4 April 2014

Ukraine Crisis: How to Scare People to Death With Bad Maps

April 2, 2014
How not to do maps of military strength
Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

Der Spiegel produced the following map, comparing Russian and eastern NATO states’ military strength. This is a great example of what NOT to do in producing such maps, unless your main goal is to incite worry or spread misinformation.

The map vastly exaggerates Russian troop strength, in three different ways. First, the numbers are just wrong. Russia has at most 750,000 men under arms across all services. This includes cadets, trainees, etc. Second, the numbers include all of Russia’s troops, including those located in the Far East, Central Asia, and other parts of the country quite distant from Europe and Ukraine. Third, nothing is said about the quality of troops and equipment. How many of those tanks and airplanes are actually combat-ready? Certainly a higher percentage than a few years ago, but still far from all. Now, it may be that this point also applies to Central European forces. But it would still be good to compare the numbers that could actually be brought to bear in a conflict, rather than some kind of abstract top-line number that has nothing to do with actual force dispositions or capabilities.

Compare, for example, to the following map, produced by Dmitry Tymchuk almost three weeks ago, when concerns about a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine were quite high.

This map shows the relevant number of forces that can be brought to bear against Ukraine. It doesn’t directly address the combat-readiness question regarding individual equipment, except through the use of the “up to X” language for all equipment and personnel. But at least it is clear regarding the maximum number of troops that could be involved. More could of course be brought in from other military districts in a lengthy conflict, but such a conflict would also allow for the reinforcement of central European states from Western Europe and the United States.

Note that the total troop strength of relevant Russian forces is 80,000. Less than 1/10 of the number cited by Der Spiegel. Aircraft, tanks, and heavy artillery are also at around 10 percent of the der Spiegel numbers. Russia’s conventional military is much stronger than the Ukrainian army, but it is no match for NATO’s forces in Europe

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