MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-Armies and State-Building in the Modern Middle East: Politics, Nationalism and Military Reform

By Springborg, Robert | The Middle East Journal, Summer 2014 | Go to article overview

MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS-Armies and State-Building in the Modern Middle East: Politics, Nationalism and Military Reform


Springborg, Robert, The Middle East Journal


MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS Armies and State-Building in the Modern Middle East: Politics, Nationalism and Military Reform, by Stephanie Cronin. London: I.B. Tauris, 2014. 310 pages. $30 paper.

Reviewed by Robert Springborg

Rarely can one characterize an historical study as timely, but Armies and State-Building in the Modern Middle East is, and by design. In her opening sentence author Stephanie Cronin notes that the Arab Spring "has once again propelled Middle Eastern armies to the centre of the political stage" (p. 1). Her stated objective is to render these armies and their behavior "more comprehensible and even perhaps a little more predictable" (p. 11) by placing them in a broader, comparative historical context, the key feature of which is the central state-building role played by militaries in Middle Eastern countries.

The book's four substantive chapters deal only with Iran, Afghanistan, and Saudi Arabia, with consideration of the other Arab states and Turkey restricted to the Introduction and first chapter, which are more theoretical in nature. Curiously this restricted coverage proves to be less of a liability than an advantage, for it underscores the remarkably similar development of Middle Eastern militaries and their political roles, whether in Arab or non-Arab countries. A related strength of the book is that it convincingly illustrates the remarkable persistence over some two centuries of the centrality of Middle Eastern militaries to the building and exercise of state power and the struggle, therefore, between domestic and foreign actors to shape and control those militaries.

Among the themes the author develops are several that emerge from the dialectic between national "defensive modernizers" and foreign powers enlisted in those efforts or self-invited by virtue of their imperial ambitions. The ubiquitous efforts to forge nizam-i jadid (new order) militaries to supplant traditional, part-time forces based on tribal or other social solidarities, for example, ultimately run up against common constraints that limit the effectiveness of the newly fashioned militaries, typically resulting in a resurgence of the traditional forces previously dismissed as hopelessly out of date. …

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