27 October 2016

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What Ukraine urgently needs to defend itself

Much of the public debate in the United States on Ukraine focuses on the question of whether or not to provide lethal aid. However, analysis of Ukraine’s capabilities and of the challenges it faces point to the potential of U.S. support for fundamental reform of the country’s security sector, say Andrew Radin and Lynn Davis (both RAND officials) in their op-ed for Newsweek.

Photo from UNIAN
Photo from UNIAN

The issue of lethal aid is an important one, given the risk of Russian escalation and uncertain U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s defense. But a recently published RAND study, done for the Office of the President of Ukraine emphasized the need for and potential impact of reform in Ukraine’s security institutions, the article reads.

While focusing on the defense sector, the report analyses the full range of security institutions—including intelligence, internal security and defense-technical—at all levels, from combat units up to the ministries.

Poroshenko conveys military equipment to AFUUkraine’s military was simply not prepared to fight prior to the war and, while there have been improvements since 2014, there remain a range of deeply embedded problems that cannot easily be solved by foreign-provided weapons or assistance but which if corrected could significantly improve warfighting, promote the efficient use of resources and help Ukraine meet Euro-Atlantic standards of transparency and accountability.

At the top, there are ambiguities and divisions in how the executive branch manages the security and defense sector.

A number of steps could help address these issues, including clarifying roles and responsibilities, not only of the senior leadership but at all levels; strengthening the NSDC; and restructuring the defense establishment to place the General Staff of the Armed Forces under the command of a civilian minister, among other changes.

Further, despite significant progress, there remain gaps in the basic systems that equip and sustain Ukraine’s fighting forces that Western training and equipment cannot easily fill.

Cabinet allocates UAH 17 million on Prozorro public procurement web portalIn the case of the procurement system, for example, Ukraine has a large defense industry that builds a wide range of advanced equipment. But the defense industry has largely focused on exports, in part encouraged by Ukraine’s legal framework.

Single-source contracts, as part of an opaque yearly defense order, undermine competitiveness and efficiency. Ukraine has made progress with a new transparent ProZorro e-procurement system, but the preexisting system for purchasing armaments continues to preclude the government from mobilizing the defense industry to efficiently provide for Ukraine’s combat needs.

In the case of logistics, Ukraine continues to rely on a paper-based system for tracking arms and supplies, supplemented only occasionally with computers.

Ukraine Def. Minister discusses with U.S. congressmen prospects of lethal aidWithout modern electronic inventory systems, the United States and other allies cannot responsibly provide modern weapon systems, and there will continue to be major problems with efficient distribution of critical items.

These are just several of a wide range of issues that contribute to the challenges facing Ukraine’s entire defense establishment. At the same time, though, they also highlight the achievements of the Ukrainian military in holding off further advances from the Russian-backed separatists. But to be sustainable, major changes should be implemented by Ukrainians, not by foreign advisers, the authors say.

The current period in Ukraine’s history offers a unique opportunity since the government and significant elements of civil society are committed to undertaking reform, especially in the security and defense sector.

The United States and its allies already have supported this effort, including through encouragement by senior U.S. officials and the provision of defense advisors. But clearly reform in Ukraine will be a long-term effort, which Ukraine’s partners should continue to support.

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