26 June 2019

Interview with Thomas-Durell Young: The Black Sea gives Russia a lot of opportunities for mischief making against NATO

Mircea Olteanu

The Black Sea, unlike the Baltic Sea, gives Russia a lot of opportunities to create mischiefs to the North Atlantic Alliance, especially to Romania, stated dr. Thomas-Durell Young, senior lecturer for the US Naval Postgraduate School, in an interview for the Defence and Security Monitor.

Dr. Young talked, in an interview for Defence and Security Monitor (DSM), about security in Black Sea’s area, stating that Russia “really changed the balance of power and the only way we're going to forestall that, any sort of Russian mischief-making, is by increasing our presence by Western forces in the region”.

Also, the American professor talked about “hyper centralization of control” in the military field, a phenomenon which is present even in some Eastern Europe NATO countries, which does not allow commanders to develop completely. To that end, dr. Young wants the “delegation of budget, delegation of authority”, particularly the allocation of funds for common training.

Another major topic was related to the issues on US’s exports budgetary system, which encouraged bureaucratization and has affected armed forces’ training level.

We are presenting you the entire interview bellow:

Reporter: What is your status within the US Department of Defense and do you speak as an official or as a no private individual?

Dr. Thomas Young: Thank you very much for having me here, it's a great pleasure, I can assure you. I love being in Romania, I first came here in 1978 and it is a delight to be back.

I have an unusual status within the Department of Defense, in that, I am a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, which is owned by the Department of Navy, part of our Department of Defense, but as of April, one of the organization in which I reside has fallen out of the Department of the Navy and now under the Department of Defense, for a variety reasons, administrative reasons and I'm perfectly happy with that.

But, I just need to stress that no matter what my status is, if I'm a professor or if I'm working for the Department of Defense directly, I am speaking solely with my personal opinion and it does not in any way reflect the policy or position of the Department of Defense or the United States government.


Reporter: Taking into account your experience with Central and Eastern Europe, what is one common "pathology" shared by defense institutions in the region that inhibit the full adoption of the Western approach to defence?

Dr. Thomas Young: Just a bit of background on that question. I've spent 19, almost 20 years in the region, trying to help ministries of Defence, governments, general staffs, services to adopt, shall we say, the Western method of defense and military science, is what you would call it. It hasn't gone very well if we look at outputs.

So we have spent a lot of money, NATO, other NATO nations have spent a lot of money, you've spent a lot of money and a lot of effort in time to reform your defence institutions, but, I think, if you look at the outputs, the ability of the Armed Forces to do their missions - go to sea, fight and survive, go fly in the air, fight and survive, go on the land, maneuver, fight and survive - it's very difficult to find what amongst all of these countries armed forces that are capable of doing that.

For 10 years I didn't think about causation. I'll be very honest with you. I simply was doing the training that I was asked to do by my government. And about about nine, eight years ago, I realized that it wasn't working and bothered me, I had to figure out what am I doing wrong, what are we doing wrong collectively, both in the Department of Defense and my government. Our programs and policies, our concepts are they helpful, are they useful? And then, on the part of our allies and partner countries what have you done wrong, where have you missed opportunities?

So, the long answer to your short question is: I had to write a book to figure it out, so I went back, putting on my scholars hat, and I wrote a book, and I didn't like it, I wrote it again and then I rewrote it, I rewrote it about five or six times until I got, I think I got it right. It was published in London in 2017, it's gotten very good reviews.

And one of my key theses is the reason why every defence institution in Central and Eastern Europe is suffering the ability to adopt the Western methods is because, as John Maynard Keynes tells us - and I'm an economist by training, in education - he tells us, in his general theory, that the difficulty isn't adopting new concepts, you've adopted Western concepts, the difficulty is getting rid of the old ones. So, the common pathology is even in the Baltic States, where there is no successor defense institutions because they were all started "ab ovo", as Latins would say, the Romans would say, "from the egg". There are still legacy concepts that are bouncing around in people's heads and you can see them in institutions and that's inhibiting you from fully adopting the Western concepts.

I think conscription is a good example of that, you got rid of conscription, very good. But, have the forces been fully professionalized? You have to ask yourself that question, and if they haven't, what's inhibiting that? So, concepts is my message to everybody. These new ones are fine. How do you get rid of the old ones? That is much more challenging and I think we, in the West, have been very bad at understanding that the problem is largely conceptual and I think we've been equally bad at being able to explain that to our allies, because when you get down to a change in a concept, it changes people and money and that's political in the end, it isn't technical. So, I think we look at this as a technical problem, whereas in reality it's a political problem.


