Conflict in the Middle East Since 1945

Since 1945 the Middle East has arguably been the most volatile region on earth. It has seen more wars, insurgencies, terrorism, and other violent unpleasantries, than anywhere else. However, despite of this, conflict in the region is often misunderstood, or generalized, by people across the world. Biased and one-sided condemnations of European imperialism, American and Russian meddling, Israeli actions and Palestinian and Arab intransigence are typical, and often ignore the complex historical, cultural, economic and sectarian issues in the region. War in the Middle East is anything but simple but there are plenty of trends if one looks closely.

When looking at conflicts in the Middle East it should be noted they are often hard to define considering how varied they can be. Looking at a sample of approximately 50 conflicts in the Middle East Since 1945 the following can be stated. Four of them were colonial wars by France and Britain. Seventeen, as in 1/3rd involved Israel, ten involved the Palestinians, 4 involved the Russians, and 8 involved the Americans. Nine of the wars were mostly conventional wars (armies fighting armies), eleven were generally aerial campaigns conducted by the America, Russia or Israel, and the remaining were mostly asymmetrical conflicts regarding civil wars, insurgencies, or terrorist movements trying to change the status quo. The reason for the qualification of “mostly” in these categories is that much of these conflicts were hybrid conflicts involving aspects of conventional, airpower and asymmetrical warfare. For example, Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 involved not only fighting the PLO resistance group but also the Syrian army. Likewise, America’s aerial campaign in Libya in 2011 was coordinated with Libyan resistance movements against Gaddafi’s regime. Needless to say much of these wars overlap with each other.

So what were these wars? The colonial conflicts were Britain’s war to secure Aden, her doomed attempt to keep Palestine after 1945, the combined Franco-British Suez conflict to subvert Egypt in 1956 (also supported by Israel), and France’s dirty war in Algeria.

Israel’s seventeen wars include the six “Arab-Israeli wars,” numerous aerial campaigns, and several asymmetrical conflicts against the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The Palestinians had ten wars, under many guises such as the PLO, Hamas, and/or other groups, eight of which were against Israel as well as involvement with the Jordanian and Lebanese civil wars.

Russia’s wars include their support for Syria during the never ending “Syrian Civil War,” the “Soviet-Afghan War” as well as the two Chechen Wars if we include these as part of Middle Eastern conflict (Chechnya technically being part of Europe). America’s eight wars include a UN mission in Somalia, the liberation of Kuwait, “Operation Desert Fox,” the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and aerial campaigns in Libya and Syria (and perhaps Kosovo even if it is outside the Middle East).

Finally, there are the asymmetrical conflicts (many, if not all, of which overlap with previously stated conflicts) regarding civil wars, insurgencies and terrorist movements. These include at least seven civil wars; Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Oman, Libya and Afghanistan; Kurdish insurgencies against Turkey and Iraq, Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and ISIS conflicts in the region, and other resistance and/or terrorist movements in the region. This list is far from being exhaustive as there were probably dozens of more conflicts in the region during the same timeframe.

From this we can see a few trends. Nine of the conflicts (less than 20%) were predominately stand up conventional fights (5 of Israel’s wars, the “Gulf War,” the “Iran-Iraq War,” the short war between Jordan and Syria in 1970, and the limited war between Egypt and Libya in 1977. Meanwhile the predominantly aerial campaigns involved American efforts in Kosovo, Libya, Syria and Iraq, Russia’s late efforts in Syria, 3 Israeli actions against Hezbollah in Lebanon, and another 3 against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. As already noted the rest are various types of asymmetrical conflicts.

Furthermore we can divide the conflicts between wars involving foreign states (Russia, America, European), Israel, and those waged between Arab and Muslim states/groups. One third of the conflicts involve Israel, foreign states are involved in another third, while inter-regional (not including Israel or outsiders) involves at least 30, or perhaps much more, if you include low grade fighting against Arab and Muslim nations and groups.

What about results, who won these wars? Unfortunately victory and defeat in the Middle East is controversial, not only if we separate military success from political, or even propaganda coups, but also because few wars in the region have involved the complete defeat, or overthrow, of nations or often even resistance groups. Meanwhile the tendencies of Arab states, and resistance groups, claiming victory just because they survive, and the fact that long term results of these conflicts are often mixed further complicates easy determinations of victory and defeat. However, on one hand it is easy to say who has won according to pure military and political terms. Often armies, resistance groups, and terrorist movements has been so smashed that no objective analyst would debate the military result. However, as Clausewitz noted “war is a continuation of politics by other means” and given the usual relatively limited nature of war in the Middle East a nation, or non-state entity, can claim victory if their political goals were accomplished. The third, perhaps most laughable, claim of victory is propaganda victories by nations or groups which claim survival as victory. To make things even more confusing the weird circumstance of the region can result in several sides claiming victory. All of this will be addressed below.

Unsurprisingly military victories are the easiest to show. It is hard for one side to claim they won the battle after a humiliating retreat, losing most of their tanks and planes, and their capital is threatened. In all conventional wars there has been an obvious winner in military terms. Israel decisively beat the Arab armies in all but one or two stand up fights, America dominated the “Gulf War,” Egypt beat Libya and Jordan beat Syria in their respective wars, and even Iraq thoroughly smashed Iran’s army at the end of the “Iran-Iraq War.” The same goes regarding asymmetrical conflicts in general; most insurgent or terrorist groups losing the military struggle. Meanwhile with perhaps one or two exceptions as in Afghanistan in the early 1990s no resistance, or terrorist movement, came to power in the region by physically defeating government forces or overthrowing regimes (at least not without considerable conventional or airpower backing by foreign states). Generally they have been crushed brutally as the Kurdish and Muslim brotherhood insurgencies, or other resistance groups, via harsh Arab despots.

Even in the colonial wars the hated imperialists were never physically defeated but forced to withdraw due to public opinion and political considerations at home. However, in rare cases an army can suffer military defeat at the hands of guerrillas such as during Russia’s first war against Chechnya. In this conflict two of Russia’s columns were mauled during the initial assault on Grozny, she suffered countless ambushes against her convoys, she failed to resolve the “Budyonnovsk hospital hostage crisis,” and even had her forces trapped and humiliated by Chechen rebels in Grozny at the end of the war. Libya was also ultimately defeated by a guerrilla army of Toyota trucks with anti-tank weapons at the end of the “Chadian-Libyan Conflict.”

Aerial campaigns are more controversial regarding military results considering not only have they usually been against mobile, and lightly armed, guerrillas and terrorists that are hard to track and kill from the air, but that the campaigns themselves have often targeted political will and non-military targets. America’s air efforts are mixed; in Kosovo the Serbian army was not seriously hurt, the operation against Iraq in 1998 was perhaps a half victory in degrading Saddam’s capabilities, her air campaign in Syria hurt ISIS but did not effectively protect her rebel allies on the ground from the Assad Regime or Russia, but her support of the rebels in Libya in 2011 was an unequivocal success regarding the overthrow of Gaddafi by degrading his armed forces. Perhaps Russia’s air campaign in Syria by contrast was exceedingly successful, supporting Assad’s forces while hurting ISIS and punishing America’s allies on the ground. Meanwhile Israel arguably produced poor military results in her three aerial campaigns against Hizbollah in Lebanon but did relatively better in her three against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

However military results, especially in limited war and conflicts regarding insurgency and terrorism, are not always decisive and in these cases political considerations are often more important. Whatever impressive military victories America, Israel, Russia and the colonial Powers have accomplished against armies, and insurgents, their political results have rarely proven as beneficial. Israel won every conventional clash against states and armies but only one of them, against Egypt in 1973, resulted in a peace treaty (ironic considering this was the only war Egypt rebuffed Israel several times in battle). Of course Israel won her statehood in 1948, and bought a decade of tranquillity against Egypt after 1956, yet her greatest victory in 1967 burdened her with hostile Palestinian territory in Gaza, and the West Bank, and led to terrible the “War of Attrition,” and later the “Yom Kippur War,” which were more bloody, and demoralizing, for Israel than anything before or since.

Israel’s record in aerial campaigns is also mixed: Unsurprisingly with the considerable anti-Israeli sentiment in the UN, and international opinion, and the fact Israel is now seen as Goliath and the Palestinians as David, Israel has rarely won the battle of public opinion in most of these struggles. Yet in 4 out of 6 of her aerial assaults Israel can claim political victory (oddly enough even in 2006 during perhaps Israel’s worst showing in any conflict). Israel has managed to gain relative peace in the south against Hamas’s rocket, and other attacks, and has not had to end her blockade, recognize Hamas or concede any notable concession to the resistance group. Against Hezbollah Israel’s air campaigns in the 1990s accomplished little political gains but the 2006 campaign, whatever its many failings, seems to have deterred Hezbollah from provoking Israel and the latter has enjoyed over a decade of relative quiet in the north thus far.

America secured her political goals in the “Gulf War,” which was liberating Kuwait at small cost and not overthrowing Saddam Hussein (which was never seriously considered at the time). Regarding two of her air campaigns, Kosovo and Libya the Americans secured their political objectives outright (even if her aerial campaign against Serbia was relatively inept), but her other two against Syria and Iraq can be seen as relative political failures since neither Saddam’s Iraq, or ISIS and Assad’s regime, were decisively defeated, or forced to change their detrimental regional policies. America’s war in Somalia resulted in a political defeat when Bill Clinton pulled its forces out of the country after the “Battle of Mogadishu” in 1993 where the American forces scored a notable tactical victory in killing hundreds of militants but lost 19 servicemen, some of the latter who were dragged through the streets live on TV which obviously shocked America.

