only search

This week's editor

NSS, editor

Niki Seth-Smith is a freelance journalist and contributing editor to 50.50.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

The world as a battlefield

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)



If you find Paul Rogers's weekly column on global security enjoyable or provoking, please consider commenting in our forum – and supporting openDemocracy by sending us a donation so that we can continue our work for democratic dialogue

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.

The liberal dilemma: integration or vilification?

The origins of the infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed do not lie in an attempt to offer contemporary comment, let alone satire, but the desire to illustrate a childrens' book. While such pictures would have been distasteful to many Muslims – hence why no illustrator could be found – the cartoons are in an entirely different league of offence. They are all unfriendly to Islam and Muslims and the most notorious implicate the prophet with terrorism. If the message was meant to be that non-Muslims have the right to draw Mohammed, it has come out very differently: that the prophet of Islam was a terrorist.

Why Hamas won

The Palestinian election result is not a surprise if read through the prism of Arab political history and culture, says Jim Lederman.

The electoral victory of the militant Islamist movement Hamas in the elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on 25 January 2006 sent shockwaves through western capitals.

The right to caricature God!and his prophets

Believers in free speech must resist Islamist attempts to enforce theocratic censorship, says Doug Ireland.

A carnival of stupidity

The conflagration over Danish cartoons of Islam's prophet reveals that Europe's balance of freedom, mutuality and coexistence is at a trigger-charge moment, says Neal Ascherson.

Muslims and Europe: a cartoon confrontation

The row over the publication of cartoons of the prophet Mohammed raises profound tensions – between freedom of speech and mutual respect, ethics of satire and sacrality, shared values and coexistence, perceived western arrogance and Muslim victimhood. openDemocracy writers respond to the dispute and seek ways forward.

The SWISH Report (5)


In the early part of 2004 you commissioned us to undertake an independent analysis of the progress of your campaign. We reported back to you on 15 July 2004 and were subsequently asked to complete a further assessment that was presented to you on 13 January 2005. You have now asked us to report further and we are gratified that you find our work of use.

We are particularly pleased that you have sufficient confidence in us, bearing in mind that we have since completed reports on a similar theme for the International Security Policy Group attached to the prime minister's office at 10 Downing Street, London (19 May 2005) and the Strategic Advisory Group at the United States state department in Washington (1 September 2005).

Human rights: can we afford them?

The defence of human-rights principles, procedures and conventions is essential to the security of citizens in democratic states fearful of terrorism, says Geoffrey Bindman.

Hamas and political reform in the middle east

The lesson of Palestine's election is that the international community should become more serious and sophisticated about political reform in the middle east, says David Mepham of the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Hamas's stunning victory in the 25 January elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council raises three critical questions for international policymakers:

The Baluchi battlefront

Is Pakistan's western region of Baluchistan burning? Are its bitterly contested gasfields aflame? Are fuel supplies to Pakistani cities, which rely wholly on the national Sui gas grid, being cut off?

After Hamas: a time for politics

The electoral earthquake in Palestine has produced a new political landscape which Palestinians, Israelis and the international community all now have to face, says Eóin Murray.

On Friday night, 27 January, the taxi I was travelling in through Gaza city turned a corner and drove directly into the head of a march by supporters of the Fatah movement headed by Mahmoud Abbas. They were walking towards the offices of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), supposedly to protest against the Fatah leadership.

A Palestinian choice

As Hamas sweeps to a democratic victory, Yasser Abu Moailek reports on the paradoxes of power in the Palestinian territories, and what the future may hold.

It was smooth, democratic and non-violent. This is how the Islamist resistance movement Hamas rose to power in the Palestinian territories after a decade of unilateral rule by the pragmatic, secular movement Fatah. The landslide win sent shockwaves not only through the Palestinian population, but across the world, as it brought to a sudden end the Palestinian National Liberation Movement's four decades in power.

The next Afghan war

The deployment of more British troops to Afghanistan underlines the seriousness of an escalating conflict.

A provisional Palestine: road to nowhere

A solution for the Palestinians that falls short of full statehood would be the height of political folly, argues Lindsay Talmud.

Palestinians' time of choice

The pressures of occupation and poverty are undiminished, but the Palestine election is an opportunity for activists to promote a vision of change, finds Eóin Murray.

