Deng Xiaoping

Streamline the Army and Raise Its Combat Effectiveness


Published: March 12, 1980
Translated by: Unknown
Source: Deng Xiaoping Works
Transcription for MIA: Joonas Laine


The problems of the army which I have recently discussed with some comrades include four main ones: First, reducing “bloatedness”; second, reforming structure; third, improving training; and fourth, strengthening political and ideological work.

First, I’ll discuss the question of reducing “bloatedness”.

This old question is the chief topic of the present meeting. Can our army fight? Can it deal with any emergency? I don’t mean an emergency like the self-defensive counter-attack on Viet Nam. That kind of incident is easy to cope with. What I mean is: If we should be confronted with a more powerful adversary than Viet Nam, how reliable would our fighting ability be? Of course, we still have many disadvantages. For example, many of our cadres lack experience in directing operations because they have never seen action, our equipment is relatively backward, and so on. The battles against Viet Nam, however, showed that our troops are brave. That’s fine. In a war, we may suffer some reverses to start with. But things will change after a period of time since, being brave, our men can learn to fight skilfully. We are confident of that. However, we must soberly recognize that one of our main problems now is that the army is over-manned. If a war really breaks out, we will find it difficult even to disperse our forces, let alone direct operations. The current proposal for reducing “bloatedness” is primarily designed to solve such problems as organizational overlapping and overstaffing with the consequent inefficiency of command at various levels. We first made this suggestion in 1975 and some work was done, with noticeable improvement. But later this work ran into complications and was halted. In the last few years, army organizations at various levels have again been expanded, leading to a revival of bureaucracy. Today it’s very difficult to solve problems and many have remained unsolved for a long time. Therefore, unless we reduce “bloatedness”, we won’t be able to raise the army’s combat effectiveness and work efficiency. In addition, our current military expenditures are rather high, to the detriment of national construction. The fact that the armed forces are over-manned also makes it harder to modernize their equipment. Our policy is to reduce manpower and use the money thus saved to renew equipment. If some of the savings can be used for economic construction, so much the better. After calmly assessing the international situation, we have concluded that it is possible to gain a longer period free from war than we had thought earlier. During this time, we should try our best to cut down military spending so as to strengthen national construction. In short, it is necessary to reduce “bloatedness” if we want to carry out the four modernizations or to streamline the army and raise its combat effectiveness.

The main purpose of our present streamlining is to reduce the number of unnecessary non-combatants and of personnel in leading and commanding organs — mainly cadres. The measures now adopted go a step further than those of 1975. For example, the number of commanders who are to remain at various levels will be smaller. Many comrades have suggested that in a regiment, in addition to the commander and political commissar, two deputy commanders and one deputy political commissar are sufficient. This is a good idea. It should be applied to the divisions as well. The present leading bodies are really too big. If the problem is not dealt with firmly, I don’t know what things will be like in a few years. Let’s compare 1975 with 1979. In 1975, the army already had to look after a fairly large number of cadres. Now, more than four years later, it has to look after still more, including those who should be retired. If we don’t make up our minds to do something about the problem now, it will snowball and be much harder to deal with in a few years. So we can’t afford to be indecisive. We must particularly take note of the ages of the cadres at the military-region, army and divisional levels. All of them are pretty much the same age — rather old. In a few years, they will all be elderly. Not only will they be unable to work at the army or divisional level, but they’ll find it difficult to work in the military-region commands or the general headquarters. This is a matter of a law of nature. How old will you comrades here be in five years? I’m afraid most of you, though not all, will find it hard to keep on working. Seven or eight years from now, you’ll be past 70. How could you see things through on the battlefield? If war should really break out, could you fight for three days and nights without sleep? The current move to reduce “bloatedness” will also help to renew the ranks of our cadres. The reason the lower-level cadres could not be promoted is that older ones have stood in their way. The same is true in civilian units. Today, key posts can only be held by veteran comrades — in a few years we’ll really be in a fix! So our current streamlining should trim the top layers, including those at the regimental, battalion and company levels, and create the necessary conditions for promoting new cadres.