Finally, there are the ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one sense America secured many of her political goals by overthrowing Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, ultimately weakening Al-Qaeda, and installing nascent democracies in these countries. However, the price has been too high regarding American soldiers, the cost to American credibility and prestige, not to mention her finances, and especially regarding the civilian losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile the budding democracies in these countries have not so far proven to be effective at surviving on their own, or preventing the rise of ISIS or the resurgence of other terrorist groups.

Russia has secured her political goals in two of her wars; in the “Second Chechen War” she finally subjugated Chechnya (though it took ten years and terrific casualties) as well as her intervention in Syria which safeguarded Assad’s regime, and weakened both ISIS and America’s Syrian resistance allies. However, Russia withdrew in humiliation after failing to conquer Chechnya in the “First Chechen War” and ultimately her 10 year war in Afghanistan was a failure considering the Mujaheddin were never contained, or defeated, and Russia’s client state in Kabul later fell to the resistance fighters.

Britain and France failed politically in their wars despite often impressive military results. Obviously colonialism was discredited, and dying, after “World War 2,” with ironically the Americans, the Soviet Union and the UN all being united against European imperialism. Meanwhile the colonial powers were weakened in the post war period, and their populaces in no mood to fight conflicts that had little moral or international support. Finally, given that there was almost zero support from the indigenous people for the colonial powers that were occupying their country we see there was no political legitimacy at all for these conflicts. While there were diehards in the political, and military, establishments in London and Paris, there was no international support, little public support, and no indigenous support, for colonial wars.

Looking from the other side we see that resistance groups, and Arab states, have accomplished their political goals much of the time. In the case of the colonial wars public opinion in Britain and France, superpower pressure, and the sheer cost of war have handed victory to the underdogs despite the fact the latter never accomplished significant military reverses on their enemies. Russia has had to admit political defeat in Chechnya (in the first conflict), America withdrew from Somalia, while whatever gains both nations accomplished in Chechnya, Iraq or Afghanistan can probably be described as “pyrrhic victories,” despite not losing in the field.

In Israel’s case she has survived all existential threats but the Palestinians scored a notable victory due to the “First Intifada” via the ensuing the Oslo Accords, while Israel’s 1982 overwhelming victory against Syria in the Bekaa valley, and the PLO in Beirut, ultimately made things worse with the subsequent rise of Hezbollah. Eventually Israel tired so much of the conflict in Southern Lebanon against Hezbollah that she withdrew from Lebanon altogether (which has to be seen as a propaganda victory for Hezbollah at best or a political one at worst).

Meanwhile the Arab states are not proficient at military victory in conventional warfare but they have rarely failed to beat insurgents and terrorists (perhaps partly because they are not as constrained by brutal means, or media considerations like Israel or western democracies are). There is no way Israelis, or Americans, would have been permitted to carpet bomb a city like the Russians did in Grozny, to use gas like the Egyptians in Yemen or the Iraqis against the Kurds, to massacre 30,000 civilians indiscriminately like the Syrians did in Hama in 1982 or to shell Palestinian refugee camps mercilessly as the Jordanians and Syrians did in the 1970s.

Besides outright political victory Arab regimes, and resistance groups, can still be seen as relatively successful when using propaganda to claim they have won conflicts by merely surviving. This should not be dismissed because in general Arab states, and resistance groups, have been far more adept at using propaganda in the Middle East then the well meaning, if naive Americans, and the tactically minded and short term focused Israelis. Israel, and America, are liberal democracies with a relatively free media and much of it is often ran by elements unfavourable to their war efforts whereas the Arab states and resistance groups (and Russia), being non-democratic and far from Liberal, can dominate media and public opinion. Therefore while the military strength of Arab armies, guerrilla and terrorist forces can be beaten by their enemies the former can easily manipulate the media.

Therefore the Arabs claim America did not defeat Saddam Hussein in 1991 but was stopped from taking Iraq. Meanwhile Israel may have taken a lot of Arab territory in 1967 but Cairo, Amman, and Damascus was saved from Zionist occupation. It did not matter if the PLO was kicked out of Jordan in 1970, exiled from Lebanon in 1982 and forced to Tunisia, it still survived. According to Arab propaganda in the Middle East their states, and resistance groups, have won every battle despite the fact Israel is a thriving democracy, America is still present in the Middle East, the Arab states are collapsing, or on the brink or anarchy, or that most of the people in the Middle East are still poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised.

Then there is the odd point that such limited, and unpredictable, warfare in the region can even allow several sides to claim victory. Besides the aforementioned illusions there are plenty of incidents were several sides have actually legitimately won. The “Arab-Israeli wars” are illustrative. Israel survived and beat back the Arab armies in the first conflict but Jordan took the West Bank while even a weakened Egyptian retained the Gaza Strip. In 1956 Israel beat Egypt in the Sinai but Egypt accomplished a decisive political coup in surviving the British, and French, attempt to subjugate her. In 1973 Israel pushed back the Syrians close to Damascus, and crossed the Suez Canal to surround an entire Egyptian army, but there is no doubt that Egypt won the political battle by humiliating the Israeli army in the first few days of the war and allowing Sadat to bring Israel to the peace table. Israel’s lopsided military victory in 1982 destroyed the PLO in Lebanon but Syria was the ultimate beneficiary in the long run. This is not limited to nations as Hezbollah may have had to pull back from the Lebanon border after 2006 but she now has more rockets (in fact ten fold), and is in a vastly superior position ten years later. Meanwhile Israel’s efforts to stop the “First Intifada” were successful overall but the PLO could be satisfied by the results of the Oslo accords.

However, it is one thing to claim political and/or military kudos in limited wars, quite another whether or not it accomplishes nations’, or resistance groups’, long term goals. For it is obvious that since there are so many conflicts, often continuations of previous ones, that few wars in the region have produced overwhelming, longterm, decisive results. The colonial wars were decisive given that it forever broke the power of Britain, and France, to manipulate the region. Perhaps the “Arab-Israelis Wars” can be seen as decisive, at least in military means: Not only has Israel survived in the region, but no nation (s) can realistically threaten her with conventional military power, and since 1982 all of her threats have been from terrorism, and resistance groups. As such of Israel’s two major long term goals; survival and peace she has secured the former completely. However, regarding peace Israel’s wars have only had limited success. Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel but otherwise the Arab states, and resistance groups, are still hostile at best, or cold and indifferent at worse.

America gets a lot of censure for her wars in the region but realistically the majority of her long term goals have been secured so far. Israel has survived, America’s military presence in the region is still strong, most of the Arab states are de-facto (if unenthusiastic) American allies, and the access to most of the oil in the region is still open to America, Europe and her allies. American rivals like China and Russia have limited influence in the region, compared to America at least, while her enemies in the region like Iran, Syria, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS are often nuisances, and pose some threats, but are generally contained and mostly in their decline. Meanwhile despite small pinprick successes few terrorist plots have succeeded, let alone killed a lot of Americans, on mainland America since 9/11 and thus technically she is winning the “war on terror.”

However, in two areas American goals have failed. Despite decades of efforts America has never solved the “Israeli-Palestine” conflict which remains a constant source of bitterness, and anger, in the region. Additionally, George Bush Junior’s plan to create a vibrant and stable democracy in Iraq, which would hopefully lead to more Liberalism, and freedom in the region, has also unravelled as seen by the chaos in Iraq, and the dashed hopes of the “Arab Spring.”

Russia gets some points for besting American interests in Syria, bullying Turkey, and her eventual conquest of Chechnya, but realistically these victories are more for show and generally hollow. Given how much power the Soviet Union had in the region at her height Russia’s position there today is very limited. Whereas Russia’s client states used to include Egypt, Iraq, Libya and Syria now only Syria remains an ally while the others, along with the vast majority of the nations of the Middle East are in America’s camp. The same goes for resistance groups; the PLO, and other Palestinian and terrorist groups, in the region, and Europe, used to be allied with the Russians but now they are either quashed, contained, switched sides or dominated by countries like Iran and Syria. The major oilfields are in countries allied to America, Russian power in most Arab countries is weak, and the prospect of Russia gaining more influence at America’s expense in the region is unfavourable for the foreseeable future.

What about the Arab States, Iran, and resistance groups? In the case of survival, most regimes have admittedly survived wars stand up wars, and insurgencies, trying to overthrow them (Iraq and Afghanistan being notable exceptions). However, their efforts to conquer other territories, or expand their ideologies, have usually been failures: Saddam never kept any Iranian territory and was pushed out of Kuwait, Libya failed to take Chad, Syria ultimately had to withdrew from Lebanon, and the physical borders of the region have barely changed since the postwar period. Meanwhile Nasser’s Pan-Arabism, the Baathist ideology of Iraq and Iran’s fundamentalist template have not successfully transformed the region. Generally the individual Arab states are American client states whether they like it or not and have little power, or even motivation, to challenge America, or Israel’s, main interests in the region.

