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Ceausescu and the Military

The armed forces, which had a history of intervention in politics before the advent of communist power, have been the only plausible threat to Ceausescu's rule since the late 1960s. He has frequently rotated cadres within the Ministry of National Defense and the top military command positions to prevent the emergence of strong, politically independent military leaders. And he has unceremoniously fired senior officers and promoted ambitious lowerranking officers to higher posts, thereby using his patronage to command their loyalty.

In 1971 forty general staff officers were purged and arrested, conceivably for plotting to overthrow Ceausescu. In May 1974, Ceausescu unexpectedly purged five senior commanders and in 1976 suddenly dismissed General Ion Ionita, his long-time political ally. Rumors of anti-Ceausescu conspiracies or attempted revolts within the military circulated freely in Romania in the 1980s. In 1983 an abortive military coup d'état was reportedly crushed and twelve officers were executed for plotting it. Ceausescu then made his brother Ilie a lieutenant general and appointed him deputy minister of national defense and chief of the Higher Political Council of the Army to increase his control of the armed forces. Later in 1983, Ceausescu spent considerable energy visiting military units, apparently in an effort to reaffirm his credentials as supreme commander of the armed forces. Ceausescu's handling of this alleged revolt amply demonstrated his mastery of the mechanisms of party and personal control over the armed forces, which has enabled him to eliminate potential threats before they become organized challenges.

Whether rumored military revolts were confirmed or not, the professional military had real grievances with the PCR and the Ceausescu regime. Many of Ceausescu's military policies contradicted some basic interests of the officer corps, diminished its professional status, and served as potential sources of political and military friction. Some officers opposed Ceausescu's policy of confrontation with the Soviet Union because it denied the armed forces access to more sophisticated Soviet weapons and equipment as well as military assistance. Romanian officers might have been willing to accept a less independent military policy in return for a larger supply of higher-quality arms from the Soviet Union. The officer corps probably chafed at Ceausescu's reductions in the country's defense budget as well as the extensive use of armed forces personnel in domestic construction projects, which had a negative impact on military training and readiness. Ceausescu's habit of manipulating high-level military promotions to further his political interests and suddenly dismissing top military commanders also annoyed professional officers.

The importance ascribed to the Patriotic Guards in Romania's military doctrine and strategy served to undermine the prestige and professional autonomy of the regular armed forces. With its emphasis on the employment of irregular paramilitary and guerrilla detachments, War of the Entire People required the Ministry of National Defense to cooperate closely with the Patriotic Guards and supply them with equipment. The latter's requirement for relatively large quantities of low-technology, low-cost arms conflicted with the former's desire for smaller numbers of more advanced weapons and equipment. Although the Ministry of National Defense had to share its budget and resources with the Patriotic Guards, it exercised less than full control over them. The considerable independence of the Patriotic Guards led Western analysts to conclude that they were established, at least partially, to serve as a rival armed force counterbalancing the regular armed forces.

Data as of July 1989