I suggest that training courses of various kinds be run for those cadres whose posts are eliminated. What kind of training? To prepare them for the professions and trades they will enter. If the localities have no buildings to house classes, army barracks can be used and the localities can provide the teachers. The army can consult the relevant ministries under the State Council as to where these cadres should be placed after training. Or they can be employed in some civilian trades and professions in the localities. For instance, large numbers of cadres are needed by the public security and legal organs, where the skills required are pretty close to those of the army cadres. Right now we don’t have enough policemen — especially police officers. There is also a shortage of presiding and ordinary judges in the courts and of lawyers and procurators. Generally speaking, capitalist countries are quite strict about requirements for law-court and police personnel. We should be even stricter. Apart from being well versed in laws, policies, regulations, procedures and precedents and relevant social data, such persons must be particularly public-minded, honest and upright. As we know, army cadres should be fairly well qualified in these respects. So the army can provide a large number of cadres for work in these fields. Also, we are short of teachers and can arrange for a number of demobilized cadres to teach. Of course, very few can serve as university instructors, but many could teach in secondary or primary schools. We should persuade such comrades to become teachers. A number of comrades have suggested that colleges and universities should employ military sports instructors, but only a limited number are needed. China has only a few hundred institutions of higher education. Supposing each one were to employ 10 people, only several thousand — ten thousand at most — could get such jobs. But the demand is much greater for secondary and primary school teachers. If we train qualified teachers, all of them can be employed by the localities. Also, there is a shortage of administrators in various fields. After training, army cadres who are qualified can take jobs of that sort. Commanding troops is a kind of administration; so army cadres do know something about it. Why is it that in foreign countries ex-officers are welcome in various fields? Because they have administrative skills in addition to a relatively high level of scientific knowledge and education. Only a few of our demobilized cadres know how to administer enterprises, but they have all administered army units. All they need is to have some training and to learn something about the trade in which they will be employed. For some the training should last six months, for others a year or 18 months. Afterwards, it should be comparatively easy for the localities to find them jobs. It used to be that when a man was transferred out of the army to a civilian unit, if he wasn’t appointed director of a political department he was assigned some routine job. Now there’s a surplus of people for such jobs. So we have to train cadres through special classes or crash courses to meet the civilian needs. This is one of the measures we should take to prepare them for demobilization as the army is streamlined.

Second, on reforming structure.

In fact, the reform of structure and the reduction of “bloatedness” are two aspects of a single issue. Without the former, it is impossible to effect the latter. The structure of our army is now beset with problems. For example, why should the three general departments, the Headquarters of the General Staff, the General Political Department and the General Logistics Department, all have such big establishments? In the past, whenever there was a new task to be done, new offices and new staff were added; no one ever talked about reducing personnel. You people have many complaints about official documents being endlessly routed around and about the length of time it takes to solve problems — all that is connected with administrative structure.

One of the important questions relating to structure and systems is the establishment of a system of military service and of retirement for officers. In the fifties regulations were drawn up to govern the military service of officers, but they didn’t work and were later dropped. Actually, they were good on the whole and reflected the correct approach. If they had been applied, we wouldn’t have the difficulties we are facing now. After this meeting has ended, we should devote some study to this question. We must have a retirement system. Not only the army but also the civilian units should work one out. The State Council should see to this. Since the army has to fight, the retirement age for military cadres should be lower than that for civilians. Of course, the regulations must be practicable. The vitality of our whole state will be affected if it fails to establish a retirement system. And the same applies to the army. With such a system, everyone will know when he is to retire, and the necessary arrangements can be made more easily. Otherwise, the problems have to be handled case by case and everything becomes difficult. To accommodate retired veterans, the army should build the necessary housing and then hand it over to the civilian units. This is the only way now, because the civilian units are not in a position to accommodate all the former army cadres right away. Another idea is to change the personnel in some sections of the army into non-military, non-uniformed employees. This can also be done with quite a number of teachers at military colleges and schools; they don’t all have to be in the army. Why do people who teach mathematics, physics and chemistry have to belong to the army? If they’re professors or lecturers, then let them be just that. Army hospitals, too, can have civilian medical personnel with professional titles. What’s the point of having so many administrative posts? All these solutions should be institutionalized, which will put an end to overstaffing in the army. Where only one person is required, there will be just one. Where several are needed, we’ll have only that many. In short, necessary rules and regulations should be established, and we should assign people to make a special study of the matter to this end.

