About Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers is professor in the department of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He is openDemocracy's international-security editor, and has been writing a weekly column on global security since 28 September 2001; he also writes a monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group. His books include Why We’re Losing the War on Terror (Polity, 2007), and Losing Control: Global Security in the 21st Century (Pluto Press, 3rd edition, 2010). He is on twitter at: @ProfPRogers

A lecture by Paul Rogers on sustainable security, delivered to the Quaker yearly meeting on 3 August 2011, provides an overview of the analysis that underpins his openDemocracy column. It is available in two parts and can be accessed from here

Articles by Paul Rogers

This week's editor


Adam Ramsay is co-editor of OurKingdom.

The US's dual challenge: Iraq war, Korean crisis

The prospect of US war with Iraq alongside escalating crisis over North Korea make the opening months of 2003 as dangerous as the standoff over Cuba forty years ago. As the weapons inspection process proves more wide-ranging than expected, is there still a chance to avert war?

Climate change and global security

Every year for at least the past two decades, a ‘hole’ in the ozone layer in the stratosphere has formed over the Antarctic during the spring months. The destruction of the ozone layer allows more of the sun’s ultraviolet light to reach the earth’s surface, damaging people, animals and plants. It is caused by a reaction between ozone, a form of molecular oxygen, and man-made chemicals known as CFCs.

The oil reckoning

As America prepares to invade Iraq, our security columnist puts aside all talk of weapons of mass destruction, Israel, democracy, nation building and the United Nations, to focus on a three-letter word: oil.

Shift of focus, not change of plan

The complications of the United Nations (UN) arms inspection process have not deflected the US drive to war on Iraq. But recent indicators suggest a shift towards a more intensive air campaign. If this unfolds without UN authorisation, which way will Britain go?

Iraq: has the prospect of war faded?

Iraq’s presentation of documents to United Nations weapons inspectors, and the US’s muted response, is the current focus of world attention. Yet amid the flurry of diplomacy and propaganda, has the risk of war really diminished? The current military deployments and strategic aims of the US suggest an answer.

Lessons from Mombasa: al-Qaida's long-term strategy

The deadly attacks on Israeli targets in Kenya are part of a rising trend of operations by al-Qaida and its affiliates. Their clear lesson is that the group is thinking for the long term. Does the United States understand its enemy?

National missile defence: the illogic of US globalism

The US ‘war on terror’ and its plans for Iraq have not stalled momentum behind its missile defence programme. The system will require the cooperation of US allies as well as invulnerability to its adversaries. At what point will the search for limitless freedom become self-defeating?

After war, humanitarian disaster?

Even as the weapons inspection process unfolds, the timetable for US war with Iraq by January is on course.

Strategic blowback

The Bush administration is savouring Republican electoral victory, Security Council unity, and a successful military operation in Yemen. More significant than all these is the newly-unified US Strategic Command backed by a globally-ambitious National Security Strategy. There is one problem: the scale of US military objectives will over time ensure the opposite of what is intended.

Is al-Qaida winning?

Piecing together the global picture, our international security correspondent sees little sign that the ‘war on terror’ is drawing to a close. From instability in Afghanistan and al-Qaida’s activities worldwide to Israel’s political crisis, the coming war in Iraq and al-Jazeera’s activities, the future looks stormy.

Illusions of control: the 'dig/bomb race' in a fractured world

The news that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons is a rare glimpse into the deep underground of anti-US states. Since the war in Vietnam, the concealment of military targets by the enemies of the US has provoked an effort to design more effective bombs. But does the ‘dig/bomb’ race only intensify the dangers of asymmetrical warfare?

Amid mixed signals, war plans roll on

The rhetoric from Washington on war with Iraq is, suddenly, milder. Is this designed merely to expedite a new United Nations resolution, or does it signal a genuine shift of plans? The test of judgement is whether preparations for war continue in the region. There is a clear answer.

