Global security: a vision for change

About the author
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

The United States military surge in Iraq continues to gather pace. As it does so, three problems faced by the new strategy are becoming clear (see "Al-Qaida's fresh horizon", 5 April 2007).

First, US losses have risen significantly in parallel with the new deployments; forty-six military personnel were killed in the first eleven days of April 2007 (one of the worst periods in the entire war) and nearly 300 injured between 21 March and 4 April.

Second, the very large anti-occupation demonstration by supporters of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Najaf on 9 April - the fourth anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime - creates concern that his Shi'a militia will no longer stay on the sidelines but become more actively engaged against US forces. This would both reinforce the US's military predicament and (since al-Sadr's forces control six government ministries and play a key role in Nouri al-Maliki's government) add a complicating political dimension to American plans for Iraq's future.

Third, the level of insurgent violence continues undimmed. Two attacks on the morning of 12 April - a truck-bomb on a Baghdad bridge which killed at least ten people, and a bomb in the cafeteria of the Iraqi parliament which killed at least eight people, including at least one MP, the Sunni Mohammed Hassan Awad - indicate the continuing insecurity. The latter, taking place inside the nominally controlled "green zone" in the centre of Baghdad, is a particularly devastating blow to the US and the Iraqi government.

The surge, then, is already having difficulty meeting its objectives (see Alissa J Rubin & Edward Wong, "Mixed results, but little stability, from Baghdad security push", International Herald Tribune, 10 April 2007). At the same time, there is still a strong drive from the political right and its intellectual allies in Washington to support the new policy, which focuses on the appearance (where it can be found) of early success. A series of detailed articles by the military historian Kimberly Kagan in the Weekly Standard represents this current of thinking.

The most recent of Kimberley Kagan's reports welcomes US advances in Anbar province and, in doing so, views the insurgency as almost entirely due to al-Qaida elements (see "Iraq Report III", Weekly Standard, 5 April 2007). This approach has the useful effect of making the Iraq war the central focus of the war on terror, though some analytical flexibility will be needed if the militia forces of al-Sadr do become more directly active and thus change the nature of the war (see Sami Moubayed "Muqtada raises the stakes in Iraq", Asia Times, 10 April 2007).

Paul Rogers is professor of peace studies at Bradford University, northern England. He has been writing a weekly column on global security on openDemocracy since 26 September 2001

A further complication for the champions of US military progress is that it is difficult for the Pentagon to label al-Sadr's Mahdi army as being a front for Iran. Indeed, the other main Shi'a political grouping, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri) and its militias, is far closer to Tehran - though that detail may not stop the Bush administration implicating Tehran in support for al-Sadr's movement. An expedient simplification of the Iraq war can therefore be formulated: the Sunni insurgents are essentially part of al-Qaida while the Shi'a protagonists are allied to Tehran; hence the Iraq war is all about fighting the terrorists who caused 9/11 and the leading member of the "axis of evil". This may be a travesty of the real situation but it will not be too difficult to sell on Fox News and, indeed, in the pages of the Weekly Standard.

A triple strategy

What is becoming less easy to sell is the huge expansion in the United States defence budget, which is becoming a major issue in Congress. If the ordinary defence budget is combined with the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the resulting figure for United States military spending in the current financial year amounts to well over half a trillion dollars - more than the military spending of all other countries in the world combined (see "The costs of America's long war", 8 March 2007).

Yet this is still far from enough. The Pentagon's head of weapons acquisition, Kenneth J Krieg, was asked recently how the US could handle all the programmes for new weapons alongside plans to increase the strength of the army and marine corps by 92,000 by 2014. His answer was simple: through increased spending. This is indeed what the Bush administration is currently planning, with spending in fiscal-year 2008 pitched at $645 billion. Moreover, this includes substantial spending on a series of projects that together move the United States more fully towards the search for global military dominance.

In addition to this scale of expenditure itself, there are three prominent current examples of this ambition. The first is Africom, the new unified military command for Africa (see "The United States and Africa: eyes on the prize", 15 March 2007).

The second is plans to install missile-defence facilities in east-central Europe, ostensibly aimed (according to US sources) mainly at Iran; a meeting of the Nato-Russia Council in Brussels on 19 April will consider US plans to base a first batch of interceptor missiles in Poland, and an associated radar system in the Czech Republic. The plan is proving increasingly controversial in both countries, and the Russians- notwithstanding US claims - see it as a direct threat and are pondering counter-measures (see Peter Spiegel, "US Steps Up Missile System Push in Eastern Europe", Los Angeles Times, 4 April 2007).

