Leadership: Russia Shows How It Is Done

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February 26, 2016: In one area of military innovation Russia has surpassed the United States; reducing bloated and counterproductive general staffs. These are the organizations that do the planning for and senior management of the armed forces. Historically these military bureaucracies, like any large-organization bureaucracy, tend to keep growing unless periodically pruned to an efficient size by a leader forceful enough to get that done.

Thus in 2008, after more than a decade of post-Cold War effort Russia managed to reduce the size of their Stavka (general staff of the armed forces). Many senior officers predicted disaster but were dismayed to discover that the August invasion of southern neighbor Georgia (a success) was done with a tiny staff organization put together just for the Georgia operation. The Stavka was not given this task because the Stavka was in the midst of a major downsizing which included moving many of the remaining personnel to new locations. Even in the best of times the Stavka was too bloated with departments and senior generals who could, and often did get in the way. The former KGB (secret police) officers running the government after 1991 were accustomed to moving faster with fewer people and they planned and carried out the Georgia operation the lean “KGB way” to get it done in time and to make a point to the critics of the Stavka downsizing.

At the end of the Cold War the Stavka had grown to nearly 10,000 personnel. That’s more than ten times larger than it was during World War II and many noted that the larger Stavka was far less effective than the leaner wartime version. For more than a century, the plans and operations of the Russian armed forces have been created by the general staff, or Stavka. The Stavka has always been a planning and "thinking" operation but since the end of World War II it became bloated and a bit retro. At the time the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, there were already calls for "doing something" about the Stavka.

In 2007 the Russian government finally ordered a long delayed reorganization of the Stavka, something many officers, and civilian military analysts had been urging for some time. But traditionalists were aghast at the loss of thousands of highly skilled (and many high ranking) officers and civilian experts. The exact size of the Stavaka is a state secret, but the best Russian estimates were that his bureaucracy had as many as 10,000 people on the payroll before the downsizing.

Meanwhile in the United States a bloated Stavka was quietly emerging. Worse the civilian dominated Office of the Secretary of Defense staff was headed towards a current size of nearly 5,000 people. The actual American “Stavka”, the Joint Staff was now about 4,000 personnel. This two headed Stavka was not only as large as the pre-downsizing Russian Stavka but less efficient. That was because the Department of Defense staff and the Joint Staff were often competing and coming up with different answers to the same question. There is a downsizing movement building in the United States but the fact that the American Stavka is two bloated and dysfunctional organizations that also compete (usually unsuccessfully) with each other means that downsizing is more difficult to get done.

 


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