After Bali, the need to understand

The massacre in Bali was the most terrible in a series of recent incidents that reveal al-Qaida’s continuing activity. From Yemen to Kuwait and Pakistan, is the entanglement of the US in the Islamic world actually serving the group’s long-term strategy? If so, the vital need at this critical moment in the ‘war on terror’ is not more rhetoric, but deeper understanding.

Kaleidoscope, not telescope: Iraq, the Middle East, and the US

The Vienna agreement allowing the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, and the prospect of renewed escalation between Israel and Lebanon involving Hizbullah, complicate the US drive to war. But will the renewed dialogue among various Middle East states prove the most significant restraint on US plans?

Blair's dossier on Iraq: an argument for peace

The British government’s dossier on Saddam Hussein’s military plans demonstrates a paradox. If the threat of Iraq’s weapons programme is so immediate, the search for alternatives to war becomes even more urgent.

War by February

Bearing in mind the balance of interests over weapons of mass destruction and oil, there are three questions advocates of war must answer.

An American century

The fundamental change in America was not 9/11, but the Bush election. The neo-conservatives have a mission to create the new century in the American image.

Afghanistan: the evolving war

A draft United Nations report has confirmed what had been suspected by a number of analysts, that it was proving very difficult to control the al-Qaida network’s movement of funds and that it was successfully gaining access to substantial additional funds, sufficient to finance further attacks. In the months immediately following 11 September 2001, $112 million was blocked. But barely $10 million more has been intercepted over the past eight months.

Al-Qaida and its associated groups have been able to use a wide range of banking systems, increasingly augmented by the use of the halawa informal money-lending networks. They have also made extensive use of gold and gems as means of transferring resources between countries.

As the first anniversary of the attacks approaches, there has been a predictably strong reaction from the Bush administration. According to officials, the war on terror is going well: al-Qaida is crippled and operations in Afghanistan amount to little more than a process of ‘mopping up’.

Hotfoot on this announcement, however, came an attempted hi-jacking of a Ryanair jet in Stockholm. The details remain unclear, especially as to whether the putative hi-jacker was acting alone or was part of a larger group. At the very least there appears to have been an informal connection with other incidents. In any case, if there was no direct connection with al-Qaida, it may well illustrate one problem that is facing the United States and its associates – that there is a more general capacity for anti-US groups and individuals to engage in attacks.

The early focus on Osama bin Laden as the central figure of power, and the view of al-Qaida as a rigorously organised hierarchical group, was always a dangerous simplification, dangerous because it underestimated the particular nature of the problem. A single rigid organisation, even one operating in a number of countries, is relatively vulnerable to counter-action. A much more loose network of groups and even individuals, sharing a common purpose directed against the United States, is a much more difficult phenomenon to counter.

The al-Qaida group and its Taliban associates nevertheless remain the most significant part of this orientation. Amid the conflicting reports on its current status, is it possible to get a reasonably accurate idea of the position of the organisation and of the security position in Afghanistan?

Insecurity in Afghanistan

In the past three weeks, a certain amount of information has entered the public domain that helps us to do this, much of it building on trends that have become apparent over the past three months (see an earlier article). Taken together, they support the view that Afghanistan is deeply unstable and that there is a considerable risk that it will slip back into civil war and wholesale disorder.

This is at a time when more than a million refugees have returned home, and some semblance of civil society is developing, especially in Kabul. It would be tragic if, primarily because of a fundamental lack of international commitment to support for post-conflict peace-building, this progress were lost.

The evidence for developing problems comes from many sources and covers a range of factors. As I wrote in August, it is proving very difficult to create an effective Afghan national army. There are wide-ranging problems of warlordism, and opium production has increased.

There have been a number of incidents of bombings and attempted bombings in Kabul, including a massive car bomb that was intercepted by accident after a minor traffic incident. In recent weeks there have been further bomb attacks, one of them injuring a British soldier serving with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul at the weekend.