Fatah's awkward 'independents'

The pressures on Palestine's ruling party come from within its own ranks as well as from its Hamas rivals, reports Yasser Abu Moailek.

Al-Qaida, globalisation and Islam: a response to Faisal Devji

A deliberate ambiguity between the spiritual and the political fuels the symbolic power of the elusive Islamist network, says James Howarth, the translator of Osama bin Laden's "messages to the world".

Endless war

In Afghanistan and Iraq, the opening weeks of 2006 highlight the future direction of United States military strategy.

Undefeated despair

John Berger and his family went to organise painting and drawing workshops for children in Ramallah in November 2005. Here are his reflections.

The United States, nuclear weapons, and Iran

The United States and its British ally are planning to modernise their nuclear-weapons arsenal while castigating Iran for its nuclear-power programme.

Ariel Sharon and Israel's unique democracy

The question of who succeeds Ariel Sharon as Israeli prime minister is less important than to understand what the Israeli polity has become - a new form of democratic governance, says Jim Lederman.

Life after Sharon: Palestinian prospects

What does Ariel Sharon’s sudden departure from politics mean for Palestinians? Jane Kinninmont assesses the outlook for the West Bank and Gaza.

Nepal's folly: talking absolutes at high altitude

The breakdown of the Maoist ceasefire has made for a grim start to 2006 in Nepal. But this is only a symptom of a flawed political culture, says Dharma Adhikari, who appeals for a middle way.

As 2006 dawns, Nepal is at a crossroads. A unilateral ceasefire, declared by the Maoist rebels last year, has broken down and the country is torn between unattractive political alternatives.

A change in the weather

What will happen in 2006? The blinkered logic of United States and British policy on security and the environment offers more fear than hope.

Kashmir Diary

After the immediate shock of the earthquake that hit the Kashmir regions of Pakistan and India, killing nearly 75,000, the approach of winter poses a second deadly threat to the survivors. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy sends a diary full of tragedy, despair and heroism from a Cuban medical camp in the mountains.

Bissian (12 km from Balakot), Pakistan.

Monday December 12th 2005

A new struggle for Afghanistan

A Taliban revival, drawing on exchanges of military expertise with Iraqi insurgents, promises to make 2006 a difficult year for the United States and its Nato allies in Afghanistan.

Osama bin Laden's message to the world

Osama bin Laden’s urgent attempt to reconstruct a unified and global Islam from its increasing fragmentation is only one form of a wider global predicament, says Faisal Devji, author of “Landscapes of the Jihad”.

In his address to the American people on 29 October 2004, days before they went to the polls in a bitterly contested presidential election, Osama bin Laden spoke of the profound similarities between the Muslim world and the United States.

Diversity in question

2005 has been a bad year for multiculturalism. Does it need to be reformed or replaced? Reena Bhavnani, Max Farrar, Judith Squires, and Sami Zubaida joined an openDemocracy / Open University panel to discuss living with difference. Sarah Lindon summarises a rich discussion which you can watch by webcast.

Victory in Iraq

The Washington neo-conservatives’ new mantra for counter-insurgency efforts in Iraq - “clear, hold, build” – ignores the facts on the ground.

The day Iraqis have waited for

Amidst violence and insecurity, the vote for a new parliament is the most important event of the year in Iraq, says Zaid Al-Ali.

South Africa and Iraq: the missing example

The successful transition to democracy in South Africa could be an inspiration to Iraqis struggling with their own legacy of violence and dictatorship, says David Mikhail.

Muslims in Britain after 7/7: the problem of the few

The July bombs in London have dominated discussion of British Muslims in 2005. But, says Tahir Abbas, even more important than the social problems of young Muslims is the quality and character of Muslim leadership.

Syria and Lebanon: keeping it in the family

The imperial ambition that drives Syria’s claim to hegemony in Lebanon belies the rhetoric of “sisterhood” employed by Damascus, says Hazem Saghieh.

Iran in Israel's firing-range

The likelihood of an Israeli attack on Iran is increasing.

The CIA archipelago

Europe’s belated shock and outrage at news of America’s transfer of “secret prisoners” may have lasting political effects, says Michael Naumann.
Syndicate content