YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenia publicized on Friday a recently revised version of its Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP) with NATO that reaffirms its government’s intention to “draw closer” to the alliance and calls for a more far-reaching reform of its armed forces.
Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian said NATO-inspired defense reforms carried out so far have already strengthened the Armenian army.
The plan, which was apparently updated by Armenian and NATO officials late last year, also describes European integration as Armenia’s chief foreign policy priority and commits the authorities in Yerevan to implementing “a comprehensive package of political, judicial, and electoral reforms.”
“Further integration into European political, economic and social structures and institutions is Armenia’s main foreign policy objective,” reads the 15-page document. “Armenia also intends to intensify practical and political co-operation with NATO in order to draw closer to the Alliance.”
Armenian leaders have said until now that European integration is one of their top priorities. They have also made clear that Yerevan will not seek NATO membership and will remain a part of the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization in the foreseeable future.
The original IPAP was launched in 2005, highlighting the South Caucasus state’s desire to “complement” its military alliance with closer security links with the West. Its main declared aim is to bring the Armenian army into greater conformity with the NATO standards and practices.
That means, among other things, a stronger civilian oversight of the military and a so-called “civilianization” of the Armenian Defense Ministry. The Armenian government pushed through parliament in late 2007 a law that allows the ministry to hire civilian personnel. The government also changed the statutes and structures of the ministry and the army’s General Staff around that time.
The updated IPAP, posted on the ministry’s website in full, lays out additional and more specific reform objectives for the years to come. The Armenian authorities are to ensure “maximum transparency” in defense planning and budgeting and an “adequate mix” of civilian and military personnel within the Defense Ministry.
They are also due to “review” the military’s chain of command and control procedures as well as to revamp the military education and training systems “so that the best-qualified personnel are assigned to the appropriate positions.” Achieving the latter objective also requires a more objective evaluation of the performance of military personnel and the ministry staff, according to the IPAP.
“Armenia also intends to review its defense-related industry and production and to develop recommendations on its future employment,” the IPAP says. It will specifically assess the industry’s “usefulness and relevance for Defense.”
The document’s disclosure by the Defense Ministry was clearly timed to coincide with a meeting on Friday of Armenia’s top defense officials that discussed further military reforms planned for the next five years. A ministry statement said Ohanian issued them with corresponding “instructions.” The ongoing reform process has already had a “positive impact on the qualitative increase in the army’s combat-readiness,” he was quoted as telling the meeting.
Another key objective of the cooperation framework is greater Armenian participation in NATO-led multinational missions and military exercises. Armenia is a member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, having deployed a 40-strong army detachment near the northern Afghan city of Kunduz earlier this year. Another 70 Armenian soldiers have been serving under NATO command in Kosovo.
The IPAP makes clear that Yerevan will continue to expand a special army unit that provides personnel for such military missions. The Peacekeeping Brigade should be fully interoperable with troops from NATO member states and able to “deploy and sustain as a maximum effort one battalion.”
The action plan further emphasizes the importance of political reform for Armenia’s closer cooperation with the U.S.-led alliance. “Armenia is determined to make further progress in democratic reform, human rights, the rule of law, transparency, freedom of the media, and the fight against corruption,” it says.
The document contains a long list of relevant measures which the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has pledged to take in the coming years. That includes an improved conduct of elections and strengthening of the Armenian judiciary, which rarely challenges the executive branch.
There is also a reference to Armenian opposition members who were arrested after the February 2008 presidential election and are still in prison. The IPAP says vaguely that the Sarkisian government will “address effectively the situation” of those individuals by “taking info account the concerns and recommendations expressed by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.”