Since the Second World War, Arab armed forces have consistently punched below their weight. They have lost many wars that by all rights they should have won, and in their best performances only ever achieved quite modest accomplishments. Over time, soldiers, scholars, and military experts have offered various explanations for this pattern. Reliance on Soviet military methods, the poor civil-military relations of the Arab world, the underdevelopment of the Arab states, and patterns of behavior derived from the wider Arab culture, have all been suggested as the ultimate source of Arab military difficulties. In Armies of Sand, Kenneth M. Pollack assesses these differing explanations and isolates the most important causes. Over the course of the book, he examines the combat performance of fifteen Arab armies and air forces in virtually every Middle Eastern war, from the Jordanians and Syrians in 1948 to Hizballah in 2006 and the Iraqis and ISIS in 2014-2017. The book ultimately concludes that reliance on Soviet doctrine was more of a help than a hindrance to the Arabs. In contrast, politicization and underdevelopment were both important factors limiting Arab military effectiveness, but patterns of behavior derived from the dominant Arab culture was the most important factor of all. Pollack closes with a discussion of the rapid changes occurring across the Arab world, and suggests that because both Arab society and warfare are changing, the problems that have bedeviled Arab armed forces in the past could dissipate or even vanish in the future, with potentially dramatic consequences for the Middle East military balance. Sweeping in its coverage, this will be the go-to reference for anyone interested in the history of warfare in the Middle East since 1945.
Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:
15 December 2020
Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction: The Six-Day War and the Mystery of Arab Military Ineffectiveness 1. Pattens of Arab Military Performance Part I: Soviet Doctrine 2. The Soviet Way of War 3. Arab Militaries and Soviet Doctrine 4. North Korea, Cuba, and Soviet Doctrine Part II: Politicization 5. Politicization 6. Arab Militaries and Politicization: Egypt 7. Arab Militaries and Politicization: Iraq 8. Politicization and the South Vietnamese Armed Forces 9. Politicization and the Argentine Armed Forces Part III: Underdevelopment 10. Economic Development and Military Effectiveness 11. Economic Development and Syrian Military Effectiveness 12. Economic Development and the Libya-Chad Wars 13. Economic Development and Chinese Military Effectiveness 14. Economic Development and Arab Military Effectiveness Part IV: Culture 15. War and Culture 16. Arab Culture as an Explanation for Military Ineffectiveness 17. Aab Culture: Patterns and Predilections 18. Arab Culture and Arab Military Effectiveness 19. Arab Culture and Civilian Organizations 20. Culture and Education: The Causal Link 21. Arab Military Training Methods 22. Exceptional Arab Militaries: State Armed Forces 23. Exceptional Arab Militaries: Nonstate Armies Conclusions: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness Notes Selected Bibliography Index
Kenneth M. Pollack was a longtime Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, where he ran the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, and is currently a Resident Scholar of the American Enterprise Institute.
Reviews for Armies of Sand: The Past, Present, and Future of Arab Military Effectiveness
A masterful, wide-ranging, compelling study of why Arab armies have typically fared poorly in combat. With this certain-to-be classic work, Ken Pollack solidifies his position as one of the world's foremost scholars on Middle Eastern military and political affairs. * General David Petraeus (US Army, Ret.), former Director of the CIA * Ken Pollack argues convincingly that efforts to uncover causes of military success or failure must begin far from the battlefield. He shines new light on social, economic, political, and cultural impediments to improving military effectiveness in Arab states. His argument that the influence of culture is predominant is certain to generate introspection among Arab leaders and their overseas partners who support their military reform efforts. This should be read and debated by readers who want to understand better this complex and important region. * H.R. McMaster, Former National Security Advisor and author of Dereliction of Duty * Few if any military analysts know as much, or have thought as deeply, about Arab armies as has Ken Pollack. In Armies of Sand-a masterpiece of political science-he distills a lifetime of learning to grapple with the most important and most difficult questions that lie at the intersection of technology, culture and politics. Essential reading for anyone interested in understanding the dynamics of warfare in the Middle East. * Max Boot, author of Invisible Armies * Armies of Sand belongs in the library of every military professional serving in the Middle East, whether Western or Arab. It is a unique blend of military history and social science that comprehensively explains the military effectiveness of our Arab friends and foes alike. Pollack has courageously and objectively tackled the sensitive subject of culture, which we ignore at our peril. Armed with its insights, future commanders might avoid the surprises and frustrations that have long been the hallmarks of military operations in this theater of persistent conflict. * Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland, U.S. Army (Ret.); Commander of Coalition forces in Iraq and Syria, 2015-2016 * This is a path-breaking volume on an uncomfortable topic: Arab military failure. Kenneth Pollack is the model of the engaged scholar, whose extensive field experience on today's battlefields complements his knowledge of military affairs and the Arab world more broadly. The volume is lucid, comprehensive and fascinating. His conclusions about the relationship between culture and military effectiveness will be controversial, but they are compellingly put and will set the terms of debate for years to come. * Eliot A. Cohen, Robert E. Osgood Professor of Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins-SAIS *
- Winner of 2019 CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title.