How The Taliban Took Afghanistan

Paul Rogers

The Taliban's victory in Afghanistan is just the latest failure for liberal interventionism – and demonstrates once again that democracy can’t be built at the point of a missile.

A Taliban fighter stands at the city of Ghazni, Afghanistan on 14 August 2021. Credit: Reuters / Stringer

Interview by
Alex Doherty

At the start of this week, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul as US troops withdrew after almost twenty years of intervention. The situation in the country now looks dire, with shocking images emerging from the city airport as thousands attempt to flee.

On Thursday last week, Paul Rogers—emeritus professor in the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University and openDemocracy‘s international security advisor—spoke to Alex Doherty on Tribune’s Politcs Theory Other podcast about the Taliban’s advance and what was, at that point, the possibility of an imminent take-over of Kabul.

They discussed why the Taliban have been so successful against the more numerous and better-equipped and supported Afghan government forces, what the Taliban’s victory might mean for India, Pakistan, and China, and how history will judge Western military intervention in the country.


We’re talking on Thursday 12 August, which is perhaps worth mentioning given how fast-moving the situation in Afghanistan is. The Taliban have now captured ten provincial capitals and they control most of the countryside; today it was reported that they have captured the city of Ghazni just eighteen miles southwest of the capital, Kabul. In response, the Afghan government has replaced the chief of the army for the third time in little over a year.

Have you been surprised by the speed of the Taliban’s advance that’s followed the announcement of the withdrawal of US forces, due to be completed by the end of this month?


I’ve been rather surprised, but it’s varied. If you look back about a month, there was a suspicion that the Taliban would make pretty rapid advances, and I certainly held that view. Then there were indications that it might prove to be rather more difficult for them for a couple of reasons.

One is that the Americans claimed they had trained what they call the Special Forces Units of the Afghan National Army to a high level and equipped them appropriately. That was probably anywhere between 20,000 and 30,000 troops, maybe more. Most of the rest of the army was very poorly trained with very low morale. But the feeling was that this was, from an American perspective, a capable force.

There were also indications that some of the warlords were preparing for resistance to a Taliban rule. Some of the smaller confessional groups, such as the Hazara, who were hugely worried about what the Taliban might do to them, were also forming their own militias for self-defence.

The belief was that the Taliban were facing such heavy casualties that they might be prepared to negotiate. That has turned out not to be the case, especially considering the success of the Taliban in taking control of some of the key areas in northern Afghanistan, which was not frankly their territory. They were much stronger across the south of Afghanistan, particularly in provinces like Helmand and Kandahar, and through to the southeast.

The situation we are in now, as of, as you say, the afternoon of 12 August, is that Al Jazeera is reporting two interesting developments. One is that the United States has got together quite a large group of states to send representatives to meet with the Taliban in Doha, bluntly warning them that if they take control, they will be ostracised right across the international community. More recently, there’s a report that the Afghan government is sending somebody to Doha with an offer of a compromised victory: in other words, they would share power with the Taliban, if the Taliban were to agree to a ceasefire.

It’s just possible—and I stress the ‘just’—that that might have some effect, or that there might at least be a pause while the Taliban consider further. I’m doubtful about that, because I think the pace of development by the Taliban has been such that they may well decide to try to take virtually everywhere, and then force a settlement on their terms.

Two or three months ago, and going back further, it seemed that it would be a question of whether the Taliban could take control before the onset of winter. Many people thought that was unlikely, but that is no longer the case.


You mentioned the possibility of some sort of power-sharing arrangement. Do you think at this stage that that would be simply a face-saving exercise – that it would help the US to avoid a very embarrassing defeat, which could be clearly pinned as the consequence of withdrawing from the country?


It may be. It may also be the case that the Taliban see this as the first step of a two-step process. They agree a deal knowing full well that, given a few months, they’ll take control of the whole country. In the short term though, yes, it would be slightly better for Biden.

But we have to understand that the United States under Biden is going to leave. We can discuss what they will do later on in a moment, but they are now determined to leave.

It’s worth remembering that in the 2008 election, Obama decided to fight his campaign in relation to the war on terror, on the basis that Iraq was the bad war and the United States must get out – which of course he did in the short term, although they went back in later. Afghanistan, on the other hand, was a necessary war because it related directly to the 9/11 atrocities.

John McCain, the Republican contender, was advocating an immediate increase in American forces in Afghanistan, from about 100,000 to 130,000. The idea was to defeat the Taliban and force them to a deal on American terms. Obama thought through this for the first couple of years of his term, certainly the first year or so, and decided to go for surge – a similar number of troops, but with the clear understanding within the administration that that surge would be about forcing the Taliban to negotiate. He did not expect in any way to defeat them, or to force them to surrender on very poor terms. This was the view within the administration.