The third piece of evidence for the US's military ambition is a new, longer-term and potentially even more controversial system known as "prompt global strike". This is a plan that that will enable the US to target any place on earth with modified long-range ballistic missiles deployed with conventional warheads. One account of it says: "The Pentagon is seeking the ability to attack targets anywhere in the world within hours, even minutes of a decision to attack, without making any previous force movements" (see Bill Sweetman, "Any time, any place, anywhere: US puts emphasis on Prompt Global Strike Ability", Jane's International Defence Review, April 2007 [subscription only]).

Prompt global strike was listed as a priority in the quadrennial defence review published in February 2006 (see "The world as a battlefield", 9 February 2006). It will initially be based on Trident submarine-launched ballistic missiles. These are currently nuclear-armed but some will have the warheads refitted with conventional explosives or possibly cluster munitions. With their range, speed and accuracy, and with the ability to deploy the submarines in any of the world's oceans, the missiles will give the United States this immediate ability to hit targets everywhere. The first of these systems could be available within three years.

These three elements - Africom, missile defence, and prompt global strike - combine with more troops and many new weapons for the war on terror to form what might best be called the "control paradigm". In a dangerous and uncertain world, the world's only superpower simply must have the means to remain dominant - and dominance requires military force.

The fact that the war on terror is already failing in Iraq and quite possibly Afghanistan; that a war with Iran would be catastrophic; and that al-Qaida continues to develop and thrive, as the bombs in Casablanca and Algiers on 10-11 April 2007 indicate - all this means very little. More generally, the possibility that there might be far greater problems ahead is simply not to be considered.

In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here

The latest report of the Oxford Research Group (co-written by Chris Abbott, Paul Rogers and John Sloboda) is Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World (April 2007)

This report is also available as a book, published by Random House; for details, click here

A different future

As it happens, two new reports from British policy groups present views that sharply contrast with this powerful orthodoxy. The first is the Global Strategic Trends Programme, 2007-2036 from the ministry of defence's main in-house think-tank - the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) at Shrivenham; it focuses to a considerable extent on new weapons and technologies, but it also looks up to thirty years ahead and sees issues such as climate change, the wealth-poverty divide, energy-market instability and urbanisation as important factors that could lead to further conflict. The one limitation on this kind of thinking is that the DCDC naturally draws its remit from defence ministry; it is therefore concerned primarily with ensuring Britain's security through its armed forces, and far less with the wider actions that might be necessary to counter these trends.

Though such an outlook might not be shared by all military personnel, a surprising number do recognise the limitations of military power. The leadership of the present British government is emphatically of a different view; Tony Blair's speech on HMS Albion on 12 January revealed him to be resolutely committed to "hard power" (see "Tony Blair's long war", 18 January 2007). Moreover, the government is determined to put such ideas into practice, leaving a legacy of two immensely expensive new aircraft-carriers to enable Britain to fight wars just about anywhere, backed by a versatile new nuclear-weapons programme to keep the country in the nuclear business for the next half century (see "Britain's 21st-century defence", 15 February 2007).

The second report is the Oxford Research Group (ORG's) Beyond Terror: The Truth About the Real Threats to Our World, published on 11 April. It also focuses on long-term security issues. The ORG defines four interlinked, evolving global problems: climate change; the widening socio-economic divide involving mass marginalisation; conflict over energy resources, especially oil; and the overwhelming tendency of the United States and some of its partners to see such issues as primarily military problems.

The Oxford Research Group argues that there needs to be a shift of thinking towards "sustainable security" in place of the current control paradigm. This would include emphasis on a far more radical approach to preventing catastrophic climate change; a worldwide effort to promote trade reform and other forms of economic cooperation to aid sustainable development in the south; and a determined effort to break the oil addiction, both to curb carbon emissions and to reduce competition and conflict.

The idea of sustainable security embodies a fundamental principle: that the centre of a human-security policy is the security of all people and their needs. But it goes further by analysing future dangers and seeking to ensure that policies are developed which can confront those dangers in their earliest stages. It necessarily involves the kinds of approaches that go way beyond defence forces to embrace such issues as trade, economic development and environmental management.

This might seem a tall order in current conditions, as the war on terror nears its seventh year. Yet what can also be said is that the next five years present a very positive opportunity for new thinking. Issues such as climate change, social inequality and economic marginalisation are rising rapidly up global and national agendas. Furthermore, the "long war" is proving such a hopelessly flawed example of traditional military approaches as to create a far greater chance of intelligent alternatives being taken seriously.

It can happen. But will it? If prophecy can be defined as "suggesting the possible", then the world could do with a few thoughtful prophets just now.