Introducing a new national security strategy, Maia Sandu announced a further increase in investment on strengthening Moldova’s military capabilities. But to what extent can an increased defense budget improve the country’s security?
Since the last week has passed under the sign of the god Ares, let’s again turn our attention to military issues. Another Arab-Israeli conflict, which began with a bloody attack by Hamas militants, quickly escalated to carpet bombing a la World War II and a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip, attracting the attention of the entire world. Casualties on both sides numbered in the thousands. The conflict has already affected Lebanon and Syria in one way or another, and there is still a risk that it will expand in scope and warring parties. At the same time, hostilities in Ukraine have intensified markedly, where the Russians have launched a quite large-scale offensive in the area near Avdeevka, which is probably the strongest fortification of the Ukrainian armed forces. At the same time, the Ukrainian counteroffensive continues in the Zaporizhzhia district and near Bakhmut.
These events created an appropriate background for the public introduction of the draft of Moldova’s new national security strategy, which was delivered by President Maia Sandu herself. Colleagues have already analyzed this document, so I will not dwell on its content. I will only say that it fixed some key principles of the current government’s policy: struggle against Russian influence, abandoning neutrality in favor of Western military organizations, primarily NATO, and strengthening of the security sector.
Let’s dwell on the latter in more detail. As we can see, the importance of the defense component has increased dramatically, and it has also received its own ideological justification:
- Strengthening the country’s military capabilities has been neglected for decades by the previous authorities; now it needs solid investments.
- Neutrality obliges to increase defense spending, not vice versa, the idea of reducing it is a Russia-imposed stereotype.
- The Russian Federation is a permanent source of threats, which are of diverse nature: information and psychological manipulation, interference in internal political affairs, direct threats to territorial integrity and constitutional order.
- The development of military cooperation with Western countries and organizations should be continued and expanded.
Summing up the ruling party’s course in the defense sector, Maia Sandu claimed that Moldova should have an army that citizens will be proud of. Thus, she confirmed the trend, clearly manifested last year, towards militarization and increased spending on the armed forces. It is pushed by Western partners, who earlier announced the need to (re)arm the country because of the Russian threat.
What do we have at the moment? The military budget is growing: in 2023 it has increased by 68% to a record 1.7 billion lei (0.55% of GDP), despite Moldova’s rather difficult economic situation. It appears that we can expect it to grow further next year. Targeted financial assistance from the West has significantly increased - 87 million euros have been allocated only through the European Peace Facility and another 50 million are planned for 2024. There are military supplies from the USA, Germany, Romania, Poland: defense equipment, infantry weapons and ammunition, military vehicles, drones. An airspace surveillance radar has also been purchased from France.
Does that increase the country’s military capacity? In a vacuum – yes, absolutely. But if we look at it in terms of declared threats? After all, all actions and processes must have some logic and purpose, and so far, looking at what is happening to the defense sector, it is quite difficult to discern them.
Objectively, Moldova is very small country to take care of its security on its own. There are not many defense options for such small countries. The first is neutrality. It was considered by the founding fathers of the republic as a guarantee of non-aggression of external forces and was enshrined in the Basic Law. Now the authorities consider this postulate outdated and ineffective. Option No. 2 - participation in the system of collective defense. The ruling party is trying to move towards it, focusing on close cooperation (ideally, full integration) with NATO.
In this alliance, small countries are de facto mere consumers of security, counting on the military might of the leading members, primarily the United States, the only state capable of rapidly projecting power almost anywhere in the world. The recipient country pays for this by increasing military expenditures, which are used to purchase products of the American military-industrial complex, by transferring part of sovereignty, providing its own bases or area for American ones. In some cases, the U.S. military presence is paid for.
It would be an ideal scenario for the current authorities, but so far joining NATO is an elusive goal. Our country does not fulfil the criteria for membership, has an unresolved territorial conflict and foreign troops on its territory, has a constitutionally enshrined neutrality approved by the population. In addition, the idea of joining the Alliance does not enjoy broad public support. All these obstacles are unlikely to be overcome in the near future, although work in this direction is underway.
Nevertheless, even without NATO, Moldova in fact has a “security umbrella” formed by its neighbors – friendly Romania (which a priori does not threaten militarily) and Ukraine, which is at war with Russia (the main source of threats to Moldova according to the new national security strategy). As long as this “umbrella” exists, our territory cannot be directly attacked by the enemy.
The only exceptions are the operational group of Russian troops in the Transnistrian region (about a thousand soldiers and officers) and local armed structures (the exact number is unknown, probably not more than 5-7 thousand people). Together they exceed the strength of the National Army, and in some components - its combat capabilities (for example, the so-called PMR Army has a tank unit, while the NA has no tanks). Apparently, the modernization of the Moldovan armed forces is conducted in order to balance these formations.
On the other hand, an attack from the left bank seems an almost improbable scenario. If we keep in mind the option of our own forceful entry into the region, it would require a much greater effort to reinforce our military. We need large supplies of armored vehicles, aviation (especially unmanned), air defense systems, modern artillery systems and MLRS. And, most importantly, a significant increase in the army’s size to achieve at least a two-fold advantage. We see none of this, and no such plans have been announced. And all the deliveries are still unsystematic, failing to fit into a single logic. Like, for instance, the delivery of old German armored personnel carriers (who and how will maintain them technically?) or the purchase of radar (useless without means of defeating air targets). Although in some sectors our military capabilities are somewhat improved, in general they remain unchanged despite the large increase in budgetary expenditures and don’t expand the range of tasks that the National Army is capable of performing.
Well, even if our military is being prepared to solve specific tasks, it is still not clear which ones. It seems that the modernization of the army as it stands is just PR, designed for domestic and foreign audiences. And about politics, since in this way the authorities show additional loyalty and usefulness by paying from the budget for the supply of obsolete and not necessary weapons and equipment. All this has little to do with real strengthening of the country’s military capacity and its ability to defend its own territory. Therefore, from this point of view, the targeted spending of billions of lei from the budget amidst the acute socio-economic crisis looks irrational.