raise, to acquire more precision-guided weaponry, and to build a national missile-defense shield.

"My [2003 fiscal year] budget calls for more than $48 billion in new defense spending. This will be the largest increase in defense spending in the last 20 years, and it includes another pay raise for the men and women who wear the uniform," Bush said.

In an effort to safeguard Americans at home, Bush said his budget will call for hiring 30,000 airport security workers and an additional 300 federal agents. The money also will be used to buy new equipment to improve mail safety in the wake of the anthrax attacks and for strengthening research on bioterrorism threats.

"The most basic commitment of our government will be the security of our country. We will win this war [against international terrorism]. We will protect our people, and we will work to renew the strength of our economy," Bush said.

If approved by the U.S. Congress, the Defense Department's annual budget would increase to $380 billion.

So far, Russia -- whose military spending is difficult to determine but which is a fraction of the U.S. defense budget -- has not officially commented on Bush's proposal. RFE/RL spoke to two Russian military specialists about the dramatic increase in U.S. military spending. Each holds a different view on the significance of the U.S. announcement.

Sergei Karaganov is chairman of the Russian Council for Defense and Foreign Policy. He told RFE/RL that the U.S. decision to spend more money in the fight against international terrorism can only be considered positive.

"It is good, both for America and the rest of the world, to spend more money in the fight against terrorism," Karaganov said.

While believing in the need to spend money to fight international terrorism, Karaganov said the U.S proposal for a national missile-defense shield is not worth the cost.

"As far as money for the ballistic missile defense system is concerned, I hope that the American military and technological complex may earn profits from it and so does the overall American economy. But I don't think that [such a system] would be useful for the United States and for the rest of the world," Karaganov said. "If the United States will be able to develop [a missile-defense shield], many countries [like Iran, Iraq] and China among them, would have many problems [since they would need to spend more money to update their own defense systems]. Anyway, it is quite improbable that the United States will [even] be able to develop [such a system]."

General Valeri Cheban is an adviser to Andrei Nikolayev, the chairman of the State Duma's Defense Committee. Cheban told RFE/RL that Bush's suggestion to increase U.S. defense spending is worthless, since the September terrorist attacks on the U.S. demonstrated that military might can do little to stop terrorists determined to risk their lives for their cause.

"It is sad that a country that has a strong economic and financial potential and immense political influence gets back on the track of [Cold War] confrontation and tries to solve many problems by military force," Cheban said. "It is also sad that even though the events of 11 September demonstrated that it is not big [military] formations or armadas of tanks and airplanes that achieve today's political goals, but the kind of [terrorist] acts [committed on 11 September], nevertheless, the United States -- following the old pattern -- is now escalating its military power."

Cheban said Bush's announcement did not come as a surprise, since after 11 September, events "started to unfold so rapidly and dynamically and the Americans themselves said that the era of unpredictability called for new solutions."

Cheban said the mood in Russia today is not oriented on spending more money on defense but instead is focusing on peacemaking operations and humanitarian concerns.

"I think that the [Russian] response today does not necessarily have to be an increase in defense spending," Cheban said. "We [in Russia] are inclined to think that today the sources of danger are not of a military nature, so we should shift our focus toward peacemaking operations, law and order enforcement issues, social and humanitarian problems, including refugees and the least-fortunate levels of society."

Alexander Golts is a Moscow-based journalist who regularly covers defense issues. In an interview with RFE/RL's Russian Service, Golts said the Kremlin cannot afford additional military spending, even if the Russian military is badly in need of modernization.

Golts said the idea that Russia still has a military-industrial complex is an illusion.

"Even now, our leadership lives with an illusion that Russia has a military-industrial complex. In reality, it does not exist. We have about 1,000 companies that are listed as military enterprises but [that have] actually long stopped making military products," Golts said. "Those endless talks about new machinery don't go any further than just talks -- be it the matchless Black Shark helicopter or the fifth-generation fighter jet. The thing is that, even if those are possible to make, they are made as single items from parts that are left over from Soviet times."