By Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia will embark on a major reform of its armed forces within the next two years to bring them into conformity with “the standards and challenges of the 21st century,” Deputy Defense Minister Artur Aghabekian announced on Tuesday.
Aghabekian said the Armenian government will draw on NATO’s military experience and expertise but was vague on the specifics of the planned effort. “We plan defense reforms so that our armed forces are able to meet new challenges arising in the region and outside it,” he told RFE/RL on the sidelines of an international conference in Yerevan that discussed Armenia’s growing cooperation with NATO.
Aghabekian would not go into details, saying only that the reform will start in 2007 and be completed by 2015. “We anticipate that by 2015 we will have a reformed army that will meet standards stemming from the new challenges facing us,” he said.
The general, who is seen as Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s right-hand man, added that the reform will be preceded by the adoption of Armenia’s “national security strategy” and a more comprehensive “doctrine.” Addressing the conference, he said both documents will be drawn up in collaboration with NATO.
Yerevan is set to upgrade its participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program by negotiating an “individual partnership action plan,” or IPAP, with the U.S.-led alliance. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian set up last year an interagency group tasked with making proposals and working with NATO officials on the IPAP.
It was announced at the conference that experts from the George Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a NATO-linked think-tank funded by the U.S. and German governments, will help the Armenian government finalize those proposals by the end of next month.
Aghabekian admitted that the planned defense reform will be in tune with Armenia’s participation in the IPAP framework, suggesting that the Armenian military is ready to embrace at least some of the NATO standards and practices. NATO will provide technical assistance to the Armenian military and train its officers as part of the scheme, he said.
The organizational structure of Armenia’s Defense Ministry and Armed Forces essentially mirrors that of the formerly Soviet and now Russian armed forces, with army officers holding just about every ministerial position and facing little civilian control. A senior official from the Armenian Foreign Ministry publicly complained late last month that it is becoming increasingly archaic and hampers closer cooperation with NATO.
Aghabekian promised in that regard a “more active participation of civilian elements in defense issues” and greater “democratic oversight” of the armed forces.
Echoing Sarkisian’s statements made last week, he also made it clear that Armenia does not aim to eventually seek NATO membership and will deepen its ties with the Western bloc as long as they do not interfere with its military alliance with Russia.