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NPS Faculty Contributing to Ukrainian Defense Reforms

Article By: Kenneth A. Stewart

As Ukraine contends with Russian military incursions in Crimea and Donetsk, it has been working to reform its Soviet-Era defense structure with members of the Defense Governance and Management Team (DGMT) at the Naval Postgraduate School’s (NPS) Center for Civil Military Relations (CCMR).

“We work on defense management concepts rather than tactics. It's a national institutional and strategic policy development effort,” said DGMT Deputy Program Manager Michael Crouch who recently sat down with the Ukrainian Minister of Defense to discuss the nation’s efforts to reform their military in accordance with NATO standards.

“We work very closely with the U.S. European Command to identify what we call ‘demand signals,’” explained Crouch. Those signals, like Ukraine’s desire for closer relations with NATO and the reforms that closer orientation necessitates, are part of what is driving the DGMT’s focus on the divided former Soviet republic.

“Our focus is to work with partner nations that are NATO partners, that may or may not be interested in being part of the alliance but want to be closer to the U.S. and NATO. For example, we work with Serbia, though they do not have interest in NATO membership,” explained Crouch. “[Recent history] has taught us that it is better to have partners who share common interests.”

Crouch has made nine trips to Ukraine since 2015 returning from his most recent trip in April. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) sponsors the DGMT, which is one of 12 CCMR programs at NPS that benefits from the university’s student and faculty expertise.

“We will return to Ukraine in July to continue support on Ukraine’s Strategic Defense Bulletin,” said Crouch, referring to one of the foundational documents spurring the defense reform.

“We are engaging with the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense and Navy on meaningful defense reform,” said Crouch. “The U.S. has been active in Ukraine for over 10 years due to a 1994 Clinton initiative created after the fall of the Soviet Union to encourage democracy in former communist states.”  

 Defense Governance and Management Team (DGMT) Program Manager Michael Crouch has been working with Ukrainian leadership to bring meaningful reform its Soviet-Era defense practices and policies. DGMT is one of several diverse programs with the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, preparing practitioners from all over the world for new levels of leadership in their national security communities.

Crouch usually travels to Ukraine with a team of three to four subject matter experts. Their week-long visits tend to focus on the areas of strategy and policy, human resources, human resources management, and logistics. But running through each of these areas is CCMR’s commitment to civil-military relations and support for civilian control of the armed forces – a transition that many developing and transitioning nations have found difficult to make.

According to Crouch, transition in Ukraine is hindered by the nation’s competing identities. Its East is composed of a largely Russian speaking, pro-Russia populace, while in the West, Ukrainians speak Ukrainian and are more closely aligned with Europe.

After the Maidan Revolution, much of the Ukrainian speaking public was really ready to make a change toward Euro-Atlantic concepts, which led to the ouster of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych whose close ties to Russia and pro-Russian policies had fallen out of favor, said Crouch.

Russia cried foul as Yanukovych was deposed, leading to Russian support of separatists, and invasion and annexation of the Crimea Peninsula. Despite a semblance of stability today, Ukrainian citizens, frustrated with the pace of change within their Ministry of Defense (MOD) and its inability to thwart Russian interventions in their homeland, have begun to take matters into their own hands, particularly in the areas of military medicine and logistics.  

“People were dying of non-fatal wounds on the battlefield, so people from around the country volunteered to go to the East and help. There were even little old ladies traveling to the front to deliver bags of apples to Soldiers,” said Crouch.

Crouch and his colleagues have met with many of these volunteers and have worked to help the Ukrainian MOD to incorporate some of their lessons-learned throughout the ministry. But, Crouch notes that change in Ukraine is not easy, and he is quick to acknowledge that this effort is an uphill battle.

“Ukraine still maintains Soviet-style legacy ways of doing things. They don't train and empower subordinates like the U.S. and other NATO allies do. It’s a Soviet model of doing things that is very hard for them to separate themselves from,” explained Crouch. “People don't want to give up power easily. It's a tough sell, and change is hard.”

But while change is difficult, Crouch also points to progress that is being made despite an active insurgency and the annexation of Ukrainian land by Russian forces.

“Things aren’t changing very fast, but I have to take a look at where they came from and where they are going,” said Crouch. “Whether our work will result in meaningful change remains to be seen, but the document that they have recently signed onto is a move in the right direction.”    

Posted July 29, 2016

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