YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenian officials today wrapped up a three-day seminar here Feb. 7 that saw them successfully draw on the experience of a network of experts from other nations and organizations to help plan the nation's on-going defense reforms.
The seminar was organized by the Armenian Ministry of Defense and the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies, a German-American partnership, at the request of the U.S. European Command's Office of Defense Cooperation in Yerevan. More than 40 Armenian experts from various ministries, agencies and the National Assembly were joined by representatives from eight other nations, including representatives from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Germany and the United States.
NATO and the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces also sent experts to help the Armenians plan the civilianization of their Ministry of Defense and the reform of its military personnel management system.
"The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Armenia has initiated defense reforms, the main objective of which is modernization of the Armenian defense system, increasing its efficiency," said Deputy Minister of Defense Lieutenant General Artur Aghabekyan during his keynote address. "Such seminars and conferences (as this) are necessary to study the international experience to get consultations to correctly guide the reforms."
Aghabekyan noted the seminar is only one part of a wider plan.
"In order to organize the reforms process more effectively, the leadership of the Ministry of Defense looks to cooperate with all of our allies and partners, including the Armenia Individual Partnership Action Plan."
The Individual Partnership Action Plan is an agreement Armenia signed with NATO in December 2005. Armenian officials said the nation has no plans to join NATO, but is using the IPAP process as a guide toward modernizing the nation's defense system. Many of the representatives from other nations were present to discuss their nations' IPAP experiences.
That process is just one part of Armenia's remarkable reform efforts, according to U.S. Charge d'Affaires Anthony F. Godfrey.
"I'd like to say just how far Armenia has come on its path toward defense reform in the past few years," Godfrey said. "The changes have been remarkable. Beginning with a defense assessment, agreeing to an IPAP, moving forward on very key defense reforms, engaging the international community and participating in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo and most recently in Iraq, these are contributions to international security, making Armenia a net contributor to international security rather than a consumer of international security."
He added: "This is a big change and we welcome this very much. So we continue to support Armenia's goal of transforming its military."
Marshall Center Professor Marine Col. James R. Howcroft moderated the seminar, which featured large group presentations by experts followed by working groups that focused on drawing up workable recommendations.
"This event was an exciting opportunity for the Marshall Center to help the Ministry of Defense meet its government's goal to transform its armed forces personnel system from a Soviet-era model into one more in line with the norms of a Western democratic society," Howcroft said.
"The working groups, which included a number of Marshall Center alumni, were composed of serious professionals who provided a number of concrete and realistic proposals for the Ministry of Defense regarding the division of responsibilities between the ministry and the General Staff, the filling of certain positions with civilian personnel and the development of a civilian personnel career management system."
Center alumni figured prominently in the seminar, he said.
"We were able to draw upon the network of Marshall Center alumni from Bulgaria, Romania, Latvia and Lithuania, as well as experts from the [United States], Germany and Estonia, to share our experience and lessons learned for consideration by our Armenian colleagues, " Howcroft said.
The Marshall Center and Armenia's other allies can help the nation determine its course, but it's up to the people and their government to determine what is best for the nation, said Marshall Center Deputy Director Maj. Gen. (retired) Dr. Horst Schmalfeld.
"As the I in IPAP indicates, it's an individual partnership action plan planned out by Armenia," he said. "Armenia has embarked on an open effort to strengthen democratic institutions. Open means transparent to other institutions, like NATO, which opens a way for assistance and support. But it is Armenia's plan and so I leave it to you, the participants of this seminar and your colleagues, to find the best way for Armenia."
That effort is already underway, thanks in part to this week's seminar, Aghabekyan noted.
"This seminar opened a lot of doors. It's seminars like this that achieve things that a single ministry would not be able to achieve alone, and (it) is finishing at such a point and in such a way that it will ensure continuity. We have a good team already established and this team is going to be the driving force behind the reforms," he noted.
Aghabekyan said the team was helped by the visiting experts. As the deputy minister of defense and his team face a phased reform process already planned out to 2015 and beyond, however, he said the biggest contribution those experts made won't be the particulars of their experiences.
"I assure you, it's not the experience that is most valuable. It's important for our military personnel to know that it was not easy to do this in other countries. Those other countries also have experienced difficulties. They needed reforms, they needed to push reforms and they need to continue reforms," Aghabekyan said."This evolution that took place in Eastern Europe, in Baltic countries, this evolution is going to be the biggest driving force that is going to produce a positive effect on the mindset of the officers who are going to implement what we heard during the seminar," he said.
Detailing the implementation of the plans drawn up during this week's seminar will be the subject of another conference set for four months from now.