Measuring Military Might
“Economic Development and Military Effectiveness” by Michael Beckley, in The Journal of Strategic Studies, Feb. 2010.
It’s the million-dollar question of international relations scholarship: Why are some states stronger than others? The prevailing theory says that military power is the direct result of material resources—size of the defense budget, number of soldiers, or stockpiles of materiel. But in empirical studies, material resources are no better than a coin toss at predicting victory in battle. Other theories have sprung up to compensate: Perhaps “nonmaterial” factors such as democratic institutions, Western culture, or good civil-military relations are the keys to military power. Try again, says Columbia University political scientist Michael Beckley: In 381 battles fought since 1900, the single best measure for predicting which side emerged victorious was a country’s income per capita.
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