Tagged: Military

Debating US Military Strategy in the Persian Gulf: What is the Way Forward?

My latest article published in the academic journal RBPI (Revista Brasileira de Politica Internacional).



Should the US strategy toward the Persian Gulf be one of offshore balancing or one of deep engagement?

The debate on US grand strategy lacks solid empirical ground. I address this issue by providing a study of the US role as the Gulf’s security provider. I investigate the extent to which distinct military strategies have affected the stability of the region.

My findings show no clear correlation between increased US military presence and a reduction in either the incidence or the intensity of regional armed conflict, possibly lending credibility to the arguments of the advocates of a strategy of offshore balancing.

Open access to the full article here


Series: Armed Forces in the Middle East (Egypt)

Egypt ranks sixth in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.

$4.4 billion defense budget
468,500 active frontline personnel
4,767 tanks
1,100 aircraft

The Egyptian Armed Forces is one of the oldest and largest militaries in the Middle East. The Egyptian military has existed in its current iteration since 1952, and the military has played a direct role in Egyptian politics since the country’s founding — current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the military’s former commander in chief.

The US has provided Egypt with over $70 billion in aid since 1948, most of which came in the form of an annual $1.3 billion military assistance fund established after Egypt and Israel signed a peace deal in 1979. Because of this assistance, Egypt has replaced a mostly Soviet-provided arsenal with US-produced arms.

Egypt has over 1,000 M1A1 Abrams tanks, many of which sit in storage and have never been used. Egypt also coproduces M1A1 tanks domestically. The Egyptian Air Force has 221 F-16 fighter jets, alongside a range of other US-provided aircraft.

But the military’s operational abilities are highly suspect, and it has had trouble fighting terrorists and insurgents in the Sinai. It has discussed future arms purchases with Russia but only because of a falling-out with Washington over the summer 2013 military coup that put Sisi in power.

Key allies: The US and Saudi Arabia — although security cooperation between Israel and Egypt has picked up since the summer 2013 coup in Cairo.

Source Business Insider UK 2014

Series: Armed Forces in the Middle East (UAE)

The United Arab Emirates ranks fourth in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.

$14.4 billion defense budget
65,000 active frontline personnel
545 tanks
444 aircraft

The United Arab Emirate’s Union Defense Force is headquartered in Abu Dhabi and boasts diversified military equipment from the US, Russia, UK, Ukraine, France, Italy, and Germany.

Simply put, it’s the Middle East’s rising military power. The UAE has bought new weapons systems, upgraded its existing ones, brought in American trainers and contractors, and instituted universal military service for males. It has been closely involved in the fight against ISIS, and it secretly deployed jets from Egypt to bomb Islamist militants within Libya without US support.

Megahan says that the UAE’s air force has upgraded its planes to the point where it flies some of the most advanced F-16’s on earth. It has even looked into purchasing the F-35. Emirate defense spending has increased by 85% since 2004, and it has now cracked the top 15 of global defense spenders — incredibly for a country with only 9 million citizens.

Key allies: The US and other Gulf monarchies.

Source Business Insider UK 2014

Series: Armed Forces in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia)

Saudi Arabia ranks third in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.

$56.7 billion defense budget
233,500 active frontline personnel
1,095 tanks
652 aircraft

The territorially largest country in the Middle East also has the fourth-highest military spending of any country in the world. The country’s arms buildup has largely been driven by sales from the US and other Western countries.

As a result, Saudi Arabia has the most updated arsenal in the region, with the exception of Israel. Its air force has air-to-air refueling capabilities and advanced fighter jets.

“Saudi Arabia has a lot of air capabilities that a lot of the countries in the region don’t have,” Megahan said, adding that it was plausible the Saudis could soon have a more advanced air force than even Israel.

Saudi Arabia is in a tough neighborhood — the country borders Iraq and Yemen, two of the most chronically unstable countries in the region. But with 36% of the population under the age of 24, a sclerotic monarchy, and sectarian tensions, Saudi Arabia might be building its military strength with future internal turmoil in mind.

