Thursday, March 1, 2012

Numbers, Numbers, Numb

Secretary-General Rasmussen (of whom I am a big fan) said this (according to tweets by NATOSource):
50 nations are part of the ISAF mission – that’s one quarter of the countries of the world, and the biggest coalition in history
Objectively true but also damn near meaningless (for a great book on numbers and IR, see Andreas and Greenhill).  Here is the NATO "placemat" from October 2011 (the most recent is here and the archive is here):

Notice that Austria has 3 troops in theater, Iceland 4, Ireland 7, Luxembourg 11, El Salvador has 24, Malaysia has 46, Montenegro has 39, Urkaine has 23, UAE as 35.  Greece looks better than it once did since it has 153 now but had 15 for much of the conflict.  While maybe one or two of these smaller contingents might be in harm's way and providing some added value, most of these and some of the larger ones are mostly symbolic.  They might be filling some holes in the "Combined Joint Statement of Requirements" or CJSOR, but Rasmussen undercuts his own credibility to emphasize the number 50.  The total number of participants exaggerates what it means to be a participant and what "the biggest coalition in history means" when in the past membership probably meant more than showing up. 

If I had to choose coalitions as big and meaningful, I would take the anti-axis side in WWII over ISAF.  Fewer countries existed then but a greater percentage of the world's population was involved on one side (and the right side).

I should not pooh-pooh ISAF since my book project is on that coalition/alliance effort.  But as I learned in the research, the numbers are just a wee bit deceptive.  For instance, is the Danish 750 much more meaningful than Spanish 1526 in added value? Helmand and few caveats vs. RC-West and heaps of restrictions so assuredly so.  Oh, and the numbers countries report to NATO and the numbers actually there are correlated but not identical.

Oh what a fun book project this has been.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So...what exactly are those 3 Austrian troops doing?