Perhaps theocratic Iran has done the best to spread her influence and flout America and Israel. She has considerable support, and even militants, in Lebanon and Iraq, and propped up Syria, Hamas and Hizbollah which give terrible head aches to America and Israel. Meanwhile her quest for nuclear weapons has the potential to make her untouchable and give her more regional influence. Yet Iran’s aging theocrats are becoming more out of touch with the Iranian people, more fissures are developing between moderated and fanatics in the regime, western sanctions are eroding Iran’s economy and as such Iran’s future of presenting a major counter-balance to America is far from certain.

Most resistance groups have either been crushed, contained or lost their legitimacy, yet a few of them like Hamas, Hezbollah, and maybe for awhile ISIS are still significant. Hamas cannot expand much but it still has enough foreign connections, and support of the people, to survive almost indefinitely. Hezbollah is still very strong, controls much of Lebanon and enjoys unlimited support from Syria and Iran. It also has more than 100,000 rockets pointed at Israel and is probably the latter’s biggest threat. ISIS still has shock value and seen as a major enemy but its power will probably continue to degrade considering all Arab states, their masses, and the rest of the world is against it (even most hardcore Islamists and terrorist groups think ISIS has gone too far). The Palestinian movement it should be stressed, is no closer to destroying Israel, let alone gaining any notable territory or concessions, after nearly 70 years of conflict. The Kurds, with the exception of northern Iraq, have also failed in their attempts at statehood, the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt only briefly, and Al-Qaeda’s vision of establishing a caliphate from Morocco to the Gulf is a mirage.

What has been the cost in blood, and refugees, since 1945 in the Middle East? Unfortunately stats regarding war deaths in the region are often unreliable for various reasons. Some of this is due to poor documentation, but also because Arab nations, and resistance groups, do not record their deaths as accurately as westerners and Israelis, partially due to the fact the latter are more casualty sensitive, and partially due to the less organized nature of the former. Meanwhile most belligerents have political, or propaganda, reasons to exaggerate, or downplay casualties. Obviously all sides want to maximize the number of enemy combatants killed, be it Western or Arab soldiers, or resistance personal.

Civilian losses are another matter; obviously Arab states threatened by foreigners and Israel, will exaggerate losses while the latter want to minimize them. Resistance groups will also maximize these no matter who they are fighting. On another level occupiers or armies; Israeli, Americans, Russians, Arabs, etc, will try to exaggerate how many civilians died via resistance, or terror groups, and minimize how many were killed by their own forces.

Then there is the bias of authors who are either too pro-West, Israeli, Arab, Russia, etc, that cherry pick statistics to support their cases. The point being that it is unsurprising that in a region where nothing is certain, and everything is controversial, that there is often no authoritative estimate for casualties. For example estimates of the “Algerian War” put the death toll between 300,000 to 1 million, the “Gulf War” between 10,000 and 100,000, the “Iran-Iraq War” between several hundred thousand and perhaps 1 million, the “Iraq War” from 200,000 to 1 million and the “Soviet-Afghan War” from 500,000 to 2 million. No doubt the maxim regarding the 3 kinds of lies is very relevant for conflict in the Middle East. Thus the author does not pretend all of the statistics he has written are accurate but he has done his best to make educated guesses based on common sense while rejecting the more absurd estimates.

Some of the bloodier wars include the “Iran-Iraq War,” which resulted in at least 400,000 deaths, the “Soviet-Afghan War” which resulted in at least 1 million, the ongoing “Syrian Civil War” which has so far cost 400,000, the French war in Algeria that cost at least 300,000, the “Lebanese Civil War” with 150,000 dead and America’s recent war in Afghanistan which has probably had 100,000 deaths at least. The “Arab-Israeli Wars” by contrast have been relatively tame with most of them costing close to 20,000 dead while the intifadas, Israel’s aerial campaigns, and her smaller wars have all cost less than 5000, most costing under 2000 lives. Russian, and American, aerial campaigns have also not been overly bloody despite the considerable controversy and moral outrage sparked by them, with generally a few thousand deaths.

Other relatively bloody conflicts include the two Russian wars in Chechnya (together costing probably more than 50,000), the “Gulf War,” with its approximately 20,000 deaths, the “Algerian Civil War” with probably at least 100,000, the Kurdish insurgencies in Turkey and Iraq which resulted in at least 100,000-250,000 and the Islamist uprising, mostly the Muslim Brotherhood, in Syria which arguably resulted in 40,000 dead.

After this, at least regarding the examples we have looked at, the death tolls are not so high as they are the result of smaller civil wars, aerial campaigns, or more manageable insurgencies and terrorist campaigns. Most of the aerial campaigns have not killed over a few thousand (soldiers and civilians) and this is also the case with many civil war like those in Oman, or Jordan, as well as most Al-Qaeda (Iraq and Afghanistan being significant exceptions) and Muslim brotherhood insurgencies.

What trends can we deduce from these butcher bills? Perhaps the first is despite the inherent anti-Semitism in the Arab World, along with international opinion being mostly against Israel regarding Middle Eastern issues, is that Israel’s wars, despite their frequency and controversy, has killed a relatively low amount of people killed in the wars in the region for the past 7 decades. Statistics can always be argued over but all of Israel’s wars, aerial adventures, and anti-terrorist campaigns have probably not killed over 150,000 (which is still significant though well short of many wars in the region). Many wars by themselves have killed not only as much, but often several times more (French War in Algeria, the Lebanese, Syrian and Algerian Civil Wars, the war in Iraq, the “Soviet-Afghan War,” and the “Iran-Iraq War).” Furthermore it would be unfair to blame Israel for the outbreak of all of these wars, as well as all the deaths as many of these conflicts were provoked or initiated from the other side (1948, 1967, 1973, 2000) or involved inter-Arab killings which were hardIy Israel’s fault.

Then there is America, who the Ayatollah called the “Greater Satan,” Israel being the “Little Satan.” Five of America’s wars, 4 aerial campaigns and her part in the UN mission in Somalia, did not result in a disproportionate amount of deaths, while the “Gulf War” cost at least 20,000 and her Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan tragically more (probably at least 200-300,000 in Iraq and 100,000 in Afghanistan). However, these wars cannot be compared to France’s dirty war in Algeria, Russia’s near genocidal treatment of Afghanistan and Chechnya, nor the World War 1 style of carnage in the “Iran-Iraq War.” No doubt the wars to liberate Kuwait, and respond to 9/11 by going into Afghanistan, were justified (Saddam invaded Kuwait and Al-Qaeda attacked America unprovoked) but the “Iraq War” was clearly unnecessary, and unjustified. However, even in Iraq and Afghanistan it is arguable that the inhabitants killed more of each other than America killed of them. Few people like blackwater, and corporate armies, but American forces did not have death squads like the Sunni and Shiite militias in Iraq, and were not as blood thirsty and unforgiving as Al-Qaeda in both countries.

Whatever her flaws, and naiveness, America legitimately wanted to created democracy, and freedom, in these countries and wanted to safeguard the rights of marginalized groups (be it Sunni, Shiite and Kurds) whereas most of their enemies would rather have had sectarian, authoritative and Islamic fanatical regimes. However, as the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions,” and American wars in the Middle East since 2001, while not damaging American long term goals overall, has certainly killed too many people, lost most of the Arab and Muslim populations of the region’s confidence, and damaged her reputation both at home and abroad.

We also have the europeans’ part in these wars; France, Britain and Russia. Ironically Britain, the most powerful colonial power in the world, which not only had the most possessions in the region, but also held the most influence there even before the 20th century until the war in 1956, killed the least amount of people in these conflicts than her fellow europeans, America, Israel and certainly Arabs and others since 1945. Britain’s wars in Aden and Egypt were relatively small, and cheap, affairs versus other struggles while her conduct in Palestine against the Jewish insurgents after WW2 was constrained by international opinion and the fact it was politically unacceptable to be harsh against a people of which many of whom had just survived Nazi concentration camps. As such the cost of these wars were relatively small; 2000 killed in Aden, less than 5000 killed in the “Suez Crisis” and a marginal number fighting the Jewish insurgents in Palestine.

France was only involved directly in two of these conflicts, Suez and Algeria, and indirectly in one, Libya’s wars against Chad, but her dirty war in Algeria had a disproportionate effect in blood and politics. While France’s conduct in Algeria was perhaps not as bad as the worst Arab regimes, one thinks of Saddam against the Kurds and Assad against Hama in 1982, it was worse than American, Israeli and British excesses in their wars. The indiscriminate bombing of cities, widespread practice of torture, summary executions, the use of concentration camps, the insubordination of military leaders and factions that not only defied political authority, but actively tried to overthrow it, were commonplace in France’s war in Algeria but thankfully absent, or at least diminished, in other democratic countries’ conflicts in the region. France, unsurprisingly with these means, crushed the rebellion in Algeria, though not the rebel forces across the border, and certainly did not win the political battle for world opinion, in Algeria and ultimately even among the French people. Not only did France lose her legitimacy to stay in Algeria, but French military leaders in Algeria rebelled against the politicians and even threatened to overthrow the French government leading Charles De Gaulle no choice but to abandon Algeria to prevent a potential civil war in France!

