The Turning Point For Ukrainian Military Reform: What Is the Strategic Defence Bulletin and Why Is It So Important?

Those readers, who are interested in the reform of the Ukrainian army, have for sure heard about the adoption of a new document titled the Strategic Defence Bulletin (SDB).

Nevertheless, its adoption by the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine and its subsequent signing by the President happened in a relatively quiet manner.

It might have happened this way because both events occurred on Friday evenings within two consecutive weeks. Another possible explanation is that society does not fully understand what type of document it is and its purpose.

The SDB is of the same importance as other key documents on defence policy, like the Defence Doctrine or the National Security and Defence Development Concept 2020, which should be adopted after the SDB.

So what is the SDB and what are its novelties?

Well, almost everything is a novelty in this document. I am sure that when historians will analyze the reform of the Ukrainian Army, their analysis will be split into periods ‘before’ and the era ‘after’ the SDB was adopted.

The process was launched in early 2015. Leaders of the Ministry of Defence and civic activists determined the most difficult issues, started tackling them and launching changes.

After an investigation discovered there was corruption in Army procurement we installed ProZorro (and were the first among all the government agencies), changed the heads of the departments (usually we had to do it several times consecutively), installed new IT systems and changed various processes.

Quite often we used urgent methods in the most difficult areas. Unfortunately, this approach was fragmentary, glued together from various pieces and we experienced grave difficulties in those areas that we left behind because we permanently lacked time and resources.

The fragmentary nature was aggravated by the fact that many of our initiatives were launched as pilot projects. We were grasping only a certain part of the whole picture. For example: we introduced them only in certain units, hoping to scale these results and achievements to the entire Ukrainian Army.

Did we manage to perform a deep reform of the Ukrainian Army?

In the early 2015, the Rand Corporation started working in Ukraine. In Autumn 2015 it presented a lengthy list of recommendations regarding the changes our army requires immediately. Simultaneously, experts from NATO presented their reports, in particular: on procurement and logistics.

In late September 2015, the President signed the National Defence Doctrine, which stipulated the aim to transition the Ukrainian Army to NATO standards by 2020.

According to the initial plan, the Doctrine should have been followed by defence documents as stipulated by the legislation: SDB, Strategy, Program. Yet everybody understood that the reform of the Ukrainian Army needed a single plan and a single roadmap. Jointly with NATO the management of the Ministry of Defence decided to regard the SDB as the main document for building the new army.

The drafting of the document was not so easy. Its uniqueness is that the SDB is the first document of such a scale, drafted by representatives of organizations who never before joined their efforts.

The SDB was created by the experts of the Ministry of Defence, General Staff of the Armed Forces, National Security and Defence Council, NATO, a number of advisors from NATO member states (primarily, the UK and the US), local experts, including experts and volunteers of the Project Office for Reforms.

It was approved by the Ministry of Defence, General Staff of the Armed Forces and representatives of NATO to be then forwarded to the President of Ukraine for his signature.

Parties frequently failed to reach an agreement on certain aspects of the strategy. There were disagreements, miscommunication, certain nuances were lost in translation. Several times the text of the bulletin was rewritten from scratch.

This is not surprising as the future defence forces of Ukraine were completely reimagined. It was the SDB, which redefined the way in which the new defence forces should appear.

The first drafting session took place right after the New Year and the text was finalized by the Security and Defence Council in late May 2016.

What did we get in the result?

It is worth mentioning that all the planning was performed based not on the existing military management system, but was driven by the priorities. Pride of place went to the key KPIs, as the drafting team jointly agreed that all the existing military structures should undergo fundamental transformation to achieve the planned goals.

There are five priorities driving this transformation:

1) a new system of management in line with NATO standards;

2) clear and transparent planning and resources management;

3) building combat capacity sufficient to achieve the objectives determined by the higher command;

4) formation of a modern and reliable system of logistics and military medicine, in line with NATO standards;

5) building the professional capacity and creation of a sufficient defence reserve.

Each of these objectives has its secondary objectives, and so forth.

We will not retell the contents of the SDB as it is now published online. If we manage to achieve all the objectives stated by the SDB, this would lead to a new modern army, which will be combat ready according to the standards of the leading global countries.

The most important question on our agenda: what’s next? Is the SDB a guarantee of reform? Without any doubts — no, it is not. The year 2020 is closer than we think and we have an unbelievable backlog.

Each secondary objective (currently there are more than 20 of those) needs detailed action points and KPIs and all the recommendations of the SDB should be meticulously followed to achieve success.

The Reforms Committee of the Ministry of Defence is stipulated as the key forum for decision making according to the SDB. It should soon start working at full capacity.

Additionally, the SDB introduces the concept of public control. I hope that many of my readers are not from military circles because we, the non-military, bear the same, if not greater, responsibility for our army.

This is another point of innovation of the new strategy. Public control was quite a nuisance before. The gruesome reality was that the army was completely on its own. The SDB increases public control manifoldly, as this is one of the key objectives of the civic society being born now in Ukraine.

We must realize that the Army depends on civic society, not vice versa. That is why Ukrainians should not wait until their Army changes and is ready to protect them. It is the task of the people to consolidate and give the necessary momentum to the changes. This approach works in all NATO countries without any exclusions. It should work the same way in our country.

The defence of Ukraine is the task of the professional defence forces. But the creation and existence of these forces is a task for each one of us.

Translated by Gennadiy Kornev

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