NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Scholars Consider Factors which Win Military Battles

February 6, 2003

Researchers in Germany and elsewhere have been studying the factors which led to victory on the battlefields in more than 600 historic conflicts. Ralph Rotte of the University of Technology in Aachen, Germany, and Christopher Schmidt, president of the Rhine-Westphalia Institute for Economic Research, in Essen, Germany, have come to some conclusions, at least one of which is surprising. Among their findings:

  • A major determinant of victory is which side has more troops.
  • Other important factors include having superior intelligence and the element of surprise, along with high troop morale and superior leaders.
  • The surprising finding is that these factors count for more in the long run than superior technology.
  • For example, American technology was far superior to the enemy's in Vietnam -- but that was not enough for victory.

It remains to be seen whether technological superiority will emerge as a dominant factor in 21st century conflicts -- where precision-guided munitions, stealth bombers and thermal imaging are available.

Source: Alan B. Krueger (Princeton University), "Economic Scene: Military Manpower and Leadership Are Pluses, But Battles Are Hard to Predict," New York Times, February 6, 2003; based on Ralph Rotte and Christopher Schmidt, "On the Production of Victory: Empirical Determinants of Battlefield Success in Modern War."



Browse more articles on Government Issues