MILITARY AFFAIRS: The Middle East Strategic Balance 2003-2004/the Military Balance in the Middle East

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MILITARY AFFAIRS The Middle East Strategic Balance 2003-2004, ed. by Shai Feldman and Yiftah S. Shapir. Portland, OR and Brighton, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2004. vii + 243 pages. Tables and charts to p. 261. Contribs. $34.95 paper.

The Military Balance in the Middle East, by Anthony C. Cordesman. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2004. xxiii + 529 pages. Figures. Notes to p. 542. Index to p. 560. $55.

These two books are not for the faint of heart and can only be dealt with in short doses. There is just too much information and analysis to be absorbed in a single sitting. This reviewer spent his entire government career dealing with the military situation in the Middle East and had a difficult time absorbing these two weighty works. Both cover the military situation in what is acknowledged by many as the most heavily armed area of the world. Anthony Cordesman, in fact, devotes a complete chapter, entitled "The Most Militarized Area in the World," pages 29-54, to this theme.

Both books are loaded with analysis and commentary on recent military developments. They arrive at the military balance from two entirely different perspectives and use two different styles. In Strategic Balance, Feldman and Shapir combine nine essays by Israeli academics and former military/security officials on current developments with a series of detailed country charts outlining major changes over the past year. These charts provide information on general and economic military data, strategic assets and the armed forces of each country. The 2003-2004 edition of Strategic Balance is the 20th volume published by Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University since the mid-198Os. Cordesman's Military Balance is his latest in over two dozen works looking at various aspects of military and security matters in the region. Many are published in cooperation with the Washington, DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), where he works. This volume is the fourth that Cordesman has published on the overall military balance (similar studies appeared in 1993, 1996 and 2001) on the region.

Both books are chock-a-bloc with charts and graphs. Cordesman uses 170 figures throughout his study, however, the net result is to overwhelm the reader and, in my opinion, detract from his analysis. This is compounded by passages with overly long listings of numbers of weapons systems when he discusses each country's military forces. This could have been better accomplished with country charts. In contrast, the Feldman-Shapir book does use charts quite effectively to outline each Middle Eastern country's weapons inventory. Yet, both books, strangely enough, have a fatal flaw - neither has a single map! Clearly, the authors were writing for other military specialists on the Middle East who would have their own maps to consult. Non-experts, however, are just out of luck if they were to try to orient themselves in either book.

Cordesman's study is carefully footnoted and he credits the number of weapons he ascribes to Middle Eastern countries principally to the database the International Institute for Strategic Studies maintains, along with those of Jane's and the Jaffe Center. However, he asserts in his foreword that he also consulted US intelligence agencies and, where data was in conflict, he relied on official US sources. The Feldman-Shapir book suffers from the unevenness of nine essays that form the analytical heart of the book. Six of the nine are true analytical essays without any reference to sources, while three (on terrorism, proliferation, and the Intifada) are carefully footnoted. The overall result is a lot of redundancy in the authors' essays that is disconcerting and detracts from the overall publication.

The unique feature of Cordesman's book is its organization. In his first chapter, he defines what he means by "military balance," while in his second chapter he analyzes the overall trends in the Middle East. …