As part of the current streamlining we have drawn up a plan for modifying the size of the army, but both size and structure need further study. Some comrades have made good suggestions which merit our con”isideration. One is that some combined armies and divisions should be organized in accordance with the characteristics of the various war zones and with the constant improvement of military equipment. This would facilitate training in combined operations and help the officers learn to command special branches, thus gearing peace-time training to wartime needs and making it easier to conduct combined operations in emergencies. These questions should all be seen as concerning the systems of administration and structure and should be studied further. In the course of such studies, we may come upon other problems of organization and structure.

Third, on improving training.

In 1975 we proposed that training should be considered of strategic importance because, in the absence of war, it is the only way to improve the army’s quality. Since then we have done much work on this question, but we still haven’t settled it properly. Now I raise it again so that it may be settled and systematic measures adopted.

If we had to fight a war now we couldn’t afford to have our officers ignorant of modern warfare. To be a company commander today isn’t what it used to be. The same is true of a regimental commander. Today they must have knowledge — knowledge about warfare in the air, on the ground, under the ground, and under water, including communications and liaison. In terms of system, we must consider educating all officers, from platoon leaders up, in officers’ training schools. Platoon or company officers should be graduates of junior infantry schools. Those who graduate with distinction can be put in command of companies, and the others of platoons. Battalion and regimental cadres should go through intermediate officers’ training schools. Outstanding platoon and company commanders should be selected for these schools and be appointed to battalion or regimental command only after a set period of study. Likewise, leading cadres at the army or divisional level should be appointed only after they have attended senior officers’ training schools. We should regularize all this. Present conditions allow us to do so. In the past, we conducted training and study while fighting; that was the most effective kind of education. But now, even if a war were going on, you couldn’t become competent without education in schools because military equipment is different from what it was, and many kinds of knowledge are needed to direct present-day operations. If a man doesn’t even know how to use maps, what good is he? But what matters now is not just knowing how to read maps — that’s easy to learn. Modern warfare is very complex, and even maintaining communications and liaison is by no means simple. How would you command a company equipped with tanks and artillery? Company commanders have to know how to do that. So they must study. The promotion of officers should also be systematized. At each step, a man should be promoted only after he has been through a period of study and increased his knowledge of modern warfare. This applies to the special arms too. Every time he speaks, Comrade Xu Xiangqian suggests that we open more schools. This is a very good suggestion and quite correct. We should run schools well and enrol more students, even if it means cutting down the number of troops on active duty and at desk jobs.

We are paying attention to training troops under peace-time conditions, and that’s very necessary. But the training has to go beyond marksmanship, bayonet practice and grenade-throwing. Because that’s no longer enough. Every soldier must learn how to deal with tanks, aircraft and so on. We should also learn how to co-ordinate air and ground operations. When I suggested earlier that combined armies be organized, I meant combining the different units step by step so that, through peace-time training, our men can acquire such knowledge and skills.

Finally, let me discuss the strengthening of political and ideological work.

You comrades have touched on this in your speeches. Some have said that it is difficult nowadays to lead soldiers, particularly those from the cities. Some cities may send young people who aren’t amenable to discipline into the army, and this problem should be kept in mind in future conscription. In any case, political and ideological work in the army must be strengthened. At present, it has been considerably weakened, and our political personnel don’t know how to do their job. Actually, all military and political personnel in the army should engage in it. This morning I read a report from Qinghua University. It raised a vital issue, namely, that political and ideological work has to be done among the students from their very first day there, and that Party and Youth League organizations and all teachers should join in. Qinghua’s practice has proved quite effective, and the general atmosphere there is pretty good now. Qinghua’s experience should draw nationwide attention. “Red and expert” — on no account must the “red” aspect be discarded. If it’s important for a school to strengthen its political and ideological work, it’s even more important for the army to do so. Attention should be paid to this question from a recruit’s first day in the ranks.

(Speech at an enlarged meeting of the Standing Committee of the Military Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.)