Reporter: Speaking of legacies, mentalities, older mentalities… You have stated that commanders in the region are not allowed to be fully developed by government policies attitude and legacy practices. Why is this the case and how can it be addressed? What is the impact of these factors upon armed forces readiness?

Dr. Thomas Young: That's an excellent question. Two points on this. Commanders in the communist period were not empowered. I saw this. I worked in Ukraine for ten years. And, you know, colonels were not able to make decisions, at all. You still see this in other countries that are now NATO members, I won't use any names, but you see it in many many countries where senior leaders, to include even generals, are not allowed to make decisions. All decisions go to the top, that's a legacy. So you have hyper centralization of control still in many many countries, as opposed to delegation of control and empowerment.

Society, so we say societal norms, play to this. I think if you have an ottoman heritage, where you had highly centralized decision-making, and I think also those communist concepts, were every decision, no decision is too small not to be taken to the top.

So this continues and you can see this very clearly if you look at commanders, whether or not commanders have training budgets. If I'm a brigade commander, if I'm a ship's captain, if I don't have a training budget how do I train my force?

I think it too often ministries of Defense throughout the region, civilians like myself, defence civilians like myself, don't see money for training and maintenance as being the lifeblood of an armed force. So they will make it available if you're going to go on an exercise, if you're going to go on a deployment, it's no problem the money is there, but this is what happens (waveform gesture) to the expertise and training ability of the forces, it should be much more consistent, but it isn't there.

As such, because there isn't designated operations and maintenance money, the armed forces readiness in the region, and I just published an article on this in the Royal United Services Institute Journal, last month, RUSI in London, where I look very hard at readiness levels and you don't see readiness, because you don't see delegation of empowerment and a delegation of money.

So it keeps coming back, you don't allow commanders to grow and that's huge. Because you may have commanders, but they don't have the self-confidence, they don't have the experience, even if they've been on deployments - which is the best training you could ever have - even if they've been on deployments, they still don't fully, they're not like their Western counterparts, where they are intimately involved with training 24/7 their ship, their aircraft, their battalions. So it's a big problem and it's again a political problem, it's a cultural problem, but it's one that's eventually got to be solved.


Reporter: Any recommendation, any solutions to solve these problems?

Dr. Thomas Young: Delegation of budget, delegation of authority. We make it very clear, we tell our commanders this is what we expect and you don't perform we'll get another person, nothing personal. But, you know, units have training budgets and commanders have the authority to train their units and if they don't there's some very sharp words discussed.

But I think the biggest differentiation I can see is that, in particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world, the opinions and views and judgments of commanders are taken over everything else. We build our commanders up, we give, we stress them, we make them grow, we put them in terrible positions and operations, because we need to see who can do it, who can grow, and then, once you're a commander, your recommendations, very few people are willing to override them.

So in our system a commander tells his superiors whether or not his unit is ready: my unit is ready, my unit can do x,y&z today; nobody judge it, nobody. The system really isn't set up to test it. We have exercises and evaluations, but it's that commander's judgment. Here you don't have that and here readiness is determined by these combat readiness evaluations.

Often times are done in Germany, with the assistance of the US Army, but I think in a lot of armies, in particular, they study for the test because it's more or less a checklist, as opposed to the judgment of a commander saying that unit is ready to perform its tasks and carry out its mission.



Reporter: In your writings you have been very critical of the manner by which the US government has exported the Department of Defense method for managing funds: the planning, programming, budgeting system (PPBS). How is this method unsuitable to defense institutions in this region? Plus how is this affecting defense planning on the long term?

Dr. Thomas Young: well we have to understand this particular method was created in the 1960s to bind together very loosely five different ministries of Defense in the United States, arguably. We don't have one and the most important one, the office of the Secretary of Defense, they don't really have a budget. Money is determined where it's spent and how much is determined by Congress and the money more or less directly goes to the military departments - Army, Navy and Air Force, defense agencies, office of the secretary defense.

Those individuals who tried to pull it together in the 1960s, and I've written extensively and published extensively on this, they compromised, and they never really changed the way the money flows. So it's really, the money comes in this way uniformly and it goes out that way uniformly. So the military departments continue to run with very little supervision or influence by the Secretary of Defense or the chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So it's a very unique method and many secretaries of Defense, even while they're in office and almost all of them after they leave the office, critique this budget, this budgeting system, because they can't touch the money. And we even have instances where my own former boss, shall we say, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral John Richardson, you know, complained: "I cannot really touch the Navy's budget because we do it four years in advance, we put it all together, it's baked and then you can't touch it".