There were pretty firm indications that his vice president, Joe Biden, wasn’t too sure about that even then. He was beginning to join the group who said the United States should actually get out of Afghanistan. They didn’t go as far as a few people back in 2001, who said, ‘You should never go into the war. It was a mistake in the first place,’ but certainly, they saw that this was an unwinnable war.

I think that probably explains why Biden found it quite useful to see Trump say, ‘We’re getting out of Afghanistan,’ and stayed with it. And I think he decided pretty early on, maybe even before he won, that that would be one war they had to get out of, no matter how difficult it proved to be, and no matter how much flack the United States would take – or indeed what the impact would be in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and on in terms of the future prowess or otherwise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

In a sense we are seeing a determination on the US side to leave come what may. Biden has probably taken the view that people are fed up with the long war, and the mood in the United States probably goes along with him. Almost everybody in the US will know of somebody in their wider neighbourhoods—their town or city district—who was either killed or maimed for life in Afghanistan. The total of the two is something like 25,000. You spread that across the country, and there is this knowledge in the United States that this has been a disastrous war.

What happens in Afghanistan then will dictate what the United States does, but it will not be tens of thousands of troops on the ground. I think that is extremely improbable.


You’ve mentioned already that the Taliban have been able to take lots of territory and many provincial capitals in the north of the country, which was traditionally the stronghold of forces in opposition to it. The US allied with the so-called Northern Alliance to drive the Taliban from power after 9/11.

Why do you think the Taliban have managed to take over so much of the north this time around? And why do you think they chose to do this rather than try and consolidate control in their traditional heartlands and then move from the south to the north, which would seem a more conventional way to prosecute the war?


I think their internal intelligence told them that they would stand more of a chance of doing this than they previously thought. But there are other elements here. Don’t forget that they did not control the cities in the south, particularly Kandahar and Lashkargah, but did control the two key provinces of Kandahar and Helmand in the rural areas. Helmand is crucially important for the Taliban, because it’s basically a world centre for opium growing, producing heroin and the rest. They seek control of that, and get huge monetary income from it.

One of the things they did about two or three weeks ago was to take control of the key crossing between Kandahar Province and Baluchistan in Western Pakistan, Spin Boldak. That crossing alone is probably giving them an income of about $1 million a week, because they’re basically taxing all the lorries coming through into Afghanistan, and the lorries will pay – once they’re through the Taliban, they won’t face any other banditry.

In other words, while they don’t control the cities in the south, they control much of the rest. They also decided to go for the west and the north of the country, because that also meant taking key road routes and the actual crossings. They control the big crossing into Iran. They control what is virtually a dry port through into Uzbekistan.

One has to remember that one province they took about three weeks ago in Eastern Afghanistan includes a long finger of land called the Wakhan Corridor, which goes right through about 250 kilometres to the northwest. That connects with China – it’s the one common border. So the Taliban already have a geographical link with China, and their political head was meeting the Chinese foreign minister in China only two weeks ago.


Typically, it’s suggested that the Afghan government army numbers some 300,000 plus an air force and the support of the US—at least in terms of airstrikes now—while the Taliban is said to number something around 75,000.

Do those numbers sound right to you? And if they do, what accounts for the Taliban’s ability to overrun territory controlled by the government so easily?


What we tend to forget is that the Taliban never went away. Many of them went temporarily to northwest Pakistan after 9/11.

You have to look at the immediate post-9/11 history of Afghanistan. The Taliban appeared to have been more or less completely terminated by November 2001, but that’s misleading. In many cases, they just went to their own homes and towns and villages across Afghanistan, particularly in the Pashtun south, with their weapons intact. Many went through into Pakistan.

And there were some very bitter fights with US troops. The US Tenth Mountain Division from New York State fought some extraordinary battles in Afghanistan in the winter of 2001-2002. That tends to be forgotten, because by early 2002, everything was fixated on the presumed coming war with Iraq. But the Taliban never went away.

They began to emerge in 2004. By 2006, the West was pouring troops back into Afghanistan – even the Brits going in by the thousands. The Taliban have been slowing building up their strength, controlling more and more territory for the best part of fourteen or fifteen years. It’s not in any sense sudden.

They have certainly been joined in recent years by thousands of what you might call extreme Islamist paramilitaries from elsewhere – most likely including Chechens, people from Saudi Arabia, from Libya, certainly from Pakistan, and Uyghur paramilitaries from China, which is a marker for the future. In other words, the Taliban are pretty strong. Because they controlled so much countryside, they’ve been getting revenues from taxes right the way through.