Meanwhile Russia, which has generally escaped the visceral criticism aimed at foreign nations who have waged war in the Middle East, has probably killed more Arabs and Muslims then Britain, France, America and Israel combined. In the “Soviet-Afghan war” alone at least 1 million, some say 2 million, were killed. Russian conduct here was just as bad as the French in Algeria and mass indiscriminate bombing, torture, reprisals and atrocities against civilians were widespread and uncompromising. The same goes for Chechnya in two wars where Grozny was more or less carpet bombed twice and perhaps 50,000 Chechens (in a population barely over a million) were killed. None of this saved the Soviet Client in Kabul or brought prosperity, and democracy, to Chechnya.

Finally, we come to the Arabs, Palestinians, Iranians and other indigenous factions (stage or substate). These states, or groups, are often cast as the victims of imperialist, American and Israeli designs (which unfortunately has too often been true) while their own self serving actions and crimes have usually been dismissed in popular media. While much of the “Arab-Israeli Wars” and Israel’s conflicts, can be blamed on Israel much can also be blamed on the Arabs and Palestinians. Obviously in the case of the colonial, and Russia’s, wars, the Arabs and indigenous people are innocent, but in the case of America’s interventions the record is mixed again. American interventions in Kosovo, Libya, and Somalia were humanitarian missions, Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda were unequivocally the aggressors regarding the “Gulf War” and 9/11, yet the “Iraq War” was unprovoked and a mistake, while her bombing campaigns against Iraq in the 90s, and the current one in Syria, are controversial regarding motives and potential results. Yet the majority of the conflicts in the region have been inter-Arab, and Muslim, conflicts where foreign, and Israeli, influence is a secondary factor or non-existent.

How does this relate to bloodletting in the region. As stated above it is unfair to blame all deaths in Israeli, American and foreign wars on the the former and say the indigenous forces deserve no blame but it is also obvious that the latter cannot be totally held accountable for the same in their conflicts (which maddeningly enough overlaps with the formers’ wars too often). However, a share in the Arab-Israeli wars, the fact many foreign wars were provoked by Arab states or terror groups, realizing that most civil wars in the region are domestic, and not foreign problems, and remembering that most terrorist elements are also in this category, means that Arabs and Muslims have too many conflicts and problems where they cannot outsource blame.

Let us assume half blame for the “Arab-Israeli Wars” on the Arab side (the Arab states were not provoked by Israel in 1948, certainly provoked Israel in 1967, and bare some partial blame for other conflicts). Meanwhile let us blame half of the conflicts over Lebanon, West Bank and Gaza on them as well since Israel has either withdrawn from these territories at some point to try peace or has been occasionally attacked from them as well. Surely Israel’s policies, and occupations, have not been stellar but Hezbollah could have made peace after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Hamas could have tried peace overtures after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and the Palestinian authority could have tried harder for peace in the 1990s instead of allowing militant groups to keep attacking Israel. This gives us 60,000 or more deaths for the Arabs here alone.

What about pure indigenous wars and conflicts? The “Iran-Iraq War,” civil wars in Algeria, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Yemen, Oman and Afghanistan, Kurdish, Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and other insurgencies and terrorist campaigns are too numerous to count. It is easy to blame war, and oppression, on foreign and Israeli machinations but in the rest of the globe former colonies and oppressed nations have become more democratic and liberal (like in East Asia) rather than succumb to the vicious cycle of warfare in the Middle East.

So what are the death tolls of these indigenous wars and conflicts? Regarding the more bloody contests there was probably at least 400,000 deaths for the “Iran-Iraq War,” 400,000 in Syria’s Civil War so far, 150,000 in the “Lebanese Civil War,” 100,000 in Algeria’s last civil war, at arguably 250,000 killed between Kurds fighting the Turks and Iraqis, while the North Civil War in Yemen cost at least 100,000. This produces an astounded 1,400,000 deaths in these conflicts at least considering many of these estimates are on the lower side put forth by various sources. Of course while these are the worst cases there are far more indigenous conflicts such as the “Egyptian-Libyan War,” Libya’s multiple wars against Chad, the brief war between Jordan and Syria, the “Jordanian Civil War,” multiple civil wars in Afghanistan and Yemen, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist campaigns across the region. If we added the deaths from these conflicts as well the death toll would be notably higher.

Yet at 1,400,000 deaths the number is staggering enough. It is nearly ten times the amount of those estimated killed in Israel’s wars and conflicts, more than two or three times the amount of those killed in American-led wars in the region, one million more than the French killed in her few conflicts, and perhaps 100 times as many killed by Britain’s fading colonial wars. Only Russia with at least 1 million killed in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands killed in Chechnya, is close to matching how many people were killed by Arabs, and Muslims, in the Middle East since 1945.

What do these death tolls suggest? Firstly, Arab and Muslim groups, and nations, have killed more people, especially each other, than either America, Israel, Britain or France and even Russia. This should be qualified again because this not only includes the perhaps 1,400,000 killed in inter-Arab, Muslim conflict but a huge percentage in other wars that involve foreign states and Israel. Shiites and Sunnis arguably killed more of each other in Iraq than America during the war in 2003-11, Algerians may have killed more of each other in the “Algerian War” than the French (especially if we consider the fate of France’s Harkis Algerian allies at the end of the conflict), while Arabs, especially the Jordanians and Syrians, killed thousands of Palestinians, and the Palestinian groups themselves have killed thousands of each other rather than firmly unite against Israel.

All of this quashes the idea the the Arab nations and Muslim groups in the region are purely victims of outside, or Israeli influence and war, or that they themselves are inherently peaceful and just want to be left alone. It also questions the idea that their main enemies are America, and Israel, for according to the number of wars they have fought amongst themselves, as well as the lopsided death tolls, the main enemy of Arab and Muslim factions in the Middle East seem to be themselves.

The death tolls also tell us that Israel, despite being the most criticized country in, and outside, the region for conflict in the Middle East, has actually killed the least amount of people (with the exception of Britain). All other foreigner nations, and especially the Arabs, have killed exceedingly more people and Muslims than Israel. American wars in the region would not be prohibitively bloody were in not for the “Iraq War” (which has killed much more than half of all those killed in her wars in the region) but even here the Arabs have probably killed more or each other than America. France had her one very bloody war in Algeria with 300,000 dead and the much less costly joint “Suez Crisis” with Britain, but despite the terrible conduct of French forces in Algeria France’s reputation, and influence, in the region is relatively healthy. Britain gets perhaps less censure in the region than Israel, and America, yet her colonial past, and recent support of American ventures in the region has not done her many favours either. Yet Israel, Britain, France and America have all killed less Arabs, and Muslims, than the Russia has. However, Russia is not nearly as criticized, censured or demonized as much as any of the former, especially Israel and America.

Besides death tolls there has been many refugee crises in the region since 1945. Unsurprisingly the most commonly known is the “Palestinian refugee crisis.” During the “First Arab-Israeli War” perhaps 700,000 Palestinians were kicked out, or fled, from territory which became Israel and went to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or other Arab countries. This was made worse in 1967 when Israel defeated Egypt and Jordan, conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and a further 300,000 Palestinians fled again, mostly to Jordan or other Arab countries. Few of these Palestinians were allowed to return and today there is probably 5 million Palestinian refugees if we include descendants of the original refugees from 1948. Today most of these live in poverty in overcrowded refugee camps in neighbouring Arab countries who have rarely tried to integrate them into their societies. Meanwhile countless Palestinians live in terrible conditions in the Israeli de facto occupied West Bank, or under Hamas in the tiny Gaza Strip that is under Israeli blockade and enjoys a poor standing of living.

The Palestinians also had poor luck when the PLO was driven from Jordan after the massacre of “Black September” and then later from Lebanon after Israel’s invasion in 1982. Even little Kuwait was ruthless when after the “Gulf War” she expelled 200,000 Palestinians from the Kingdom, partially out of revenge for the PLO supporting Saddam Hussein. Omar Gaddafi also expelled thousands of Palestinians from Libya in the mid-1990s in reaction to the Oslo Accords.

While everyone knows of the poor, hapless Palestinian refugees few today remember the at least 800,000 Jews who were expelled from Arab countries after the 1948 conflict. This number was higher than the 700,000 Palestinians who were expelled from Israel during this conflict but ironically it actually benefited Israel since she integrated these refugees successfully to make the country stronger. This is in stark contrast to the marginalized Palestinian refugees in Arab countries who are generally poor, enjoy few rights and are cramped into refugee camps even after nearly seven decades.

Another little known refugee crisis involved the European settler community in Algeria in the 1960s; the so called “Pied Noires” who not only had enjoyed more rights, and privileges, than the majority Arab population but generally maltreated and dismissed the latter as well. After the French withdrew from Algeria in lieu of her failed colonial war most of the Pied Noires, perhaps 800,000, fled to France in 1962 with most of the remainder fleeing in later years.

Several million Kurds have become refugees in Europe, and middle eastern countries, thanks to several wars waged by Iraq and Turkey versus Kurdish movements. There are also several hundred thousands of Chechen refugees and while this may seem low compared to other cases it should be noted that this is proportionally devastating considering Chechnya’s population is not much over 1 million today.

For decades Afghanistan had the worst refugee crisis in the world, with up to 6 million during the “Soviet-Afghan War.” After the fall of the Taliban the majority of these returned home but with rising violence in the new American war in Afghanistan there are now probably at least 3 million Afghan refugees.

