During the 6th Belarusian People's Congress Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko gave instructions to modernize the National Security Concept. The Security Council noted the other day that it is the second strategic document after the Constitution. It not only reveals the national interests of Belarus, but also explains how to protect them. In the new episode of BelTA's YouTube project After the Fact: Lukashenko's Decisions we will tell you why it was necessary to change the current National Security Concept, what the essence of these changes is, and how Belarus ended up in the U.S. National Security Strategy. We will also find out why Belarusians have decided to create a people's militia and how many volunteers will rise up to defend the country.
Explanation of Belarus' defense structure
First of all, let's find out how the national defense system is built in Belarus. It is no secret that the army is the system's foundation. It is the army that accomplishes the most important national defense tasks. Fighting crime, protection of law and order and public security are the responsibilities of law enforcement agencies and internal troops. Both in peacetime and wartime. Within the framework of their competencies, other defense, security, and law-enforcement agencies also take care of national defense tasks.
In order to ensure the calm functioning of the economy and infrastructure in wartime conditions, territorial troops have been created in Belarus. The government started talking about them relatively recently, but in fact the concept of “territorial defense” appeared in the Belarusian legislation in the early 1990s. The law on defense of 1992 contains a separate article that defines the structure of territorial defense and the missions the territorial troops are supposed to perform. Truth be told, the troops were not set up immediately. The first large-scale drafting of reservists took place during the command and tactical exercise Neman 2001. The Belarus president observed the active stage of the exercise in the military training area Gozhsky.
In February 2011 the head of state approved the regulation on the territorial defense. A new independent body was established then – the Territorial Defense Department of the General Staff of the Armed Forces.
Aleksandr Tishchenko, a national security expert, stressed: “Belarus' national defense system operates well. It is viable, combat-effective, and efficient. Over the course of our entire history we've survived many various challenges and the system has virtually never failed us. It includes not only law enforcement agencies, not only military organizations, but also civilian ones, this is why actually the entire state system is geared towards interests of national security. We are effective in this regard, ready for any manifestations of threats and challenges that may exist today.”
Why does Belarus need people's militia?
The national defense system will soon be supplemented by another component – the people's militia. Belarus has already developed the necessary bill and its essence is simple – to assist volunteers in protecting their homes and the places they live in.
Andrei Chernobai, a military analyst with the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Research, noted: “What is people's militia? First of all, we see it as practical realization of the nationwide defense of the Fatherland. We can say this requirement has been prompted by life itself. Judging from the example of the special military operation in Ukraine we see that both Ukraine and Russia have essentially resorted to setting up people's militias. But neither country has a legal base for it. In Ukraine when the loss of Kiev was a genuine possibility, they simply handed out weapons to anyone in order to beef up regular army units. Weapons were handed out without proper paperwork. It is difficult to get them back now. Criminal elements may use these weapons now.”
The expert pointed out that Belarus had chosen a different path. “First, we arranged an experiment to see how it works. We are now working out the legal base for setting up the people's militia. And later on we will set up these militia units in the regions if necessary.
People's militia will help police protect public order, fight against bandits and sabotage and reconnaissance groups, and stop looting.
At a recent session of the Security Council, which was held to discuss a bill on creating people's militia, Aleksandr Lukashenko noted: “But the situation is not simple. I have already said more than once: every man (and not only man) should at least know how to handle weapons. At least in order to protect their families, homes, hometowns and, if necessary, the country without which there will be no hometowns, no homes, nothing else. Many people understand this.”
How large will the people's militia be?
How many people are willing to become volunteers under wartime conditions? According to Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin, there are about 150,000 of them. On the other hand, the army does not rule the possibility that more volunteers may turn up. Let's make some calculations. If all military organizations are taken into account, their personnel number will be about 1.5 million people if martial law is declared and the economy switches to wartime conditions. At the same time, the Belarus population exceeds 9 million people. Taking into account that participation in the people's militia is absolutely voluntary and employers will be able to relieve these citizens of their work duties while keeping their jobs and salaries, we can assume that Belarusians will follow the well-known axiom: wars are won not by armies, but by peoples.
By the way, an experiment was conducted in Mogilev Oblast in autumn 2022 to practice the organization of the people's militia. The defense minister spoke about its results: “People responded favorably to it, came and volunteered to join people's militia. We arranged the relevant drills for them. We saw that our people feel the need to contribute to the defense of our state. And, of course, on the whole, I believe that the people's militia we are creating will be able to complement and enhance capabilities of territorial defense troops, for instance, and will improve the quality of accomplishment of national defense tasks.”
Why does Belarus need to change the National Security Concept?
But let's get back to the National Security Concept. The current document was adopted back in 2010. It has not lost its relevance even today. Moreover, the concept showed its effectiveness during the period of the strongest external pressure on Belarus.
Andrei Chernobai noted: “The concept, which was developed in 2010 and is in effect now, is very robust because the group that put it together managed to take into account the possible risks, challenges, threats that our state may encounter in the medium term. This period of time is rather large. If we consider Russia, it passes national security concepts or strategies every six years on the average. In 2009, 2015, 2021. Poland has updated its national security strategy six times over the last 22 years. Naturally we feel the need to update the concept despite its perfection. We see that a great deal is changing. Back then when the concept was being developed (about two years before it was adopted), events in Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and Ukraine had not happened yet. Nobody anticipated events of the year 2014 or the pandemic. We didn't feel such massive sanctions-fuelled pressure that we feel now. In other words, it is now necessary to update a number of provisions.”
