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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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The Middle East Military Balance, 2000-2001
Shai Feldman and Yiftah Shapir (Ed.)

Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2001
432 pp. Hb.: 29.95, ISBN: 0-262-06219-4



The Middle East Military Balance, 2000-2001 (Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 2001. 432 pp. Hardback: 29.95) is an annual update on the military forces and capabilities of Middle Eastern states. Published by the Tel Aviv-based Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, it is the most authoritative and detailed overview over military forces from Morocco to Iran.

The volume first offers a strategic assessment of the Middle East during the 1990s, which is followed by the detailed statistical outline of the armed forces in the region. Largely thanks to the statistical part, The Middle East Military Balance remains an indispensable tool for military planners, decision-makers, analysts and scholars of strategic issues in the Middle East. The highly detailed yet accessible breakdown of military personnel, defence production and procurement, and weapons systems, along with basic demographic and economic data, can easily be compared across states and provides a comprehensive overview over the state of the militaries in the Middle East. For the sake of the layman, a glossary of weapons systems and a list of acronyms are provided. The sole difficulty in assessing the military balance of power in the Middle East lies in the statistical presentation of the data: Necessarily, qualitative factors such as the state of training and know-how, reflection of ethnic or communal divisions in the military and the potential repercussions of such biases, as well as the more general political role of the military in each of the countries, are neglected.

Shai Feldman?s ?strategic assessment? entails an analysis of the development and status of the Middle East peace process until 2000. Further sections are dedicated to the analysis of security in the Persian Gulf, with essays on Iraq and Iran, and of the role and interests of the United States and Russia in the region, as well as net assessments of the Arab-Israeli military balance and the strategic balance in the Gulf. Unfortunately, written shortly after the eruption of the new Intifada in the Palestinian Territories, and published a mere month before the attacks of September 11 and the resulting ?war on terrorism,? reality has already overturned Feldman?s verdict that the Middle East at the turn of the millennium is ?more stable than ever? (p. 25). Moreover, although Feldman?s analysis seeks to incorporate socio-economic and domestic political factors, it fails to fully appreciate the significance of these elements in regional strategic dynamics. Both the attacks of September 11 and the new Intifada illustrate that strategic and political stability do not so much depend on a military equilibrium, but on addressing the societal roots of conflict in terms of domestic political and socio-economic conditions. Thus, The Middle East Military Balance, despite its wealth of data and information, can only provide half the picture for the scholar and practitioner engaged in strategic affairs. The remaining half needs to be located in a deeper analysis of the domestic political systems, processes, and dynamics of the respective states.


Markus Bouillon, St. Antony's College (Oxford University)



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