Israel’s wars in Lebanon have produced many refugees, though most of them are temporary refugees who return home considering most of Israel’s actions were aerial campaigns, or in one case a limited raid. However, many Lebanese would find little solace in this as they have had to flee their homes no less than five times as seen by Israel’s Litani raid in 1978, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the aerial campaigns against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1993 and 1996 and the 34 day “Second Lebanon War” in 2006. As for figures the Litani operation resulted in at least 100,000 refugees, arguably 300,000 in 1993, a similar number or more in 1996, while it has been suggested perhaps 1 million Lebanese, and even several hundred thousands Israelis, were temporarily displaced by the “Second Lebanon War.” Of course this does not even cover the refugees made by Lebanon’s Civil War or Syria’s subsequent involvement in it. Either way, like Chechnya, the numbers are disproportionate as Lebanon’s population was only 4 million in 2006.

America’s war in Iraq caused millions of refugees. While some of this can be blamed on Sunni-Shiite animosity, Al-Qaeda provocations and excesses, as well as Syrian, Iranian, and even Saudi, support for insurgent, and terrorist groups, in Iraq, America must shoulder much of the blame considering many of her war policies were naive and flawed, and none of this would have happened had she not invaded Iraq. As such perhaps 4 million Iraqis became refugees in their own country, or other ones, during the conflict from 2003-2011. Many hoped that after General Petraeus’s successful counterinsurgency strategy in 2007, and the relative peace and cooperation between Sunnis and Shiites in the next few years, would solve the conflict and help the refugee crisis. However, after the American army withdrew the Shiite dominating government in Iraq succumbed to old habits, oppressed the Sunnis, and thus helped create ISIS, further war and more refugees. Several scholars have suggested that Iraq, by being the Arab country that has the proper mix of sufficient people, oil and water should be leading the Arab World but history has not been kind to her.

Finally, we have the current “Syrian Civil War” which has produced a refugee crisis that has surpassed even Afghanistan at her worst. There are perhaps 10 million Syrian refugees, either internally displaced or currently living in Arab countries, Europe and elsewhere, and this represents close to 50% of Syria’s prewar population! This war cannot be blamed on American machinations, or Israeli aggression. Syria is one of the few Arab states in the region that is not an American client and Israel has generally left Syria alone since 1973 despite the fact the latter has supported every resistance, and terrorist, group against her and arguably sabotaged peace between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and the Palestinians. Henry Kissinger once said “you can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria.”

Rather President Assad of Syria, and his Alawite, Christian and other minority allies in Syria brought the conflict on themselves by marginalizing the larger Sunni population of Syria, by being even more autocratic, backwards and repressive than most Arab states, and by playing with fire by supporting Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and other fanatical Islamic groups, against American forces and the Iraqis. For these hard core Islamic groups could hardly be considered bedfellows for Assad’s secular regime in Syria which has routinely imprisoned and repressed Islamic groups.

Unsurprisingly these militant factions, especially ISIS, found it easy to piggyback on the legitimate demands made by Syrian protesters in lieu of the “Arab Spring” and eventually found a key role in the resistance after Assad’s predictable crackdown. Either way great power rivalry, along with regional powers interest in the country, the fact that Europe, the UN, and other entities do not want to address the conflict head on, means this conflict will probably drag on for years without end or a satisfactory conclusion.

What can we make of these refugee statistics? Jews in the region were effected just as badly as the Palestinians in 1948-49 at first and there is little recognition of this or the fact that the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries even happened in much of the world. However, the Palestinians have been poorly treated by not only the Israelis who hurt them in 1948, 1967 and even 1982, but by their supposed Arab friends as well who expelled them in 1970 from Jordan, Kuwait after 1991, and even from Libya after the Oslo accords. We should also remember that Israel successfully helped, and integrated, the Jewish refugees after 1948, although admittedly were not so kind to Palestinians under their occupation, whereas the Arab states in all cases kept the Palestinians poor, disenfranchised, and usually in refugee camps to use as political pawns in their real, or fictitious, battles between Israel, America and amongst themselves.

We should also note that the fate of the Pied Noires in Algeria, the Kurds against Turkey and Iraq, and the Chechen refugees have generally been ignored and forgotten versus other conflicts and people. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the “Algerian War” was along time ago and its consequences were limited, that the Kurds did not have the media savvy of the Palestinians or were not as important to major states as Turkey, or sometimes Iraq, or that no one really cared about Russia crushing a former republic that no one knew about. Maybe it was because none of these conflicts involved Israel or America, the usual suspects of blame, or maybe the conflicts themselves had less geopolitical relevance than others in the region, who knows.

Sadly even the aerial campaigns Israel unleashed against Lebanon, which generally resulted in temporary, versus permanent, refugees and killed a fraction of people versus other refugee crises, are by contrast well known, often broached and vehemently condemned (with some justification).

Finally, the numerous conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan have by far produced the worst refugee crises, at least by numbers. In Iraq and Afghanistan much of this can be blamed on Russians and Americans, although it should be noted that both Iraq and Afghanistan had plenty of issues regarding refugees before American interventions in 2001 and 2003. As for Syria the refugee issue is all but the Assad’s regime fault.

By now it should be obvious that nothing in the Middle East, especially war and terrorism, is simple. Americans, and Israelis, are not simple victims of terrorism who have never provoked conflict. Arab States, and Muslim groups, are not innocent actors who have never started wars against others. Russia is not a neutral state with no blood on her hands, and France and Britain had their colonial wars but have been mostly absent from conflict in the region for the past few decades. All of these entities have started wars and conflicts, backed shady groups, killed civilians, produced refugees, and subverted democratic, and liberal movements, to further their own selfish national, or substate, goals. No factions in the Middle East, foreign or domestic, are innocent.

Having said that there are unequivocal trends in the region, which are often forgotten and ignored, as well as countless myths that are perpetrated which do more harm than good. For one thing Arab, and Muslim groups, have killed more of each other than have been killed by Israelis and foreigners. They have also caused more refugees than the latter as well. Whatever wrongs Israel, and foreign countries, have done to Arabs and Muslims, and there are many, there are clearly many problems the Arab and Muslim groups in the region have to address among themselves.

Regarding conventional wars foreign, and Israeli, arms have always triumphed against Arab and Muslim ones (though Jordan fought Israel to a stalemate in 1948 and Egypt had notable victories in 1973). Meanwhile aerial campaigns have produced mixed results; most military goals failing, but sometimes producing political goals in spite of this (aerial power has been more successful when backed by guerrillas or soldiers on the ground). Either way the allure of airpower to policymakers in Israel, and the West, is an illusionary one; it cannot occupy territory, effectively stop rocket attacks, coerce enemies to change policies, let alone defeat armies and insurgents, on its own.

On the other side despite Israeli shortsightedness in policy, American naiveness, and the decadence and incompetence of Arab regimes, the vast majority of insurgent, and terrorist, movements in the region fail, usually decisively (the colonial wars being notable exceptions). Against Chechen rebel victory in the mid-1990s, the collapse of the Soviet client state in Afghanistan during the same period, the PLO’s temporary victory via the OSLO accords, and the Chadian resistance groups against Libya there are dozens, arguably more than a hundred, of examples of failures like all Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda campaigns, most Palestinian and Kurdish efforts, Shiite and Sunni militias in Iraq, ISIS, etc.

However, between outright victories and defeats there are too many instances in the region when the result is not clear cut, or the defeated party can claim victory (or avoiding defeat) due to propaganda or merely surviving. In the case of insurgencies this is less the case because most of them have been brutally suppressed but when we remember that most wars in the region have not led to the overthrow of countries and regimes this makes more sense. None of the “Arab-Israeli Wars” toppled another regime, no aerial campaign broke the enemy side, and American, and foreign, won battles have not resulted in their political goals being realized as much as they would like. As such Nasser, King Hussein and Assad survived Israel’s wars, Hamas, Hezbollah and Saddam survived bombing campaigns, and Arab insurgents have often survived the worst Britain, France, and America, and sometimes Russia, have thrown against them because political, or other circumstances, have intervened.

Finally, we can look at long term goals of the participants, which should be a good gauge considering most wars in the region are limited, and due to the fact that so many of the conflicts are continuations of previous ones. The colonial powers (Britain and France) lost their struggle to dominate their colonies and control the fate of the Middle East without question. Russia failed to uphold her proxy in Afghanistan, ultimately succeeded in reconquering Chechnya, and has hurt America in Syria, yet has never regained the power, and influence, in the region she used to enjoy (having many powers and resistance groups threatening Israel, America and western powers) and if Syria collapsed Russian influence in the region would be marginal. Russia only has Syria as a client state in the region while America has dozens.

While America has been hurt, economically and diplomatically, in the region her long term goals have held: Most Arab states are her clients, Israel is safe, the access to oil fields are open to her, and her friends, and terrorism against America is extremely limited. Israel, who has won most battles, not so many wars, and frankly sucks at winning international opinion, has generally secured her goals as well: Survival, peace or relative peace, few casualties or disruption to her society, etc. Israel has secured herself against conventional threats from her neighbours, and neutralized threats against resistance groups from Gaza and the West Bank. However, Israel still faces a potential long term nuclear threat from Iran, and a direct threat from Hezbollah, who has at least 100,000 rockets in Lebanon. Thus Israel is either the most secure she has ever been, or approaching the most turbulent time in her history.

