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World Military Guide - Introduction

The Library of Congress Country Studies, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program, must represent the standard by which a comprehensive world wide military guide is judged. The Library of Congress Web site contains the online versions of books previously published (1988-98) in hard copy by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress under the Country Studies / Army Area Handbook Program sponsored by the US Department of the Army. Because the original intent of the series' sponsor was to focus primarily on lesser-known areas of the world or regions in which US forces might be deployed, the series was not all-inclusive [lacking coverage of France and the United Kingdom, for instance].

Most books in the series deal with a particular foreign country, describing and analyzing its political, economic, social, and national security systems and institutions, and examining the interrelationships of those systems and the ways they are shaped by cultural factors. The authors sought to provide a basic understanding of the observed society, striving for a dynamic rather than a static portrayal. Typically each Country study has five chapters, each by separate authors, covering Historical Setting, The Society and Its Environment, The Economy, Government and Politics, and National Security. These studies is an attempt to examine objectively and concisely the dominant historical, social, economic, political, and military aspects of each subject country.

While the Country Studies are an incomparable landmark, they are not unblemished. By now their chief defect is that they are dated. While new studies have been issued on Afghanistan [research completed in 1997 and published after September 11th] and Indonesia [published in 2011], for the most part these studies date to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Most reference content on GlobalSecurity.org is updated every year or two [more frequently as we shift from construction to maintenance], and sometimes every day, as needed with emerging issues. Users of the GlobalSecurity.org website will probably find them a bit long on "sources of conduct" [the first four standard chapters on History, Society, Economy and Government] and possibly a bit skimpy on national security matters. It should go without saying that GlobalSecurity.org provides in depth coverage on the national security front.

On at least two aspects of sources of conduct GlobalSecurity.org provides deeper coverage than found in the Country Studies, and these are both elements that are central to understanding sources of conduct. The first is history, a topic that will surely be better understood by natives of a country than by visiting Americans, which is all the more reason the Americans need to understand history. The country studies tend to give short shrift to the early history of most countries, whereas most countries glory in their early history [some of which might actually have some basis in fact]. The second is corruption, which in many countries is a defining element of domestic politics. This is a topic generally ignored in the Country Studies, but is far too often the key to understanding a country's politics, political stability, and decision-making in defense acquisition.

The Library of Congress Country Profiles offer brief, summarized, reasonably current country information on a country’s historical background, geography, society, economy, transportation and telecommunications, government and politics, and national security. When this series debuted 2005, it was stated that they were being prepared for all countries in the Country Studies series, as well as for a number of additional countries of interest. It was also stated that the Profiles would be updated annually or more frequently as events warrant. In fact the Country Profiles debuted in 1995, and apart from Afghanistan and Yemen which were updated in 2008, none have been updated since mid-2007. The Library of Congress has 101 Country Studies online, which profile rather more than 101 countries since some cover multiple countries [eg, Caribbean Islands]. The Country Profiles ran out of gas at 49 profiles, about half the number of country studies.

The US State Department Background Notes provided information on geographic entities and international organizations and were updated periodically. These rather long factsheets date back to 1990, and contained statistical data and narrative coverage of People And History, Government And Political Conditions, Economy, Defense, Foreign Relations, and US Relations, some rather cursory, and some quite detailed. They seem to have been prepared by each US Embassy, and apart from the standard outline followed no standard editorial form. Some were largely focused on the economy, while at least one was little more than a guide to interesting sites to see while visiting the country. They had the defect of their fact sheet format, and over time developed amnesia, as detailed discussions of early political developments were condensed to make room for the latest trends.

As of May 2012, Background Notes are no longer being updated or produced. They were in the process of being replaced by Fact Sheets that focus on US relations with each country. So now all of the sources of conduct material previously provided by the Background Notes are absent.

It is also important to understand that these State Department publications are intended "to influence, not inform" [the caveat associated with unreliable sources of human intelligence]. That is, they are instruments of American foreign policy. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the Fact Sheet on US relations with Russia, which does little more than sing the praises of the reset.

The CIA World Factbook seems to be picking up some of the slack, and has evolved from providing purely statistical data to providing a few narrative paragraphs. The Factbook continues to evolve, and already provides information on the history, people, government, economy, geography, communications, transportation, military, and transnational issues for 267 world entities. But security related information is extremely sparse, and other information is extremely unreliable. Even though Islam has been something of an item of interest in recent years, the Factbook's coverage of religion betrays only a passing familiarity with the topic, and includes many outright mis-statements.

In the United Kingdom, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] published Country Profiles which resembled the former Background Notes from the US State Department in providing country information. But the FCO seemingly stopped publishing the Country Profiles when it migrated websites in early 2013. The French government publishes Country Files, but these are focused on French relations with each country.

As for books, squeezing the world into one book requires a bit of compression. The result is typically a statistical almanac, which can be useful, but has some limits. These are not the places to go to find insight on the religious proclivities of the locals.

"The World Defence Almanac" [$50.84, 424 pages] is "the most up-to-date study of defence forces in the world. As a reference, it provides a comprehensive review of force structures, organisation and inventories. Divided up by separate countries, each entry gives a wealth of information about that country and its defences, including population and size, information on Government, economy and defence policy, information on the size and structure of the Navy, Army and Air Force and the equipment and resources used by each. Highly illustrated with full colour photographs, this publication also includes articles on key issues and contact information for relevant companies."

"Brahmand World Defence Update" [$259.99, 564 pages] is "a comprehensive coverage of countries around the world giving an insight into the geopolitical importance of each country, its economy, military and defence industries. The book contains defence information of a total of 164 countries along with in-depth analysis of some major countries. The book which is the first edition covers all aspects of modern defence technology, requirements, procurements and programmes and gives useful military data with up-to-date figures and information on defence budgest and equipment holdings. The arms and equipments are presented in tables with the names of countries arranges in an alphabetical order for easy reference. The book also features images of important political persons and defence persons and equipments and detail analyses on: Defence & Security-Internal, External conflicts, threat perspective of the subject country, past wars and present military conflicts, its strategic alliance with other countries and with any major international associations. Defence Capabilities-Military history, structure, total number of Army/Navy/Air Force personnel, latest RFPs/Contracts as well as future procurement plans, modernisation programmes and equipments. Defence Industry-Its defence production, resource & development, past procurements & future procurement plans and procurement agencies/organisations."

The authoritative "Military Balance" [$459.50, 510 pages for 2013, $695.00, 520 pages for 2019] is "the annual assessment of the military capabilities and defence economics of 171 countries world-wide. New features of the 2013 edition included reorganised and expanded analytical essays. New sections on trends in contemporary armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria, as well as trends in defence capability areas, with a focus on equipment, technological or doctrinal developments. There is also an essay on trends in defence economics and procurement, one on European defence industries, and another on anti-access/area denial. A detailed analysis of regional and national defence policy and economic issues for selected states, and updated graphics feature on comparative defence statistics, with focus on defence economics, and major land, sea and air capability concerns."

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Page last modified: 04-09-2019 19:18:17 ZULU