This week alone, a bomb exploded outside the old Soviet Embassy, killing one person and injuring three, and two landmines exploded near the Bagram base, killing four and injuring 18.

There remains an enduring power struggle between the president, Hamid Karzai, and the ambitious defence minister, Mohammed Fahim, who maintains what is effectively a private army of several thousand Tajik militia fighters drawn mainly from the Panjshir valley in northeastern Afghanistan. This struggle persists, following the assassination of a cabinet minister and of vice-president Abdul Kazir earlier in the year.

The US military presence

If these factors illustrate the instability at the heart of Afghan politics, what is more worrying for the United States is the increase in tensions involving its own troops in the country, numbering some 10,000. There is, furthermore, a suspicion that only a small proportion of attacks on US forces are being reported.

Here and there, some information seeps out. Two weeks ago, some 2,000 US and coalition troops conducted one of the largest search operations of the war in south-eastern Afghanistan. Operation Mountain Sweep was intended to kill or capture numerous Taliban and al-Qaida guerrilla units operating in a range of villages and towns.

The eight-day operation was a failure. The entire process yielded a van-load of weapons, two caches of documents and ten prisoners, with every indication that the entire operation had been thoroughly compromised. There is a suspicion that guerrilla forces had indeed been present in the area, but had had ample warning of the operation and had moved on to other locations.

Al-Qaida claims that it has penetrated the major coalition operating bases such as Bagram air base north of Kabul, and that it has support in much of the country, but especially in the Pashtun areas. These claims are quietly accepted by senior US military in the country, as is the fact that guerrilla units have active supply lines and ample logistical support, both made easier through operating in parts of Afghanistan where there is deep-seated antagonism to US forces.

One of the major independent strategic analysis groups in the US is the Houston-based Stratfor. Stratfor works for a range of business clients and has a reasonable reputation for its analytical independence. In a recent and very sobering assessment of the situation in Afghanistan, it claimed that US forces on the ground are experiencing far greater security problems than is publicly acknowledged:

"Sources say that there are nightly attacks on U.S. troops, which is confirmed by non-governmental organizations in the country, who add that increased restrictions have been placed on the movements of off-duty U.S. forces. U.S. troops reportedly control only the towns where they have bases, and then only in daylight, while the Karzai government reportedly controls only parts of Kabul" (see Stratfor, 28 August 2002).

Stratfor’s assessment does fit in with other indications. Even the mainstream international press reported at least five significant attacks on US units during July. There have been a number of more recent bombing incidents before this week’s incidents, including one at the communications ministry in Kabul on 15 August and another intercepted 500 metres from the US embassy on 20 August.

One of the US special forces soldiers injured in an earlier attack has since died and there are reports from a number of sources that suggest that the US forces have suffered a significant number of casualties, including many soldiers killed. These reports persist but are denied by the Pentagon.

What is more widely recognised is that there has been an upsurge in popular opposition to the US military presence, exacerbated by the deaths of civilians in air strikes, with this spreading across most of the Pashtun provinces.

All of these aspects do not add up to the resurgence of major guerrilla warfare, at least not yet, but there are indications that the al-Qaida organisation now sees an opportunity to operate once more in Afghanistan, especially in those areas close to the Pakistan border.

A role for Britain? Three options: not two

There have been repeated calls from the UN and from Karzai himself for a substantial increase in support, not least with the aim of extending Isaf to a strength of 30,000, enabling it to operate in many more cities and towns and to aid transport and communications. While the Bush administration has been strongly opposed to this until recently, there is some recognition even in Washington that the situation is deteriorating.

British special forces and commandos were involved fairly substantially in Afghanistan, although the marine commando deployment in the spring resulted in few interceptions in spite of intensive operations. Where Britain has played a genuinely more constructive role has been in its support for Isaf and also in a range of civil-assistance programmes.