So he cannot exploit a new technological breakthrough, he has to wait four years, before even starts spending the money on it. So the system was set up for the United States in a period of strategic stasis, you could assume defense budgets were always going to go up a bit and it was perfect for long-term planning, which industry was very much in favor of.

You know how easy is it to kill a defense program in the United States? Almost impossible, once it gets started.

That method was exported here. We don't see readiness, we don't see modernization, what do we see? We see money thought of horizontally - so these are the main programs, personnel, maintenance and operations, acquisition - and it's very difficult. If I go to any ministry defense in the region and I say how much does that battalion cost per year, how much does it cost to put that ship to sea for a day, how much is a flying hour for that airplane, very often they can't tell you. Or what's the cost, the annual cost of the squadron, they can't even tell you macro numbers, because they're looking at money horizontally.

That's how it was exported and that's how it's been implemented throughout the region. And I have two data for you: one, you have low readiness - actually three - one, low readiness; two, have I have yet to see a defense plan, to include Romania, that has been endorsed, that has been executed, and the reason being is that they've never been costed. So the PPBS has failed in readiness and producing plans, and thirdly, it's failed because you're thinking of money linearly as opposed to vertically. This is the cost of the battalion.

What has happened is it encouraged bureaucrats, military and civilian bureaucrats, to have a too large organization, bigger than the money. If you thought of money vertically, this is what I need to have a real battalion, as opposed to a ghost battalion. That way of approach, that method would make you fit the Defence Force into the budget.

So, now, you have in many countries, I would say all, have too much infrastructure, you have disaggregation of capabilities, so you'll buy an airplane, but you won't buy the hours for the pilots. I call that capability and coherence. And I trace that back to this budgetary method, which is used throughout the region. And I'm really surprised that very little criticism has been launched at it since the data is very clear: you know that the outputs are not what they should be.

I'm even more surprised that they continue to export it, that it's seen as being the gold standard, whereas the academic literature, I hate to be an academic here, but the academic literature of planning, programming, budgeting system is universally negative. It really hasn't worked where it's been tried.


Reporter: And what solutions do we have to replace or improve this this system?

Dr. Thomas Young: It's actually relatively simple: you need to blow up the bureaucracies that do this and you need to implement something very simplistic, which is: you need to think about money vertically, each capability, each activity that you do, and then you have to you have to differentiate. What we're doing in the Department of Navy now, we have three categories, I call them 0, 1 & 2.

Zero is what you absolutely have to do, if everything is costed - the battalions, strategic communications, a Quick Reaction alert aircraft, how much does it cost for 24 hours for two aircrafts - anything related to sovereignty you know you have to buy, you have to buy it, you have to defend your national sovereignty, particularly in a country like Romania, with your history. So that helps people immediately identify how much to spend. So, if I'm running the budget, I'm asking the policy director what is it we absolutely have to spend.

Level one are the key capabilities in priority, and this is what the Chief of Defence, policy director, the minister, they agree on. We have to have these capabilities. You've Rackham stack them, as we say that, we put them in priority and at some point there's a red line. The red line is the budget - may go up, may go down now. Do you change the priorities? No, but the budget goes up and down.

Level two is where you don't have any money for it and there's a rule, with some nuances, in the Department of Navy they're implementing, which I'm very strongly in favor of. Is, if it falls below the red line more than one year you could probably do without it. So it puts two degrees of discipline in. One, if it's below that red line for one or two years you can decide, it's a policy decision, you get rid of it, you don't waste money on it, you don't waste attention on it, you get rid of it.

Now, if you're the chief of Defense, chief of Army, chief of Navy, Chief of Air Force, I understand I have to do level zero, those are related to sovereignty, but my interest is to keep level zero as small as possible, because it's zero-sum. They're more money on level zero, the less I have for capabilities. So this is a rather simplistic method that we've developed, my colleagues and I've developed, over the last few years and it's finding acceptance in residence, but the problem is, you know, in government you can't kill a bad idea and once you have a bureaucracy around it, it's very very hard to change. Anywhere


Reporter: How important is the Black Sea and Romania for NATO and United States?

Dr. Thomas Young: Again, let me stress that I'm speaking as a private individual, I do not reflect US government policy, I have maybe a different view than many people. I've spent a lot of years in this part of the region, I know it very well. And I found it rather amusing after 2014, many people in Washington, in particular, discovered the Baltics. They thought this is a big deal and the Russians are right there and, you know, Suwalki Gap and Poland and a lot of attention and justifiably so, but I've never really bought the scenario that the Russians are going to play in the Baltic, it's too nuanced or too many many impediments.

