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The 9/11 advice that Tony Blair didn’t take

Before the invasion of Afghanistan, openDemocracy’s security expert briefed the UK government on what could happen. Here’s what he wrote

Paul Rogers author pic
Paul Rogers
10 September 2021, 3.37pm
Military action will be "counterproductive", Rogers warned minsters in 2001.
PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

From the late 1980s until 2010, I organised regular short briefings on international security for successive leaders of the UK Labour Party. They were also circulated among the party’s frontbench speakers on defence, foreign affairs and international development.

These briefings, which included contributions from other academics, were voluntary, pro bono and unofficial, and were able to be critical of existing party policy, being fully deniable if made public.

Shortly after Labour won the 1997 election, David Miliband, who was Tony Blair’s head of policy at No 10, agreed to my continuing them as regular monthly contributions. By 2001, the circulation list had grown to around 30 people: in No 10, the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development (DFID), plus special advisers and one or two individual parliamentarians. I have been told they were shared with staff at DFID and that one director-general of MI5 saw them. I was never in any way an insider, nor sought to be. Usually, I had a contact among the political staff at No 10, and would meet them there occasionally for coordination purposes.

Below is a briefing I produced within a few days of 9/11. My first piece for openDemocracy later in that month was a summary of those arguments. I doubt if Blair himself would have seen it, but at least six people in his team would have (including his private secretary for foreign affairs), as they got their own individually marked printed copies.  

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Monthly Briefing on International Security

September 2001

For Tony Blair

Copies to: Jack Straw

Peter Hain

Baroness Symons

Ben Bradshaw

Baroness Amos

Denis MacShane

Geoff Hoon

Adam Ingram

Lord Bach

Lewis Moonie

Clare Short

Hilary Benn

Responding to the New York and Washington Attacks

An analysis of possible options

Prohibition of CBW under International Criminal Law

The disasters last week provide a reminder of the crucial need to strengthen particular areas of international law.   This extract from a CBW Conventions Bulletin from the Harvard-Sussex Programme provides a background to a neglected aspect of the control of chemical and biological weapons.

Conventionally-Armed Trident

A summary from a recent piece from Disarmament Diplomacy by Commander Robert Green RN (Retired)

Responding to the World Trade Centre and Pentagon Attacks

1. The group responsible for the attacks has engaged in detailed planning over many months and has substantial numbers of supporters with total dedication to its aims.   It does not appear to be strongly hierarchical, has a cellular international network and may be in loose coalition with like-minded groups.

2. It should be assumed to be operating in the context of a long-term strategy, and it should also be assumed to have the near-term capability for further attacks, either using hi-jacking or some other method(s) with equivalent or greater effect.

3. Further actions may be attempted in the near future, but given the devastating effects of the World Trade Centre attacks, the group may consider this counter-productive to its interests, serving mainly to encourage the substantial coalition of states that is ranged against it.

4. The specific aims of the attacks in New York and Washington were to have an immediate and lasting effect on US financial, military and political centres.   The more general aim was to demonstrate some innate vulnerabilities in the world’s most powerful country that is otherwise regarded as unassailable.

5. The group was part of a wider network that draws much of its strength from an endemic anti-US view that is particularly strong in many parts of the Middle East and south-east Asia.   This has been heightened, in part, by what is perceived to be “aggressive containment” of Iraq, by the overt control of the Persian Gulf, and, in particular, by the continual violence in Israel/Palestine and the widely perceived US support for an unusually hard-line Israeli government.

6. A core aspect of the current situation is that the group responsible for the attacks needs a strong US counter-reaction.   Indeed, this should be recognised as one of the prime motivations for the attacks.   The group will have prepared for this and will have dispersed its assets and key personnel. 

7. From its perspective, the most desirable US response would be widespread military action, both immediate and sustained, against training, logistical and other anti-US paramilitary facilities in several countries, together with direct attacks against the Kabul and Baghdad regimes.

8. If the US takes any such action it will be precisely what the group wants – indeed the stronger the action the better, especially if it involves civilian casualties and stretches over a number of months.   In view of the group, such action will have many desired effects. Among these, it will:

  • weaken the wide-ranging pro-US international coalition,
  • weaken the position of the more moderate elements of the Kabul regime,
  • strengthen opposition to the US in countries such as Egypt and Jordan,
  • aid the destabilisation of the Pakistani government, making change of (nuclear-capable) government more feasible, and
  • above all, enable the group to gain more support and recruits.

9. The group should also be expected to respond to such action with further paramilitary attacks in the US or against trans-national US interests or its allies.   It should be anticipated that such a response would be at least as devastating as the recent attacks.

10. It is less likely to stage immediate attacks in the absence of such a major US military response, as these would further isolate it.

11. Thus, vigorous military action by the US, on its own or in coalition, will be counterproductive, whatever the intense and understandable domestic pressures for such action.

12. Given the extent of the devastation and the human suffering, support for the United States among its allies is far-reaching and extends to a remarkable range of states.

13. Given this, the immediate response should be to:

  • develop and extend this coalition,
  • base all actions on the rule of law, and
  • put every effort into bringing the perpetrators to justice.

14. The longer-term response should be to:

  • greatly improve intelligence and cooperation,
  • substantially strengthen international anti-terrorism agreements, and
  • analyse, understand and then seek to reduce the bitter and deep-seated antagonism to the United States in South-West Asia and the Middle East from which these actions and groups have arisen.

15. The group responsible welcomes and seeks military confrontation. It is more fearful of being brought to trial, a process that is likely to weaken it far more than direct military action.

16. In the longer term, a systematic strengthening of multilateral co-operation against political violence is essential and is more possible now than at any time in the past two decades.

17. This, combined with a substantive attempt to address the deep-seated antagonisms in the region, would be the most effective way of countering the further development and actions of such radical paramilitary organisations.

18. However, the Bush administration include key advisors who should be expected to take a hard-line position, recognising few aspects of the foregoing analysis.   At the same time, a hard-line Israeli government is already using the recent events to engage in more forceful action to control the intifada.

19. This is a volatile combination that should be expected to lead to further instability and violence.   It is highly unlikely to bring paramilitary movements under control – indeed it is more likely to lead to their further development and enhancement.

20. It is particularly important for states close to the United States to endeavour to influence the Bush administration away from military action.

Paul Rogers

17 September 2001

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