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A Ukrainian military Soviet era GRAD multiple rocket launcher, attached to the Prince Roman the Great 14th Separate Mechanized Brigade, is driven away after firing at Russian positions in the Kharkiv area, Ukraine, Feb. 25, 2023.

Russia’s illegal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has shaped the world’s perspective of Soviet-era equipment and military modernization.  Less talked about, yet equally important, are Soviet-legacy structures and processes that have hindered Russia’s performance on the battlefield.   

In this photo, taken on Jan. 20, 2016, a Russian bomber lands at Hemeimeem air base in Syria. President Vladimir Putin is projecting Russian military power overseas on a scale unseen since Soviet times. [AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov, File]

The vestiges of outdated, Soviet-legacy security sector governance can be seen through Russia’s limited transparency, corruption, lack of accountability, and centralized, non-participatory decision-making.  These negative attributes reduce effectiveness and efficiency, and, during a war, the time spent waiting for leadership direction is measured in lives.   

To build long-term capacity, the U.S. government has been actively collaborating with global allies and partners on developing modern, efficient, effective, responsive, and sustainable security sectors that are characterized by decentralized, participatory decision-making and other democracy-based governance practices.

At the U.S. Department of State, our Office of Global Programs and Initiatives manages the Global Defense Reform Program, which enhances security sector governance — referring to a nation’s ability and process for providing security to its people – and institutional capacity.  

The Global Defense Reform Program focuses on: 

  • Building the resilience of partner institutions,  
  • Enhancing effectiveness and accountability, and  
  • Better aligning the security sector to the needs and challenges of the partner nation and its citizens.  

GDRP advisors support governments around the world, including in many former communist or socialist states or with former Soviet allies, to improve transparency, decentralize decision-making, and create more effective security sectors.  

GDRP Advisor Tony Medina poses with the Albania Minister of Defense Niko Peleshi in front of flags.
GDRP Advisor Tony Medina (left) meets with the Albania Minister of Defense Niko Peleshi. [Albania Ministry of Defense photo]

Support to European Partners and NATO Allies

In Europe, through GDRP advisors and in accordance with the U.S. National Security Strategy, we support European partners and NATO Allies to bolster collective resilience. 

In Albania, North Macedonia, and Kosovo, GDRP advisors are supporting partners to improve their human resources management, and planning, programming, and budgeting capabilities. 


In Albania, a former socialist state, the GDRP advisor is assisting the Ministry of Defense to modernize its recruitment and retention capabilities.   

Following accession to NATO in 2009, Albania transitioned from conscription to an all-volunteer military in 2010, multiplying its recruitment and retention needs.  With the GDRP advisory support, the Ministry of Defense is now relocating recruitment stations from inaccessible bases to city centers and implementing a data-focused approach to retention.   

This is in addition to the Ministry of Defense’s recently announced 30% pay increase and cost of living allowance adjustment for its military personnel.  Through these combined efforts, the Albanian MoD seeks to recruit and retain high quality personnel into its military and strengthen its human resources capacity.  This will enable Albania to contribute to NATO missions and operations through an effective and efficient defense sector. 

GDRP Advisor Larry Swift with Colonel Goran Ilioski, Director of the Department of Plans and Policy at the Ministry of Defense in the Republic of North Macedonia.
GDRP Advisor Larry Swift with Colonel Goran Ilioski, Director of the Department of Plans and Policy at the Ministry of Defense in the Republic of North Macedonia. [North Macedonia Ministry of Defense photo]

North Macedonia

North Macedonia was formerly part of Yugoslavia, a socialist state that adhered to a centralized decision-making culture and stove-piped bureaucracy similar to that of the Soviet Union.   

Since accession to NATO in 2020, the Ministry of Defense in North Macedonia has been working on modernization and resource management reforms to achieve NATO standards.  The GDRP advisor is supporting the Ministry of Defense to update its planning and budget regulations to better align policies with resources.  The update also seeks to create collaborative structures that support senior leader decision making.  This collaboration will empower staff by enhancing core security sector governance principles like participatory decision-making, efficiency, and effectiveness. 

U.S. Charge d’Affaires Alyson Grunder, Kosovo Minister of Defense Armend Mehaj, and GDRP Advisor Joe Duncan attend a signing ceremony marking the new planning, programming, and budgeting processes.
U.S. Charge d’Affaires Alyson Grunder, Kosovo Minister of Defense Armend Mehaj, and GDRP Advisor Joe Duncan attend a signing ceremony marking the new planning, programming, and budgeting processes. [Kosovo Ministry of Defense photo]


Like North Macedonia, Kosovo was formerly part of Yugoslavia.  In Kosovo, the GDRP advisor supports the Ministry of Defense to build robust planning, programming, and budgeting processes, which enables the ministry to maximize resources and effectively track outcomes.  The focus on transparency and accountability, core tenants of good security sector governance, is a pivot from the legacy approach of centralizing power, enabling Kosovo to meet its long-term objectives and strengthen its own security.  This enables Kosovo to begin to shift from security consumer to global security provider.  

A subject matter expert exchange litter movement in Peru.
A litter movement during a disaster response subject matter exchange in Peru. [U.S. Department of State photo/Public Domain]


This transition away from Soviet era equipment and processes, however, is not restricted to Europe.  

GDRP also supports Peru, an importer of Soviet military equipment and processes in the 1970s and 1980s.  With help from a GDRP advisor to the army, Peru is strengthening its disaster response and humanitarian assistance capabilities by modernizing its Soviet-era training, processes, and techniques.  The GDRP advisor coordinates closely with U.S. Embassy Lima and the West Virginia National Guard to provide U.S. best practices on disaster response tactics and operations to Peruvian Army response units.   

The Peruvian Army’s shift to U.S. best practices and equipment will enable it to be more effective and better equipped to safeguard Peruvian citizens during a disaster.

A destroyed military vehicle is seen at a checkpoint in Bakhmut, Ukraine.
A destroyed military vehicle is seen at a checkpoint in Bakhmut, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 24, 2023. [AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka]

A Global Role in Countering Russian Influence

Russia’s fraught war against Ukraine has laid bare its outdated approach to security sector governance, which is characterized by corruption, lack of transparency, failure to deliver security, inefficiencies, and ineffectiveness.  These faults have motivated other countries to shore up their own security sector governance to prevent facing the same pitfalls.  Through PM’s support with GDRP, our advisors can assist countries around the world to transition from Soviet-legacy to democracy-based security sector governance practices that deliver security, are responsive, possess participatory decision-making processes, value accountability, and are transparent, efficient, effective, and sustainable. 

About the Authors: Sarah Bufano and Lauren Gray serve as portfolio managers in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Global Programs and Initiatives at the U.S. Department of State.  

U.S. Department of State

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