As for Arab States, Iran, or irregular groups the future is uncertain. Despite the naiveness that outsiders regarded the “Arab Spring” the despots, princes and other leaders in Arab regimes and Iran have held onto power. Resistance groups like ISIS, who are at war with everyone, and other ones that have alienated too many Arabs or enjoy little foreign backing, will probably be crushed or marginalized. Others like Hamas and Hezbollah, who enjoy local, and foreign, backing will probably be around for a long time. Even militia groups like the Sunni, and Shiite, ones in Iraq will not go away so long as Iraq remains a fractured, corrupt, and sectarian divided state. Iran has done a very good job at staying out of wars, while fomenting wars and terrorism abroad, and it is unlikely American, and Israeli, pressure or sanctions will stop her from eventually acquiring nuclear weapons. However, it is anyone’s guess if the theocratic regime in Tehran can remain in power indefinitely given the growing split between those who support the Mullahs and those who want reform and democracy.

Finally, the Arab regimes are often terrible at war, and cannot seem to reform or really build a future for their peoples, but they are remarkably good at staying in power. Tools such as controlling the media, fomenting violence against external threats, blaming every issues on America, Israel or the West, and suggesting that real democracy will only bring violent Islamic zealots to power are but a few of those utilized by Arab regimes to prolong their rotten rule. Besides which America, the West, and often Israel, generally back most of these regimes, openly or tactically, reluctantly or enthusiastically, for a variety of reasons; some of them pragmatic, some naive, and even some that do not make the slightest sense.

One thing is certain. As long as the Middle East is full of backwards nations, fanatical terrorist groups and oil, and as long as America, the West, and Israel care more about their short term interests than helping the Arabs and Muslims help themselves reform politically, culturally and economically, there will be no shortage of conflicts. While it is hard to see the next seventy years being as bloody as the previous seventy it is not impossible.

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Wikipedia.

Could Germany have Won “World War 1?”

Like much historiography of “World War 2” it is generally assumed that Germany could not have won “World War 1.” Given the considerable advantages her enemies had in manpower, industry, resources, finance, and naval power, as well as her obvious crushing defeat in 1918, it can be hard to fathom how she could have triumphed. However, Germany arguably could have pulled off a victory at key moments, or at least accomplished a negotiated peace to her advantage under certain circumstances. Certainly Germany’s impressive battlefield victories, her overrunning of countries and territory during the war, that she knocked Russia out of the conflict, as well as inflicting disproportionate casualties on her enemies, suggests this is not unreasonable. German prospects of victory may not have been likely but were better than is usually supposed.

What is sometimes forgotten, or downplayed, in histories of the war, is that while Germany may have been inferior against her enemies overall she was considerably superior to her enemies individually. Her army in 1914 was by far the best trained, equipped, and led in Europe while her navy was second only to the Royal Navy. Her economy, and industry, were superior to Russia and France combined, and although Britain titled the advantage towards the Entente it took years for the British Army to build itself up and become strong, or her war industries to be developed. In a one on one conflict Germany would have beaten France or Russia while a war with Britain would have been a standoff given the power of the Royal Navy. However, Germany would have also probably won a war against both France and Russia since during the war she brought the former’s army to mutiny in 1917 and the latter to Revolution during the same year even though Britain, and eventually America, were on their side.

Additionally, for the first half of the war the Germans had a considerable edge in weaponry (especially heavy artillery and machine guns) and the French did not catch up until 1916, the British in 1917, while the Russians never did. This combined with superior German military skill and leadership for most of the war, and the fact that the Germans, and their allies, had the advantages of interior lines and the central position gave Germany some opportunities to challenge the material advantages the Entente had as a whole. Essentially this meant Germany using these advantages to win battles, and campaigns, to knock Entente countries out of the war, or at least convincing some of them to agree to a separate peace with Germany and thus give the latter a better chance to fight on better terms. Thus Germany tried to defeat France outright in 1914, defeat or bring Russia to terms in 1915, bleed the French Army white at Verdun, starve the British into submission with her submarines in 1917, and bring the French and British to terms in 1918. It is debatable how likely any of these aims were but they were not impossible, and in some cases the Germans could probably have had more success if they had adopted other strategies, or made different decisions, at certain points in the war.

Perhaps Germany’s best chance of winning the war was in 1914 at the outbreak of hostilities. Germany faced a war against Russia and France and whereas the former may have been militarily weaker than France she was also vast and it was doubtful a quick campaign could knock her out of the war. Therefore Germany attacked France using the infamous “Schlieffen Plan.” The plan involved bypassing the strongly fortified French frontier by sending the majority of the German Army through Belgium and then marching behind Paris to hit the French armies from behind who were expected to mass for an attack to retake Alsace-Lorraine, which the French had lost to the Germans during the “Franco-Prussian War.” There is considerable debate whether or not the “Schlieffen Plan” could have succeeded due to many considerations but the plan itself had been modified from an earlier version, and arguably could have gone better had many of these changes not been made.

In the event the “Schlieffen Plan” as modified in 1914 resulted in disproportionate French casualties and gave Germany a considerable slice of French territory, which captured a big chunk of French industrial capabilities and resources, as well as giving Germany a buffer zone to defend German territory (indeed the war on the Western Front would be fought on French and Belgium soil for the rest of the war). However, it failed to defeat France in 1914 and was therefore a strategic failure. General Moltke the Younger, the German military leader at the beginning of the war, himself told the Kaiser in its aftermath: “Your majesty, we have lost the war.”

Yet with the original plan, or some variations, the “Scheliffen Plan” probably had better prospects of success. In the original one the right wing of the attack was much stronger and had it been so in 1914 it probably could have handled the British Army much better and maybe not have had to turn east of Paris instead of trying to outflank it as originally planned. Also the German forces in Alsace-Lorraine were supposed to not only stay on the defence but even pull back to lure the French further into the trap the German advance through Belgium was facilitating. Instead Moltke bowed to pressure to allow German commanders to attack in that region as well which gave the French (who were still terribly bled in the operations) enough time to double back and protect Paris once they saw the threat from the northern German armies. Additionally, the Germans were originally supposed to have invaded Holland, or at least the Maastricht region, which would have greatly eased the logistical problems of the “Schlieffen Plan.” Had they done so it would have helped the German Army’s advance but on the flip side it would of had to deal with Holland and her army; though it is doubtful the latter would have had the capacity and enough aggressiveness to seriously challenge German plans.

Finally, Moltke’s decision to transfer significant troops from the Western Front during the campaign to the Eastern Front, one due to pressure by the Russians against East Prussia, proved to be a big mistake in hindsight. They were in transition between both fronts when Germany won the decisive “Battle of “Tannenberg,” as well as losing the even more decisive “Battle of the Marne,” which halted the momentum of the “Scheliffen Plan,” pushed the Germans back, and led to trench warfare which brought the end of maneuver warfare on the Western Front until 1918. Had these choices, and modifications, not been made perhaps Germany could have encircled Paris, destroyed the French armies on the frontier, and knocked France out of the war. While this is not necessarily probable given the complicated logistics of the “Schlieffen Plan,” the unanticipated strong resistance of the Belgians, or Britain’s intervention, but its chances of success were better than how the plan unfolded in 1914.

Or what if Germany had not invaded Belgium in 1914, not giving Britain an excuse to intervene and thus making Germany an enemy of the world’s greatest empire, financial power and strongest navy. On one hand without the chance to invade Belgium Germany would lose her best chance to defeat France quickly and a long war would be inevitable. However, superior German industry, finance and military skill (assuming Britain was neutral), along with her allies, would have likely beaten France and Russia. On the other hand it is possible Britain would have found an excuse to intervene on the Entente’s side anyway considering it was usually a British goal in foreign policy to prevent any one country from dominating mainland Europe, and that Germany’s attempts to build a fleet to match the Royal Navy made them Britain’s obvious military rival. However, Britain did not have an alliance with Russia or France in 1914, a war against Germany was not popular amongst the British populace until the unprovoked invasion of Belgium, and governments do not always go to war even when their interests are at stake (certainly Britain and France would have been better off attacking Germany over the Rhineland in 1936, or Czechoslovakia in 1938, when they had a much better chance of success than in 1939).

As such, depending whether or not Britain entered the war if Germany did not invade Belgium anyway, or if she delayed doing so long enough to give Germany a decent military victory, or advantage, against France or Russia, is the main consideration. For example the small, but professional, British Army sent to France in 1914 certainly bloodied the German right wing of the “Schlieffen Plan” and potentially gave France the edge during the “Battle of the Marne” that saved Paris and pushed the Germans back. Likewise British money financed a disproportionate amount of the Entente war effort and her navy blockaded Germany (which was one of the main factors in German defeat). However, much like almost everything else to do with the war conjecture regarding the outcome of Germany not invading Belgium is ultimately guesswork.

After 1914, it was arguably not until 1916 that Germany had a decent chance of winning the war. While Germany admittedly had a very successful year in 1915, decisively beating the Entente’s offensives on the Western Front, overrunning Serbia and thoroughly smashing several Russian armies (inflicting perhaps 2 million casualties on the Russians), she realistically had no chance of knocking one of her major enemies out of the war. Germany did not have the military means, or sufficient experience and doctrine, to beat trench warfare on the Western Front, or enough manpower and logistics to defeat the Tsarist regime in Russia in 1915. Perhaps she could have tried all out unrestricted submarine warfare in an attempt to starve Britain but realistically she did not have the amount of u-boats to do so and it probably would have made America enter the war much earlier than she did.