Indeed, Harmer says that Saudi Arabia’s national guard — which is responsible for internal security, and not organized with external defense in mind — is one of the most capable security forces in the entire region.

Key allies: The relationship with the US has been flagging in recent years, but the two are still close partners and Saudi Arabia is still a major purchaser of US arms. Saudi Arabia is the most powerful of the tightly allied Gulf monarchies, a group that includes Kuwait, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates, and Riyadh has provided substantial assistance to the post-coup government in Egypt. It is also speculated that Saudi Arabia has secretly funded Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.

Source: Business Insider UK 2014

Series: Armed Forces in the Middle East (Turkey)

Turkey ranks second in the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.

$18.1 billion defense budget
410,500 active frontline personnel
3,657 tanks
989 aircraft

The Turkish Armed Forces is composed of a mix of conscript and professional soldiers. Conscription lasts up to a year, though it can be avoided by paying a fee. Turkey is a member of NATO, and it also contributes operational staff to the Eurocorps multinational army initiative. NATO has stationed Patriot missiles within the country as a defense against missile attacks from Syria.

Since 1998, Turkey has attempted to modernize its military, which has started production of a native next-generation tank. Turkey produces a lot of advanced defense technology in-country now, Megahan says: “We’re seeing more Turkish-made systems in the Turkish military, whereas before it was a lot of American equipment.”

Turkey is also committed to purchasing the F-35 fifth-generation fighter jet, and it produces a range of parts for the aircraft in an attempt to bolster its avionics industry. The country also fields a fleet of more than 200 F-16s.

The Turkish Armed Forces have not been involved in a traditional war since the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974. However, Turkey’s enormous and NATO-allied military has battled an asymmetric Kurdish separatist movement since the 1980s.

Key allies: The US, as well as dozens of European militaries — Turkey is the only NATO member in the region.

Source: Business Insider UK 2014

Series: Armed Forces in the Middle East (Israel)

Israel ranks at the top of the list of the most powerful militaries in the Middle East. Here are some data.

$15 billion defense budget
176,500 active frontline personnel
3,870 tanks
680 aircraft

The Israel Defense Forces has defended against a diverse range of enemies since the country achieved independence in 1948. Israel has successfully fought large conventional armies, like the Egyptian and Syrian militaries in 1967 and 1972, as well as asymmetrical foes, like Palestinian militant groups.

Israel has a conscription system in which most Jewish and Druze citizens of the country are required to serve in the military for either two or three years. A close defense relationship with the US and an energetic domestic defense industry give Israel a qualitative edge over all of the region’s other militaries: Israel has space assets, advanced fighter jets, high-tech armed drones, and nuclear weapons. Its air force has incredibly high entry and training standards. “Pilot to pilot, airframe to airframe, the Israeli air force is the best in the world,” Harmer says.

Israel also has one of the region’s most battle-ready armies, a force that has fought in four major engagements since 2006 and has experience securing a few of the most problematic borders on earth.

Israel’s military has also never attempted a coup or ruled the country directly, unlike several others on this list.

Thanks to Israel’s small size, the military can rapidly mobilize its reserves on relatively short notice.

Key allies: The US is the major one, though Israel enjoys a degree of security cooperation with Jordan and Egypt.


Source: Business Insider UK 2014

Did you know that…? About North Korea’s Army

Today, while I was preparing the lecture for my module on international relations, I came across some data that struck my attention.

Did you know that North Korea currently has the 4th largest standing army in the world?

It outranks the armies of countries such as Russia, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran.

Here is a chart of the world’s largest standing armies (as of October 2015):


And here is a list with the size of the world’s 10 largest standing armies (as of October 2015)

1 People’s Republic of China 2,285,000
2 United States of America 1,361,755
3 India 1,325,450
4 North Korea 1,190,000
5 Russian Federation 766,055
6 Pakistan 643,800
7 South Korea 630,000
8 Iran 523,000
9 Vietnam 482,000
10 Turkey 471,075

Of course the size of an army does not tell the whole story about its strength. However, seeing the North Korean armies ranking so high in the list is quite impressive.

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