Towards sustainable security
by Johnny Ryan
[ bookreviews ]
This is the fourth annual International Security Report to be produced by the Oxford Research Group. Its title, Towards sustainable security: alternatives to the war on terror, is misleading, since the book devotes four pages of a total of 119 to proposing strategic alternatives. However, the subtitle - International Security Report - is entirely apt, because the text represents perhaps the finest collection of brief reports on the progress of the "war on terror" that is openly available. Undoubtedly, objective reporting of 12 months of the WOT - from May 2006, when the outlook appeared bleak, to April 2007, when the outlook appeared even more miserable - presents a case for alternatives to the WOT.
The book is made up of individual monthly reports covering the various theatres of the WOT, including the ministries in Washington and London. Rogers describes developments in the security situation and the interplay between the political and geopolitical situations. These reports have been presented in chronological order, with little editing. This results in some repetition, which is useful in that it highlights reoccurring themes and personalities, and enables the reader to reflect on the month as it appeared at the time without the benefit of hindsight.
By recording the monthly situation as it appeared at the time and thereby allowing the reader to progress through the reports month by month, the book illuminates important aspects of these conflicts that would otherwise blend into the forgotten detail. Rogers' insights into happenings on a monthly basis begin to stack up in the book into a rich kernel. The detail has a cumulative effect and highlights the consistently negative trend in the Coalition's fortunes. As Rogers notes in the introduction, the negative trend is perhaps best illustrated by the series of false dawns which were successively touted in advance as the solutions to the Iraqi situation and were then quickly forgotten about as the situation got worse. These include the invasion itself, the killing of Uday and Qusay, the arrest of Saddam Hussein, passing of power from the CPA to the Iraqi Governing Council, and the elections of a new Iraqi government, the death of al-Zarqawi, and the execution of Saddam Hussein. As Rogers notes, these supposed turning points made almost no impact to the level of violence.
Rogers is a serious analyst. His introductory chapter, 'Turning Point', is an excellent strategic overview of the "war on terror" and the campaigns associated with al Qaeda. These nine pages of analysis are worth the book's price alone. According to Rogers, the long-term outlook in the WOT is dominated by two factors: first, Washington's perspective on increasing competition over energy resources and al Qaeda's vision of a multi-generational struggle; and second, the regional influence of Iran. Rogers picks up on the strategic significance of other events such as the intensifying fighting in Afghanistan and the surprising outcome of the war between Hezbollah and the Israeli Defence Force.
The information contained in this book is valuable, but one feels a little cheated that Rogers did not devote far more space to his own insights on "sustainable security". The conclusion, for example, is far too light. Indeed, only the last four pages of the book deal with the theme of sustainable security, which makes one wonder why it features prominently in the title. The monthly reports themselves are expressed objectively to avoid the appearance of bias, yet Rogers leaves the reader in no doubt about his own position on the WOT. For example, he argues that the Western powers made two disastrous mistakes in Afghanistan. First, the Coalition made the mistake of invading after 9-11. Secondly, the Europeans and the United States made the mistake of not committing enough forces to secure Afghanistan following the toppling of the Taliban regime.
The theme that emerges from Rogers' insights is that the hard power solutions have not been effective, while soft power has been. For example, he notes the utility of military commanders who negotiate to improve local situations in Afghanistan, and supports the idea proposed in the Baker Commission's Report that the US should negotiate with Iraq's neighbours.
In short, despite its misleading title, this is a must read for those interested in energy security, the Middle East, US politics, and the progress of the war on terror.