However, Germany had a decent chance of beating one of her enemies in 1916. In February General Falkenhayn, who had replaced Moltke in late 1914, reasoned he could bleed the French Army white at Verdun with a combination of French pride and superior German artillery. Falkenhayn was correct that he could make the French fight at Verdun, and inflict more casualties, but he was mistaken in thinking he could bleed them out more quickly than the Germans, and their allies, considering the Entente had vastly superior reserves of manpower. While he was also correct that the western powers of the Entente would have to be defeated to win the war the chances of an outright victory on the Western Front in 1916 were very questionable.

But what if the Germans had concentrated against the Russians in 1916, as they did in 1915, instead of attacking Verdun? Given that the combined British-Franco offensive on the Somme that year, as well as an even stronger one in the Spring of 1917 were contained, it is hard to see the Germans suffering a major defeat in the West in 1916 had Verdun not been attacked, had the Germans concentrated on the Eastern Front, and that the French could focus on the offensive on the Somme instead of the defence of Verdun. The Germans suffered nearly the same casualties as the French at Verdun when they were on the offensive, certainly they would have suffered less had they remained on the defensive in the west in 1916 (as indeed German losses were almost inevitably lesser when on the defence). It took until the latter part of 1917 for the western powers on the Entente, principally the British, to gain the necessary experience, doctrine and tactics to seriously contemplate defeating trench warfare, and as such the Germans would have arguably been smarter to focus on Russia in 1916, attempting to knock her out of the war.

For despite Russia’s considerable superiority in manpower, and territory, she was still relatively backwards versus the Germans in industry, military skill and political stability. This latter factor was especially relevant considering the despotic, oppressive, and frankly incompetent nature, of the Tsar’s regime. German victories in 1914-15 had not been sufficient to destroy Russian political will, or her military means to resist, but certainly it exposed the backwardness of the Russian state, the corruption of its leadership, and its military inferiority versus the Germans. In 1917 it led to a revolution in the spring that toppled the Tsar, as well as a later one in the autumn that brought the communists to power (who quickly sued for peace allowing the Germans to mass most of their army on the Western Front).

Had the Germans, and their allies, moved aggressively against Russia in 1916, say overrunning the Baltic States to threaten Petrograd (the Tzar’s capital), moving towards Moscow (the Russian railway hub), or the Ukraine (Russia’s food basket), or some combination of these, it is conceivable the Russian could have been knocked out of the war in late 1916 or early 1917. Given that Russia did have a revolution in early 1917, after which she never recovered her determination to continue the war, it is inconceivable German pressure could not have been decisive in 1916. As an added bonus it would have preempted the “Brusilov Offensive” which was a near death blow to the Austrian Army, as well as either deterring Romania from entering the war (which she did in the latter part of 1916 against Germany) or even perhaps getting her to join the Central Powers. All of these potential gains were of course better than the fallacy of bleeding out the French at Verdun.

What this arguably could have accomplished was give Germany an extra year to fight Britain and France alone (had Russia quit the war in early 1917 instead of actually doing so in early in 1918). An added benefit would be that America would still not be in the war, especially if Germany would have been happy enough by the collapse of Russia not to embark upon the disastrous U-Boat campaign against England which provoked the Americans. Additionally, the French would not have had to endure the slaughter of Verdun, but given that she would have gone all out on the attack on the Somme she probably would have suffered as much at Verdun, and perhaps even more considering she would be on the offence instead of the defence (the defence of course having a major advantage for most of the war). What this means is that had the Germans stood on the defence again in 1917 behind the Hindenburg line (as they did in 1917) the French Army may have conceivable mutinied just as she did after the disastrous “Nivelle Offensive” in early 1917. With Russia out of the war, America neutral, and the French Army mutinying it is not hard to imagine either Britain, or France, agreeing to a separate peace, or perhaps a joint compromise peace with Germany.

Or Germany could have gone on the attack on the Western Front in 1917 and hoped for a decisive victory. Of course this is before she had developed her sophisticated stormtrooper tactics and crushing artillery techniques, and it is hard to see them being better than the western powers at offensive operations on the Western Front had Germany been on the defensive in 1915 and 1916. Then again the German Army learned dangerously quickly, and had they not gained a decisive advantage Germany could have always attack again the next year as she did in 1918. The main point is that America would probably not be in the war and whatever skeptics say it is unlikely the Entente could have won an outright victory without her. Thus attacking Russia in 1916, instead of France, could theoretically have given Germany an extra year to fight the Western Entente, prevented America from joining the war, and either given Germany a negotiated peace to her benefit or perhaps even an outright victory.

As the war actually unfolded it is hard to see what the Germans could have done in 1917 to outright win the war. However, there are perhaps two ideas that would have seemingly give them an advantage. Had they built enough submarines by the beginning of 1917 to have a reasonable chance of sinking enough British shipping to starve out England, or conversely had they not launched the submarine campaign, which brought America into the war, at all. The first one is perhaps unrealistic; it is hard to see the British not knowing if the Germans were constructing so many submarines (given the former’s excellent naval intelligence) and as such simply focused their superior ship building capabilities on smaller, lighter vessels like destroyers, and other ships, adept at taking out submarines instead of larger, and more clumsy, battleships and cruisers. Additionally, the main reason the Germans did so well initially in their submarine campaign was that the British foolishly did not adopt the convoy system to protect their merchant shipping until later in the spring. Perhaps the Germans would have inflicted more losses with more subs, but Britain still had enough escort ships to enact convoys, and protect her shipping, as soon as she realized it was the correct thing to do. Frankly, it has always been unlikely for a predominately land power to decisively defeat a a superior naval power via naval means (besides Sparta managing to do so during the “Peloponnesian War” it is hard to think of another example).

As for the idea of Germany not enacting the unrestricted submarine campaign in 1917 the advantages are plain in hindsight: No American troops to beef up the Entente in 1918, no potential American Army of millions had the war gone into 1919, and no devastating psychological blow to the Germans once they realized they had to face another massive army which they had no chance of beating. The Entente of course benefited from this as British and French forces were outnumbered by the Germans on the Western Front in 1918, and the arriving American forces tilted the numerical balance in the Entente’s favour. Had the war continued into 1919 without American intervention then the Germans would have faced considerably smaller British and French armies than a year ago; their manpower reserves finally thinning out (as Haig and other General’s memoir’s can attest to). Of course the German Army’s manpower was also thinning out and perhaps they could have still cried uncle first given the increasing domestic upheaval in Germany and widespread starvation due to the Royal Navy’s blockade. Either way it seems hard to believe the French Army and Haig’s British forces accomplishing such a decisive military feat as the “Hundred Days Offensive” in 1918 without American manpower to back them up and replace losses. Perhaps Germany could have won in 1918 had the Americans not been in the war, or still lost, but given the mutual exhaustion of both sides, and Germany’s massive territorial gains on the Eastern Front, Germany would have been in a good position to effect a negotiated peace to her advantage had she not gambled on all out attacks to win the war.

Germany’s last chance to win the war was during Ludendorff’s “Spring Offensive” in 1918. After Russia quit the war in early 1918 Germany had a brief window on the Western Front where she significantly outnumbered the British and French forces regarding soldiers. The British had been bloodied, and disappointed, by the battles of “3rd Ypres” and “Cambrai,” the French were recovering from the mutinies the year before and the Germans had refined their stormtrooper tactics, and special artillery techniques, which they hoped would solve the problems of trench warfare, break through the front and win a decisive victory. There remains some question is to what Ludendorff was trying to accomplish by his offensives in 1918. Was he trying to split the British and France armies then defeat them in detail, or overrun Amiens and other vital logistical chokepoints to cripple the British Army in France? Or was he simply attempting to “punch a hole and let the rest follow” as he stated himself to win some victory and see what happened. Certainly the first two strategic options made sense; using Napoleon’s classic use of the Central Position to separate allies, and thus hopefully splitting the French and British armies, and then pushing back the British Army to the English Channel to evacuation or destruction. Likewise overrunning Amiens in the spring would have been a crippling logistical blow to the British armies and could have potentially crippled them.

The last option of blowing open the front and then improvising is less valid and perhaps intellectually lazy. No one denies that a “battle plan never survives contact with the enemy,” or that war requires considerable adaptation but to have no overarching strategic plan to defeat the enemy, or to not deliberately focus on a Clausewitizian centre of gravity like destroying the British Army, overrunning Amiens or even taking Paris was foolish for the Germans. It seems to confirm the military stereotype of the battle-centric German Army that focused too much on winning battles at the expense of planning how to conclude campaigns or reach victory in a long war. Perhaps this could be labelled as the “curse of Cannae” where Generals were so focused on winning tactical, and operational, successes that they ignored more important concepts like logistics, politics, manpower, and even strategy!

Either way, whatever Ludendorff was planning, it is conceivable that given the German Army’s numerical superiority and new battlefield tactics in the spring of 1918 that it had a brief chance of winning the war. When the offensive began on March 21, 1918 it hit the British 5th Army hard, inflicting 38,000 casualties (though the Germans suffered approximately 40,000 of their own), taking almost 20,000 prisoners and breaking quickly through the British defensive lines which were undermanned, under-fortified, and not properly used with the concept of defence in depth. In the subsequent days, weeks and months the Germans made spectacular advances (10s of miles versus the few mile advances the British and French made from 1915-17), inflicting terrible reverses on the British, and later French armies, and bringing the Entente to the edge of despair.

