Arab military effectiveness | reTHINK TANK

Since the end of the Second World War,
Arab armies have consistently punched below their weight.
They’ve lost virtually every major conflict, even when traditional factors
suggested that they should have won. When they have won, their accomplishments have
typically been very modest, despite massive advantages in numbers, technology,
surprise, and firepower. The question is: why? One of the earliest explanations people
came up with for poor Arab military performance was to blame the Russians.
The idea here was that the Soviet way of war was simply inferior to Western
methods. But there are several problems with this explanation. For one, most Arab
armies didn’t use Soviet doctrine, and plenty of other armies that did
historically performed much better than the Arabs Another long-standing idea is
that the problem was the economic underdevelopment of Arab nations. There’s no
question that the poor rates of literacy and relative lack of familiarity with
machinery in most Arab societies in the 20th century did hinder Arab armed
forces. In particular, the consistent problems that Arab military personnel
have had employing and maintaining their weapons — especially their more advanced
weapons — has been a product of this underdevelopment. But you can still win
without advanced weapons. There are plenty of examples of exceptionally poor
and underdeveloped countries that still managed to perform much better in modern
combat than have Arab militaries. Another aspect of Arab society that does
explain part of the problems of Arab war-making is the constant conflicts
between the autocratic governments and their military leadership. At times, Arab
kings and dictators have gotten too involved in military affairs, while at
other times, Arab generals have gotten too involved in politics. When you look
at the historical performance of Arab militaries, as well as that of other
heavily politicized armies, there’s no question that politicization has had an
impact, particularly in the strategic leadership and organization of their
armed forces. But politicization and underdevelopment still don’t explain
the greatest problems that have plagued every Arab military since 1948: the poor
performance of their tactical commanders. In every war, against every foe, in every
type of military operation, and no matter how hard their generals tried to improve
them, Arab NCO’s and junior officers showed little to no ability to innovate,
take initiative, act aggressively, react to the chaos of battle, or take advantage
of fleeting opportunities. To explain this most vexing of Arab military
problems, we have to look at how Arab culture orders its hierarchies and
organizations. The dominant Arab culture, and the Arab educational system that
flows from it, inculcates behaviors and ways of thinking that work for most Arab
organizations in most circumstances, but aren’t optimal from modern combat. This
isn’t a knock against Arab culture. Every society has its own way of organizing
its hierarchies, and every society’s hierarchies function differently. That
doesn’t mean that one culture is “better” than another. Post-war Arab culture
developed in response to its geographic, demographic, and historical circumstances. But warfare is a competitive activity, and what matters is which side’s
hierarchies function better given the demands of warfare at any given time.
Over the past century, the most effective way to make war has been with a very
flexible, bottom-up command structure. The problem that the arabs have faced is that
their culture emphasizes a rigid, top-down hierarchy, which is the worst
way of organizing for modern war. Because the weaknesses of Arab military stem
from their societies, it’s been difficult for allies like the United States to
change how they fight simply by giving them the same training we give to
American soldiers and airmen. For more than 70 years, Arab armies have been
crippled by this severe mismatch between the demands of modern war and the skills
favored by their society. There are, of course, exceptions. Cultural outliers can
make effective fighters. That’s why non-state actors like Hezbollah and ISIS
have fared relatively better than traditional Arab armies in recent wars.
And they operate in an unorthodox, “cellular” command structure that requires
highly independent tactical commanders. A good example of what the U.S. can do is
reflected in how we helped Iraq to defeat ISIS.
The Americans help the Iraqis identify soldiers and officers who are more able
to function independently, train them to emphasize those skills, and then made
that force the tip of the spear, backed by heavy coalition support. This model
worked well for creating Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service, and should be
seen as a good model for moving forward in training Arab armies. It will be hard
given the severe mismatch between Arab society and the demands of modern war
making, but it’s the only way we’re going to do better than we have so far. To learn
more about the problems of Arab military effectiveness, check out the link to my
book, Armies of Sand, in the description below. Also, let us know what other topics
you’d like a AEI scholars to cover on reTHINK TANK, and be sure to subscribe
for more videos and research from AEI.

18 thoughts on “Arab military effectiveness | reTHINK TANK”

  1. A key factor not really discussed is the religious factor. Islam (unfortunately) remains the main motivating and driving force behind Arab armies. They simply do not follow secular leadership as well as they do religious ones. A key factor in what led to the military victories of ISIS against the infinitely better equipped and American trained Iraqi army, for example. Same as the Iranian revolution and Iran backed Hezbollah following their religious leaders.

  2. Should we really be training foreign military? It's not totaly clear that they know how to handle technology.

  3. It's a bit misleading to say that no culture is better than another, yet all of their problems come from their culture

  4. The inbreeding is the elephant in the room. Poor night vision, low IQ, these have real world effects. Did he really say no one culture is better than another?

  5. Military friends would often lament how the Iraqi soldiers were effectively untrainable. They often couldn't be taught the simplest of tasks. THAT is unlikely to be a cultural difference. Too much inbreeding in the Arab world.

  6. And Arab armies as a collective are the biggest buyers of western arms equipment. Blaming culture is just too lazy, and yet, there is more than a grain of truth to it. Arabs are very lazy.

    Much of it has to do with motivation – Arab soldiers may simply not be sufficiently motivated or lose motivation quickly when faced with anything that gives them more than a little stiff contest. From the behaviour of Arabs I have known, they give up way too easily if the task is anything more than a little tedious. Even in Saudi, the conflict gets a little longer than predicted and one can bet calls to Pakistan will be made for reinforcements.

  7. 1. "Just because their culture cultivates inferior performance and worse outcomes by every metric imaginable doesn't mean their culture is inferior." Really?

    2. Why should strengthening Arab armies be a western objective? It's an objective of our enemies! What Arab states are allies of the west? Saudi Arabia? What a joke! These are extremely hostile allies of convenience who do everything they can to subvert and weaken us. They're as loyal to the West and out our values as the mujahideen.

    Were these Arab states fighting to liberate western Europe during the World Wars to preserve liberal democracy? Of course not. No Arab state is a real ally to the west. We might come to their lands and fight for them, but they'll never really fight for us. They armies we train will just become our enemies in a future war.

    Have we learned nothing from the repeated debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military aid and training we provide gets us nowhere and ends up used against us? For the price of aiding hostile nations we could have uplifted a generation of our own children and repaired our nations! Trillions of dollars wasted training Arab frenemies to be better killers as we look over out shoulders so that they don't shoot us in the back, and now this man is telling us we need to waste more money strengthening Arab military "allies"? Idiocy.

    There are some minorities in the Arab world who aren't hostile to us and are worth aiding militarily, religious and ethnic minorities: Kurds, Christians, Yazidis, Druze, Jews, etc., but no Arab states. Existing Arab states are all hostile to the west and it's values. Strengthening their military might does not strengthen our position. It weakens it. It's counterproductive.

  8. I agree with this analysis and would like to add a layer of interpretation that Arab culture is Islamic culture and Islam is structured like a cult where the locus of control is outside the individual.
    While foreign intervention may seek to help give command roles to more autonomous individuals/soldiers it is a stopgap measure and without removing the elephant from the room will not achieve much.

  9. Well, your argument that Arab societies have a top-down structure deserved more than one sentence. Examples and information would have helped.

  10. Arab armies are pathetic. The reason being is pure laziness.
    Arab society itself is idle and has a phobia of 'graft'. If anyone believes Iran could stand up to the states is brain dead.

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