Kuwait: Recovery and Security after the Gulf War, by Anthony H. Cordesman. xiv plus 133 pages; Notes and Sources and Methods top. 152. No index. $60, hardcover; $23, paperback.
U.S. Forces in the Middle East: Resources and Capabilities, by Anthony H. Cordesman. xii plus 130 pages Notes and Sources and Methods top. 144. No index. $62, hardcover; $24, paperback.
(All three books are part of the "CSIS Middle East Dynamic Net Assessment," published by Westview Press, Boulder and Oxford, 1997.)
These three books represent half of a six-volume set on the Gulf States published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, part of a broader series called the "CSIS Middle East Dynamic Net Assessment." The three volumes on Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia were reviewed in the last issue of Middle East Policy (I reviewed the Saudi volume). Some of the observations made concerning that volume apply to these three as well.
Anyone familiar with the large volume of material produced through the years by Anthony H. Cordesman will be pleased to discover that these books contain all of the strengths, but without some of the weaknesses, of his other work. They are, as one has come to expect, packed with data and quantification of all kinds: tables, graphs, charts, detailed narrative. Cordesman has always been a master of producing something like an intelligence assessment out of open-source material, and he does cite his sources. These books are not, however, as much of Cordesman's work has been, unmanageable in size. The volume on Kuwait is only 150 pages; the largest of the three under review here is a little over 400, but treats four countries in detail. Many readers have been put off by the sheer mass of some of Cordesman's earlier works; these are approachable.
Cordesman is always strong in dealing with defense issues, hardware capabilities and force structure. He has often been weaker on political subtleties and economic factors. These books are better than most of Cordesman's work on the political complexities of the Gulf (though perhaps still not to be depended upon without consulting other sources), and are actually quite strong on economic issues. More important, as already noted regarding the Saudi volume, Cordesman and CSIS are not shy about prescribing policies which they feel are necessary for the security and stability of the states being assessed. So many books about the region are written with oversensitivity to the sometimes prickly sensibilities of the states involved, or are in fact written with subsidies from them, that prescribing improvements, solutions or remedies is usually anathema. Not here. Whether one accepts the individual assessments of problems and remedies or not, it is also refreshing to see someone dare to attempt the prescriptions.
Before moving to the individual volumes, one or two problems about the series needs to be raised. The first is that these volumes are not indexed. The table of contents gives a good guide, and the books are short, but indexing is not so difficult as it once was and indexes would have been valuable.
There is one other complaint to be lodged. Though the size is approachable, the price, even in paperback, may not be. The series is called a "Dynamic Net Assessment," and one would from the word "dynamic" that CSIS might intend to update the series from time to time, lest these become mere snapshots of the situation of 1996-1997. (This is not explicitly stated, however.) It is, therefore, welcome that the series is published in paperback as well as hardcover. Even so, the prices asked by Westview are steep. This is clearly not the author's fault, but is a consideration when publishing a six-volume set meant to be "dynamic."
Of the three books under review, the shortest, US. Forces in the Middle East, is also the one most overtaken by events since publication. As this review is written, the U.S. air wing in Saudi Arabia and other forces in the region have been supplemented by two carrier groups as part of the latest confrontation with Iraq. Cordesman wisely did not try to provide a snapshot inventory of U.S. forces there. Instead he has given a concise overview of U.S. strategy and planning, counter proliferation issues and the like. It is a good short introduction, but similar material is easily available elsewhere, including in many (perhaps most) of Cordesman's own published works. Certainly this series should have a place for the U.S. role, and this volume provides that. But more than the other volumes, it is somewhat redundant, given the vast literature on the subject (much of it by Cordesman himself), and the fact that one can easily consult Pentagon and U.S. Central Command Posture statements online these days, which makes a thin $24 paperback or $62 hardcover seem a bit overpriced. Still, it is a useful complement to the set as a whole, if one which - given the shifting sands of the present administration's Gulf policy - may be quickly outdated.
Kuwait is the shortest of the volumes devoted to an individual state. Ten or twelve years ago it would surely have been included with the other smaller Gulf states in a single volume, but the events of 1990-1991 make Kuwaiti security a separate and very special issue, and one which, while Saddam Hussein remains in power, can never completely be ignored . The book is really more of a longish briefing paper than a book as such, but its conciseness is part of its utility. Wisely, little time is spent on the pre-invasion period; most of the book deals with military, economic and political issues since the Gulf War. There is a lot about rebuilding the armed forces, their strengths and weaknesses (especially the latter), internal and external challenges and threats, and so on. The last four pages of the text, dealing with "The Challenge of Internal Reform" (pp. 130-133) are the sort of "prescriptions" referred to earlier, and if members of the House of Sabah glance at only a few pages of the book, it should be these.
The third volume under review, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the UAE, is really four short briefings along the lines of Kuwait bound as one, though a 30-page introductory section on "The Southern Gulf States" does try to tie the four together. Certainly, given the price of the short work on Kuwait, one should be grateful that these four were published together, though the diversity of the four states in question is so great that one hopes they will not simply be subsumed under a single category.
Cordesman's approach is comparable to that in the other volumes. On Bahrain, while the tensions of the past few years receive only a few pages of treatment, they do receive attention within the context of overall social and economic divisions between the sectarian communities. Qatar's recent change of leadership and the roots of its maverick approach are analyzed, as are the implications of its gas wealth. The UAE's federal nature and its implications both politically and in the defense realm are dealt with. Oman's history and strategic importance are treated competently, though a somewhat foreshortened history does not emphasize the country's distinctiveness, particularly its historic orientation towards the Indian Ocean and away from Arabia, something which strikes the visitor to Muscat immediately.
These books are not full-blown country studies, nor do they pretend to be. They do not replace the Area Handbooks series. They are intelligence briefings covering the main issues in concise form with recommendations. One need not agree with every prescription (or even every description) to find them useful. They are far more sensitive to political and economic factors than some of Cordesman's previous work, and they are of manageable size. The fact that all six paperbacks will run the reader about $150, more or less, is a problem, though perhaps CSIS intends them primarily for libraries. It will be particularly interesting to see just how "dynamic" this series remains, for there is no region as susceptible to change as the Gulf (Iran has changed dramatically since publication of that volume), and these assessments will need updating to remain valuable.