One option for Britain would be to substantially increase its commitment to post-conflict security and reconstruction, building on some reasonable efforts already underway. This might include a willingness to contribute up to two-thirds of the 30,000 troops that Isaf really needs, coupled with a substantial increase in aid for health, education, transport and other projects.

A major and sustained commitment to Isaf, it could be argued, would be a far more valuable role for Britain to play than to get involved in the US war against Iraq. Indeed, a large-scale commitment to Afghanistan would mean that the UK would not have the capacity to operate in Iraq as well, as that would over-stretch the limited forces Britain has available.

In facing up to the dilemma over the Bush plan for war against Iraq, the UK actually has three options, not two. The obvious ones are that it could back Washington to the hilt, with all the dangers that this involves, or it could oppose the war forcefully. The latter looks frankly unlikely, however widely that might be supported domestically.

The third approach, the "Afghanistan option", is to stay out of the war with Iraq but develop a greatly increased commitment to supporting a peaceful transition for Afghanistan. It is an approach that Washington refuses to take up, but there is no reason why that has to apply to the UK, especially if it works in coalition with European and regional associates.

Such an approach has two advantages. One is that it could be genuinely valuable in facilitating a transition to a much more peaceful and stable Afghanistan. The other is that it could mean that the UK can still have some influence with Washington without getting involved in a highly dangerous war in the middle east. The hardline nature of the Bush security advisers on this issue suggests that a moderating influence in Washington might not come amiss in the coming months.

Iraq - a timetable for war

Despite mixed signals in Washington, the course for a US assault on Iraq is being set by intensive military preparations in the region. Saudi reluctance is matched by the US’s greater use of Turkey, Qatar and Kuwait as possible launch points. January remains the more probable date, but could it come even sooner?

The coming war over Iraq: prelude, course, aftermath

The United States intends to destroy the regime of Saddam Hussein. Only the timing is in doubt. Why? What kind of war will unfold? How will the Iraqi leadership respond? And what will be the consequences for the region? openDemocracy’s international security correspondent applies his unmatched resources and forensic skills to unravel the logic of the next phase in the ‘war on terrorism’.

Afghanistan: anti-terrorism or nation building?

The US military campaign in Afghanistan against its elusive Taliban and al-Qaida enemies is far from over. Is the US’s pursuit of a decisive military victory coming into conflict with the stable governance that Afghanistan needs?

Directed energy: a new kind of weapon

Some time in 2003, a unique new weapon will be tested by the United States air force in an attempt to destroy a Scud missile. It is a high-energy laser known as the airborne laser (ABL), the first element of an innovative system that could end up arming a series of powerful satellites able to target anywhere on the Earth’s surface with near impunity.

The impact of directed energy weapons over the next quarter of a century could be huge, and some analysts argue that they are as potentially revolutionary as was the development of nuclear weapons sixty years ago.

For now, directed energy weapons are being seen as an answer to ballistic missile defence but, in the longer term, military planners are already viewing them as serving many other functions. The United States has a pronounced lead over all other countries, but its potential success may encourage others to follow suit, setting up a new kind of arms race; it may also lead to opponents developing new ways of retaliating. In the light of the attacks of 11 September 2001, this is not to be discounted.

Israel, the US and the world: a conflict of perceptions

While much of the world views Israel as militarily aggressive, inside the country the sense of encirclement and threat prevails. This conflict of perceptions helps to fuel Israel’s extensive weapons purchase and upgrade projects, reinforcing the country’s intimate defence connections with the United States.

The US in the Middle East: playing into the enemy's hands?

The next phase of US strategy in the Middle East entails nurturing connections with regional elites, support for Israel’s hardline control of the Palestinians, and regime change in Iraq. From Washington, it looks a perfect scenario; but is it equally so for al-Qaida?

From deterrence to pre-emption? The US military after 9/11

The US's combination of global power and domestic vulnerability was exposed by the shock of 9/11. The impact has been to intensify a new drive for control of the international security order, rooted in the immediate post-cold-war era, which was already underway.
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