However, they did not split the British and French armies, conquer Amiens or other logistical hubs, take Paris, or frankly conquer any vital ground, or strategic point or objective, to give them a decisive victory. Between March and July the Germans suffered nearly as many casualties as the Entente (which they could afford less due to the arrival of American soldiers) and the casualties were much larger than offensives from 1915-17.

The battles in Artois and Champagne in autumn 1915 resulted in around 390,000 French, German and British casualties overall with a daily average rate close to 4000 casualties. Verdun cost the Germans and French approximately 700,000 casualties in total with a daily average of 2300. The Somme was even bloodier with nearly 1,100,000 British, German and French casualties and a staggering 7800 daily average. In 1917 the losses ebbed and flowed with 300000 British and German casualties at Arras (7500 daily), 350,000 French and German casualties in the misguided “Nivelle Offensive” (14,000 daily), and 500000 British and German casualties at 3rd Ypres (5000 daily).

These were dwarfed by the titanic battles of 1918. The German’s first offensive that year resulted in 500,000 casualties between the various combatants in a matter of 16 days which gave a sickening daily rate of approximately 31,000 casualties. All of Germany’s offensives combined (from March to July) produced perhaps 1,500,000 casualties for a daily rate of 12,000. It is ironic that Ludendorff, although having overseen battles that killed a significantly larger amount of his own soldiers (in a campaign that sought no valid strategic objectives), than Haig’s battles had for his own that Ludendorff is often seen as a great military leader, despite being a lousy strategist and losing the war, while Haig is often seen as an incompetent butcher despite the fact his army was the best on the Western Front by the end of 1918 and won the war.

These casualties were so ruinous that the significant German advantage in manpower on the Western Front in the spring had been eroded by mid-June and ended up falling so much that it was barely over half of the Entente’s by the end of the war.

This is what happened but what if Ludendorff had shown more strategic acumen (he is universally seen as a great tactician but lousy strategist by historians, as well as his own colleagues) and smartly focused on perhaps the one objective his forces had the resources to achieve that spring: Amiens. Amiens was Britain’s most important logistical hub on the Western Front and its fall would have given the British Army a major defeat at worst or resulted in a rout at best. Ludendorff was close to achieving this in late March 1918, and arguably could have done so before significant French reserves arrived to stop him, had he not foolishly launched attacks to the north of the British 5th Army near Arras to widen the German breach to protect its flank. This was a classic example of failing (or it would have been had Amiens been the stated objective) to adhere to another Clausewitzian principle: Maintain the objective by focusing on an important strategic centre, or objective, instead of succumbing to lesser distractions. Ludendorff’s attacks against the 3rd British Army to the north was repulsed brutally, and his momentum towards Amiens eroded, and despite further attacks towards its direction, and getting tantalizingly close, it remained outside the Germany’s grasp.

After this, the odds of breaking through were unpromising given the build up of French reserves, as well as logistical issues, and severe casualties, for the Germans. Germany then launched several successful operations on the Western Front but never came as close to victory in 1918 as near Amiens. Of course it is debatable if the British would have collapsed had Amiens been taken, and given that if either the British or French would have agreed to a peace benefiting the Germans yet in 1918 it was Germany’s last hope.

It is clear that German odds of winning the war were less than satisfactory. Her chances of winning an outright victory were perhaps best had they adopted a better version of the Schlieffen plan in 1914, not invading Belgium at all in 1914, or focusing their attacks against Russia in 1916. If Germany had somehow built much more submarines for her unrestricted submarine campaign in 1917 without the British knowing, along with the latter being foolish enough to have never adopted the convoy system to protect her shipping then perhaps Germany could have won another outright victory here as well but this was much less realistic. Conversely, if Germany had not enacted the unrestricted submarine campaign America would probably not have entered the war, and German could have potentially won a decisive victory on the Western Front in 1918. However, given her sad internal state Germany could have lost just the same while it is just as plausible she could have accomplished a beneficial negotiated peace for herself given her considerable territorial holdings in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Russia. Finally, it is conceivable Germany could have taken Amiens in early 1918, routed the British Army, and gained a negotiated peace with one, or more, of the Entente powers before American soldiers arrived in strength to turn the tide.

However, the odds of a German victory in “World War 1” were still considerably less than 50% overall given the considerable advantages the Entente had in manpower, resources, industry, finance and naval power. Perhaps this does not include military proficiency and morale (which one could argue the Germans probably often had the advantage during the war), or the fact that numbers are not everything, but in total war (a fight to the death) the side with material and numerical advantages will usually win, especially if the conflict is long and they can learn to adapt, innovate and compensate for whatever advantages a smaller, but initially more skilled, opponent has. The ultimate defeat of Hannibal Barca, Napoleon, and Erwin Rommel, who were unmatched in generalship during their conflicts, provide some examples of this. Additionally, Sun Tzu wrote that “there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare” and nothing illustrates this more than German military history from the “Seven Years’ War,” to both World Wars, where Prussian, and later German, superior military proficiency was slowly eroded into irrelevancy.

Yet perhaps this does not give the German Army in “World War 1” its due. Despite its considerable disadvantages it usually excelled: Winning the most impressive battlefield victories, overrunning the most territory (in Europe where the main war was waged at least) and inflicting disproportionate casualties on not only the defence but even usually on the attack.

No battlefield victory by any Entente forces was as spectacular as the Cannae like victory at Tannenberg, the “Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive” which conquered Poland and inflicted 2 million Russian casualties, or the “Battle of “Caporetto” which crushed half the Italian Army in late 1917 in forbidding, mountainous terrain.

Regarding territory, Germany and her allies took most of Belgium, as well as a significant sliver of France, and overran Serbia, Romania and so much of Russia that Lenin had to agree to a harsh peace which gave the Central Powers 1/3rd of Russia’s population (more than 50 million people), at least 1/4 of her heavy industries, the majority of Russia’s iron and coal stores, and a significant amount of her agriculture areas among other things (which by the way was extremely more punitive to Russia than the supposedly “Carthaginian Peace” against German made at Versailles). Against this the few miles on the Somme, near Ypres, around Picardy, Artois and Champagne that the British and French took from 1915-17 appears inconsequential indeed. The Entente’s territorial gains outside of Europe such as the economically dubious German colonies in Africa and the Pacific, the sand of the Sinai, the strategically useless sliver of Palestine and Syria, and the forbidding ground gained in Mesopotamia (aside from the Mosul oilfields gained at the end of the war when its acquisition did not matter anyway) were likewise of much less use to the Entente than Germany’s territory gains were to her and her allies.

As for casualties the German casualty ratio versus Entente forces, as in how many of the enemy she killed, wounded or took prisoner, versus those that were inflicted upon herself, Germany almost always came out on top. Of course it is easy to say that Germany’s superior casualty ratios versus her enemies did not matter given the exceedingly lopsided manpower the latter enjoyed. However, it still shows that Germany usually had superior martial prowess. In 1914 she inflicted more casualties on the French, and especially the Russians, but perhaps lost more casualties against the tiny British professional army (which unfortunately was largely destroyed by the end of the year). Information and sources, regarding casualty ratios on the Eastern Front are not nearly as reliable as the war in the west but the Germans arguably inflicted as many as 3 or 5-1 (perhaps even higher) casualties against Russian forces during the war. On the Western Front the Germans generally inflicted 2-1 casualties against the Entente forces in 1915, and while in 1916 the French narrowed this ratio considerably the Germans still inflicted disproportionate losses on the British at the Somme and inflicted more on the French at Verdun. Even in 1917 when the British Army came into its own and scored notable operational victories at Vimy Ridge and Arras, Messines, and Cambrai, the ultimate exchange rate slightly favoured the Germans (though perhaps this is not that impressive given that the British accomplished this against a German Army used to the defence while her allies France and Russia gave her little help in the field). Only in 1918 did the British match the Germans in inflicted casualties with the French Army slightly behind in this respect.

Besides this, the Germans brought the French Army to mutiny, Russia to revolution and later quitting the war, sank so many British ships she could have potentially collapsed, and prevented all major Entente offensives on the Western Front breaking through, and accomplishing major victories, from 1914-17. Germany may have been at a distinct disadvantage regarding manpower, industry, resources, finance and naval power, and certainly some German war making capabilities (especially regarding strategy, economics, diplomacy and logistics) were less than satisfactory, but her military accomplishments were more impressive than her enemies, and should not be downplayed. It is conceivable that with different decisions, and circumstances, Germany could have won the war. Either way if Germany failed to win “Wold War 1” she arguably came as close as she could have to do so.

Bibliography

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Hart, Peter. The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Keegan, John. The First World War. Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2000.

Philpott, William. War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War. New York: Overlook Press, 2014.

Prior, Robin and Trevor Wilson.  The First World War.  London:  Cassell, 1999.

Sheffield, Gary and John Bourne.  Douglas Haig:  War Diaries and Letters.  London:  Phoenix, 2005.

Sheffield, Gary.  Forgotten Victory.  London:  Headline Book Publishing, 2001.

Strohn, Matthias. World War 1 Companion. Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2013.

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