Down here is a completely different situation. If I look at Transnistria, I've worked in Moldova for 6-7 years, I know it very well that's a perfect opportunity to make mischief, you can make mischief for the Ukrainians, you can make mischief for NATO and particularly for Romania. And if they play games in the Baltic it's very difficult for many Western allies to not want to respond, if it's something in the Black Sea, the Black Sea is far far away.

So I've always thought that Black Sea offered a lot more opportunities for Russian mischief making, to be very blunt. But, again, this is my own personal private opinion. So I think the Black Sea is critical.

I think the unknown status or just the policy of Turkey does not help the West concentrate our minds on what Turkish actions could be. As much as I love Turkey and I love its people, I mean it's still difficult to predict anymore, I think, under the current government.

I think and hope that they'll adhere to their NATO obligations, as we will, but I just think there's a lot of uncertainty and you hear this from officials, it's not me, but you hear them from other NATO officials. And then I think you have an underdeveloped capacity in this part of the world to respond, recognizable radar pictures of the sea surface are weak, they're their legacy, they need to be upgraded, so we can get a much better picture.

The navies in this part of the world, I just published an article last week, in the Naval War College Review, looking at the alliance and all of the new alliance's navies and the Black Sea is really one that concerns me a lot, simply because you don't have the weaponry you need, you don't have the radars, you don't have the tactical data links to be able to do accurate and timely targeting. So a lot of work needs to be done there and I think the US government is responding very quickly and promptly to that and I'm very happy to be part of that, helping them with their proposals to fix certain things, for example, the recognizable radar pictures.


Reporter: And what Romania can do to improve its security in this region?

Dr. Thomas Young: I would just suggest that you're probably not getting value for money. You spend a lot of money on defense, but you may not be getting value for money and I would say, critically, you need to look at how you make your defense efforts fit the budget. You have to spend more, either larger budget or redistribution within the budget. And of course, five years ago, 85% of the budget was going to personnel, that has come down dramatically and I don't think Romania gets the credit they're due for doing that. That's been painful, but it still isn't enough.

Of all the countries in this region, Romania spends the least on operations and maintenance, that is to say training. And this has got to be addressed. I think officials know that, I think they're working on it and I laud them for this. But, it just doesn't make sense to buy a capability, like an F-16, and not to make sure you have the money to ensure that you have enough pilots and those pilots get on average 180 hours. Your pilots are not getting 180 hours, so they're not fully trained, because they haven't had the opportunity to do the formal training to get the certifications and so you're cheating yourselves.

Yes, it's a lot of money to pay for the fuel and the spares and the hours, I understand it, but you've already spent a lot of money on the platforms. So, you know, the example I give is:  why would you buy an F-16 without weaponry, which you haven't done, but countries have bought multi-role fighter aircraft without the weaponry? Or two, why would you buy the aircraft without the requisite training to do midair refueling? It doesn't make any sense. Yes, it's expensive, yes you have to find a tanker, if it's nighttime refueling I think it has to be recertified every 30 days, it's it's not exactly easy, but this gets back to the whole issue of capability incoherence.

If you don't spend the money on the trainings and maintenance you don't have the capability, you can see it, but those poor boys and girls, if they have to deploy, they're not going to be ready and that's not a good thing.


Reporter: I'd like to speak about the research this field. As an academic I know you're involved in the Black Sea program at the University of Bucharest. Could you please make us a brief presentation of the program?

Dr. Thomas Young: I think what professor Marian Zulean is trying to do, and I laud him for this, is to bring concerted consistent effort to look very closely at all of the issues related to security in the Black Sea, to serve as a focal point. I think it's long overdue.

 If my writings can help in this, and I'm here this week as a visiting fellow to that Center and I'm enjoying my time immensely and I'm learning a lot, it better prepares me for the work that I do, after I leave here, throughout the region.

So, I'm quite pleased to be associated with it and I hope it gets the support that I think it deserves and they can go forth and do better things and keep awareness on the necessity of concentrating our mind that the Black Sea is in a perilous shape, because the balance of power has changed after 2014, in my view, my own personal view.

With the Russians, with their missiles in Crimea, they've really changed the balance of power and the only way we're going to forestall that, any sort of Russian mischief-making, is by increasing our presence by Western forces in the region, in accordance, of course, with Montreux convention, let's not never forget that, but, also, improving the capabilities of the NATO allies and continuing to support Turkey, in any way we can, politically to keep them on side with the West. I would like to think they need us and we need them, as we did it in the early 1950s and I would hate to see anything happen to that relationship.