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The world as a battlefield

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The last week has witnessed the latest effort of the George W Bush administration to review and rebrand its "war on terror". Two new publications offer the clearest indication yet of the administration's short and long-term responses to its current predicament.

On 3 February, the Pentagon published its Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), the third of a series of reviews mandated by Congress during the Bill Clinton era.

On 6 February, the federal budget for fiscal year 2007 (commencing 1 October 2006) included a further increase in the defence budget to meet the challenge of "the fifth year of this long war".

 

Paul Rogers's new book (published January 2006) is A War Too Far – Iran, Iraq and the New American Century (Pluto Press)

 

 

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The new budget indicates that the Bush administration seeks another substantial annual increase in the Pentagon's spending of almost 7%, which would take it to $439.3 billion. This is about 45% more than the budget that Bush inherited from Clinton in 2001, and closely matches peak figures of the cold-war era in the mid-1980s. The request, moreover, forms part of a wider budget review that concentrates heavily on the war on terror. The other beneficiaries include homeland security and the state department, while the department of veterans' affairs also receives a significant boost – reflecting the large numbers of injured troops returning from Iraq. As these budgets increase, almost every other area of federal spending is reduced – clear evidence of the overarching priority of fighting the war.

The budget contains some notable changes of emphasis. The army reaps a particular reward in order to meet the high costs of the war in Iraq, and to reflect the primary concern to protect the lives of American soldiers. Thus, the budget includes over $500 million dollars to buy 3,100 even more heavily-armoured humvees, designed to survive the roadside bombs that have caused so many casualties in Iraq and now look like having a similar effect in Afghanistan.

The humvee is the workhorse of the US army in Iraq but even the adapted, armoured version cannot withstand some of the shaped-charge devices that the insurgents are able to deploy. To help counter the tactic, the Pentagon wants 100 large, heavily-protected Stryker armoured transports; at around $8 million each, this contingent alone will account for nearly a billion dollars of defence spending.

An issue that has become increasingly dominant within the US army is the isolation of soldiers from their families, caused especially by long periods of service in overseas combat-zones where families cannot accompany them. This has had a serious effect on morale; the extent of the problem is indicated by the commitment in the budget of $5.6 billion "to support a wide variety of programs to address the multiple needs of military families, including child care, family counselling, tuition assistance and family centres" (see Lolita C Baldor, "Bush to Request $439.3b Defense Budget", Associated Press, 2 February 2006).

The new defence budget may involve yet another increase in spending, but this in itself does not include additional resources specifically devoted to the ongoing wars. Such demands are handled mainly through supplementary requests. During 2006, these are expected to total $120 billion; the Bush administration is currently planning an initial request of $50 billion for 2007, rather larger than the entire defence budget for the United Kingdom.

Among Paul Rogers's columns in openDemocracy on the likely timescale of the "war on terror":

"The horizon of war lengthens"
(November 2001)

"A thirty-year war" (April 2003)

"Four more years for al-Qaida"
(November 2004)

"New war, old war" (July 2005)

"Endless war"
(January 2006)

A new model war

If the budget indicates short-term priorities, it is the quadrennial defence review that gives a clearer picture of long-term plans and thinking. The importance of this review is that it is the first that comes with the Bush administration's decisive imprimatur, since its predecessor emerged too soon after 9/11 to be more than an immediate response to that emergency. Now, with the benefit of over four years' experience, Donald Rumsfeld and his cohorts can think proactively ahead.

They are doing so in the context of two core factors.

The first is obvious: the determination of the United States to remain the world leader. This was repeated in Bush's State of the Union address on 31 January, and is very much reflected in the Pentagon's review.

The second is the representation of the new security paradigm as the "long war", a phrase that has crept into Pentagon-speak over the past two years and is now being used as a pithy successor to the "cold war" as encapsulating the US defence outlook (in London on 6 January, the deputy director of US central command, Brigadier-General Mark Kimmitt, delivered a speech outlining the US's reconfigured military strategy in what he also called "the long war".)

The term is hugely convenient in that it simplifies everything into a "them and us" global confrontation, awarding the current adversary the same role that the Soviet Union occupied between 1946 and 1991. The implication is that the United States is again engaged in a major confrontation in which it deserves sustained support, and that it is as unacceptable to be "against" the long war as it once was to be "against" the cold war.

The specifics of this new environment, and how the long war will be fought, are shown clearly in the Pentagon's new QDR. Many of the major existing high-tech programmes survive, but there are four fresh, outstanding features: a marked emphasis on special forces, the development of long-range strike aircraft, increased capability against biological and nuclear weapons, and the ability to act against paramilitary groups anywhere in the world, whether or not that infringes the sovereignty of particular states.

The special operations forces will be increased by around 15% to a total of 52,000; this alone is about half the size of the entire British army. The force of unmanned aerial drones that is being used to gather intelligence will be nearly doubled in size, and there will be a major increase in the ability of the US air force to conduct long-range strike operations. The quadrennial review also includes plans for a $1.5 billion programme to counter attacks using biological weapons, and increased funding for the development of specialist teams to defuse nuclear bombs (see Ann Scott Tyson, "Ability to Wage 'Long War' is Key to Pentagon Plan", Washington Post, 4 February 2006).

 

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

 

 

A collection of Paul Rogers's Oxford Research Group briefings, Iraq and the War on Terror: Twelve Months of Insurgency, 2004-05 is published by IB Tauris
(October 2005)

The next unknown

The fourth "extra" item indicates clearly the current trend of military thinking. A special-operations squadron is to be established using drones to "locate and target enemy capabilities", focusing especially on countries where access is difficult. The fact that the CIA has carried out assassination attacks in Yemen and Pakistan is a strong hint that this is a mainstreaming of an existing trend, which involves its absorption into the activities of the regular armed forces.

An overall picture thus emerges of the need to develop a much greater ability to target presumed adversaries wherever they might be located and whatever the circumstances. If they are seen as a potential threat to the United States, then they are legitimate targets; the entire world is part of one potential battlefield.

Where those "battles" might be fought is unpredictable. A QDR review briefing to the press by Ryan Henry, principal deputy under-secretary of defence for policy, contained a revealing comment: "U.S. forces in all probability will be engaged somewhere in the world in the next decade where they're currently not engaged. But I can tell you with no resolution at all where that might be, when that might be, or how that might be."

This is clearly a global war, and the world as a whole is involved – whether or not it wants to be.


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