The changing level of military threats makes the army to stay vigilant. According to State Secretary of the Security Council of Belarus Aleksandr Volfovich, they decided to update the concept due to changes in the global military and political scene as well as due to aggravation of the situation and the struggle between the main centers of power.
What does the USA's National Security Strategy say about Belarus?
In this situation Belarus found itself in the epicenter of an unfolding confrontation. This is evidenced by the mentioning of Belarus in the latest National Security Strategy of the United States. The United States is ready to defend human rights in Belarus by all means to ensure the USA's security. The question is: Don't they take too much upon themselves?
Andrei Chernobai explained: “It clearly says that Russia should be drained of blood, so to say, in terms of economy, defense, and technology. It also mentions that China is the USA's competitor and rival and it is necessary to overtake it so far within ten years that it won't be able to catch up. Otherwise, the USA will fall behind and will never catch up with China. And Russia is seen as another country working with China and ready to help China, defend China's back if you like. Just the way Belarus defends Russia on its flank, Russia will defend China if things will go that far. This is why it is necessary to drain Russia's blood in order to set the USA's terms later on.”
Just a few numbers. Today there are over 60,000 American military personnel in Europe on a permanent basis, more than 260 tanks, about 800 armored vehicles, over 2,000 combat aircraft. A fifth mechanized division is being set up in Poland. It has been stated the division will be equipped with cutting-edge weapons. Moreover, the Poles have announced their desire to buy 500 American multiple-launch rocket systems HIMARS. As many as 75 army exercises have taken place in Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia since the beginning of the year. And those were not exactly defensive exercises, but offensive ones. All this is not empty words or intimidation. It is simply the cold facts. On the other hand, Poland's National Security Strategy does not mention Belarus at all but it does mention Russia as the key enemy. Does it mean Belarusians can relax?
“Let's proceed from the fact that recently the West has not been seeing us separately from Russia. This is very eye catching. Even if we imagine for a second that Russia is separate and Belarus is separate... If anything happens, missiles will fly and tanks will move through our gardens. We cannot exclude ourselves from the general list of threats. Just because they don't mention us doesn't mean they aren't preparing to do something against us. Look: at what border are troops concentrating? At ours. What countries did the troops begin to enter? Poland sent troops to Ukraine, Romania to Moldova. It's virtually right next to us. Risks and threats to military security are primarily emerging near our borders. We must take this into account. This is why the country's leadership does the right thing by considering all these matters and taking them into account in matters of national security,” Aleksandr Tishchenko is convinced.
The expert also drew attention to economic threats: “How are economic problems or threats connected? What are sanctions after all? Sanctions are essentially combat operations in economy. Those are threats, challenges, and risks. Those are already dangers! This is why it is irresponsible to say that we don't have to do anything because their documents don't mention us.”
How will Belarus' National Security Concept change?
The draft of the new National Security Concept grades threats into risks, challenges and threats. The notion of national security has been supplemented with a goal-oriented approach to sustainable development and forward movement. For the first time the list of strategic national interests includes new provisions about the need to comprehensively protect the people of Belarus as a unique historical community and the only source of state power.
National interests include national identity, well-being and prosperity, social responsibility of citizens (not just the state), and public accord. The draft document also contains a new term – “electoral sovereignty”. It is defined as an inalienable right of an independent, sovereign state to hold elections and referendums on its own, without outside interference.
A separate block of the new document focuses on biological security as a national security sphere as a whole. Its emergence is explained by recent events - the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the political system and the economy. As well as the detection of bio labs organized under the auspices of the United States of America. Belarus has the relevant complaints not only about Ukraine. Biological laboratories supervised by the United States are located in more than 27 countries. Interestingly, virtually half of them are in Armenia.
During a Collective Security Treaty Organization summit held in Yerevan, Armenia in 2022 Belarus President Aleksandr Lukashenko noted: “Vladimir Vladimirovich [Putin], we often talk about biological labs. I think only Belarus and Russia don't have them but they exist in some CSTO countries. This is why it is necessary to discuss it in Minsk and come to an agreement on the matter somehow because it will be yet another talkfest. Biological security is no joke. We try to persuade each other while American labs or labs of other countries exist in some countries. Just like several labs have been found in Ukraine.”
On the whole, the National Security Concept of Belarus has been updated by almost 70%. The document was created by an interdepartmental working group, which included representatives of 34 government agencies, members of the scientific and expert communities. World experience was studied and taken into account in the course of preparing the document, including similar strategic documents of Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other post-Soviet countries. As well as the United States, the UK, Germany, and France.
The president's principal requirement was to be utterly frank and open, not to conceal anything: “It is necessary to clear indicate what challenges for Belarus we see and how we intend to ensure our security. We must clearly and openly declare our priorities, we must show the international community the transparency of our policy, the reliability of Belarus as a responsible partner. But our partners must also know that Belarusian peacefulness is not synonymous to willingness to make sacrifices. As I have said more than once, response to any aggression will be fast, tough and adequate.”
When will the new National Security Concept be adopted?
All the government bodies and agencies as well as the Council of Ministers have approved the draft of the new National Security Concept. Now the document will be discussed by the general public: at dialogue platforms and in worker collectives. Suggestions from citizens will also be taken into account when the document needs to be finalized.
Later on the updated National Security Concept will be submitted for consideration of the Belarusian People's Congress. The congress is supposed to convene in April 2024. If the delegates support the draft, it will come into force. You may be wondering how national security will be ensured all this time when the document is going through all the stages of discussion and approval. What happens if new challenges and threats emerge during this period? Don't worry. The Belarusian leadership keeps its ear to the ground and its powder dry.