CORRELATION OF FORCES AND
COMING WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST
By Louis Rene Beres
The term "correlation of forces" is a useful concept of military strategy. Widely used by the former Soviet Union, it is applied as a measure of armed forces, from the subunit level to major formations. Additionally, it has been used to compare resources and capabilities on both the levels of military strategy and of so-called "grand strategy." This meaning is closely related to the concept of "force ratios" used in the West.
Today, with the winds of war blowing again in the Middle East, Israel must undertake productive assessments of enemy states with particular reference to "correlation of forces." Here it must seek more than an "objective" yardstick for measurement of opposing forces. Although the IDF is assuredly comparing all available data concerning both the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of units, including personnel, weaponry and equipment, its commanders will need to know more to establish Israeli force superiority at decisive places and times. This is especially the case in matters of grand strategy, where opposing forces are endowed with weapons of mass destruction.
What, exactly, must be the IDF concept of "correlation of forces?" First, it must take careful account of enemy leaders' intentions as well as capabilities. Such an accounting is inherently more subjective than assessments of personnel, weapons and basic logistic data. Such an accounting must be subtle and nuanced, relying less on scientific modeling than upon carefully informed profiles. In this connection, it will not due to merely gather relevant data from all of the usual sources. It will also be important to put themselves into the shoes of each enemy leader, determining what Israel looks like TO THEM.
Second, the IDF correlation of forces concept must take account of enemy leaders' rationality. An adversary that does not conform to the rules of rational behavior in world politics might not be deterred by ANY Israeli threats, military or otherwise. Here the logic of deterrence would be immobilized and all bets would be off concerning expected enemy reactions to Israeli policy.
Third, IDF assessments must also consider the organization of enemy state units; their training standards; their morale; their reconnaissance capabilities; their battle experience; and their suitability and adaptability to the prospective battlefield. These assessments are not exceedingly difficult to make on an individual or piecemeal basis, but the IDF needs to conceptualize them together, in their entirety. To get this more coherent picture will require creativity and imagination, not merely mathematical skills.
Fourth, IDF assessments must consider the capabilities and intentions of Israel's nonstate enemies; that is, the entire configuration of anti-Israel terrorist groups. And once again, such assessments must offer more than a group by group consideration. Rather, the groups must be considered in their entirety, as they interrelate with one another vis-a-vis Israel. And these groups need to be considered in their interactive relationship with enemy states. This last point might best be characterized as an IDF search for pertinent "synergies" between state and nonstate adversaries.
Fifth, IDF assessments must take special note of the ongoing metamorphosis of a nonstate adversary (PLO) into a state adversary (Palestine). With this metamorphosis, Israel's strategic depth will soon shrink to barely manageable levels, and a far-reaching enemy momentum to transform Israel itself into part of the new Arab state will be energized. How shall Israel "live" with Palestine? This shall be an absolutely critical question for strategists and scholars.
In the matter of synergies, the IDF must also consider and look for "force multipliers." A force multiplier is a collection of related characteristics, other than weapons and force size, that make a military organization more effective in combat. A force multiplier may be generalship; tactical surprise; tactical mobility; command and control system; etc. The presence of a force multiplier CREATES synergy. The unit will be more effective than the mere sum of its weapons. IDF responsibility in this area concerns (1) recognizing enemy force multipliers; (2) challenging and undermining enemy force multipliers; and (3) developing and refining its own force multipliers. Regarding number (3), this means a heavy IDF emphasis on air superiority; communications; intelligence; and surprise.
Correlation of forces will essentially determine the outcome of the coming catastrophic war. It is time for Israel to go well beyond the usual numerical assessments to "softer" considerations, and to focus especially upon the cumulative importance of unconventional weapons and strategies in the region.
LOUIS RENE BERES, Professor Department of Political Science, Purdue University, was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is author of many publications dealing with Middle Eastern security issues.