So, it’s not a southern thing – but your point is about the numbers. Again, we should deconstruct those a little bit. Yes, on paper, the Afghan armed forces may number about 300,000, and there’s a semi-armed police force as well, where there are very high levels of corruption. But as far as the army is concerned, it’s that relatively small group of the so-called special forces—some people claim as many as 50,000, but probably less—who are the ones that offer more serious defence. And even though the Taliban themselves may only number 70,000 or 75,000, they are very well embedded in the whole situation.

They’re in a much stronger position than people have realised. They’ve also been able to get lots of equipment, including trucks and the rest, and even some artillery, as they’ve taken over Afghan outputs, where, in so many cases, the Afghan Army has either left post-haste or else surrendered to then be allowed to leave.


What do you think accounts for the demoralisation of the regular Afghan Army?


There has been a major problem with corruption right across the country, and that has certainly not helped. It’s been a long, grinding war for the best part of twenty years – many thousands of Afghan soldiers have been killed, and many more have been maimed for life. So essentially, they were in almost an unwinnable position.

You can argue whether going to war was right. I would argue very strongly against it and did so at the time. But if you accept that the Americans went in with the British and terminated the regime by the end of November, at that point, senior experienced Afghanis and senior UN personnel were arguing that what Afghanistan had to have immediately was a major foreign stabilisation force.

Not peacekeeping in the conventional sense – they needed help with policing, with logistics, with legal measures, right across the board. Ideally, they needed an input almost at once of maybe 30,000 people who would be drawn from many countries, including many Muslims. Basically, that would then enable Afghanistan to rebuild its own society.

Bluntly, it didn’t happen. We had the International Security Assistance Force, which was established under NATO auspices early on. But for two or three years, they had no more than 4,000 or 5,000 people in – mostly (but not entirely) soldiers. They provided security for Kabul and for Kandahar, and one or two other places, on some pretty big bases.

Essentially, it was a huge vacuum. The Taliban recognised this pretty quickly and came back in the rural areas. The mistake then goes right back, almost to the start – but I’m going to argue it’s a double mistake, and that it was a mistake to go to war in the first place. There were other options which should have been taken.


You’ve already mentioned Doha, where those negotiations are ongoing. Doha is also the location of a US military base, from which airstrikes have been launched against the Taliban in recent days. Do you think the US will seek to prevent the fall of Kabul and Kandahar by ramping up airstrikes, even if from a distance?


I doubt it. What the United States is in the business of doing is making sure that whatever happens in Afghanistan—presuming there’s almost complete Taliban takeover—it uses its own military capabilities to ensure that the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda do not reform on a scale in Afghanistan where they can pose any sort of threats to the United States. Both of those loose movements are increasing their power in other parts of the world, particularly the region of the Sahara, right through from Mauritania, through Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, through to Chad.

To some extent, in the developments on the Swahili Coast, in Somalia, Mozambique, and back into the DRC, groups loosely linked to the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda are developing rapidly. The French and the Americans are basically countering this with drones and the rest. But none of these groups really form a kind of locus where you would have sufficient independence of operation to be able to conduct worldwide attacks like 9/11.

But that is not true of Afghanistan – and America will work very hard to prevent that. What they will do, almost certainly, is exercise what we tend now to call ‘remote warfare’, which of course is a wider development in the last fifteen years. You do not, as a Western country, now put tens of thousands of boots on the ground anywhere. That lesson has been learned, but it’s taken many years to learn it, just as it took the British Suez as well as Indian independence to recognise the colonial era was over. And it took the French even longer with Algeria. Remote warfare is the nature of the beast now.

That includes the use of long-range aircraft with extraordinary standoff capabilities, with bombs and missiles. It includes arms, drones with a forty-hour endurance time. It includes special forces. It includes privatised military, and indeed supporting local militias. Several of those components will feature in what the United States will do and is already doing.

In the last week or so, we’ve seen more waves of B-52 bombers being used to target Taliban positions. And they’ve also bought back in the AC-130U gunship, which they started developing a version of at the time of the Vietnam War – it basically flew round a target at altitude in circles, and then fired from the side of the plane, with an extraordinary machine gun that could devastate an area completely. That was known by the terrible name of Puff the Magic Dragon, and it had extraordinary casualties.

They now have a much more advanced version, which they call Smoky. That was in operation in Afghanistan just a few days ago. It was used widely in the Iraq War with, on occasions, devastating effect. There was one occasion when a slightly earlier version was used to take out six blocks of the city of Fallujah, in reprisal for an attack on an American Marine battalion.

What the United States may choose to do is maintain enough capability in terms of reconnaissance, and maybe some special forces on the ground to make sure that if any kind of ISIS or Al-Qaeda group was establishing itself, to the extent of becoming an international threat, then the war would go on – but not in the form it’s taking now, and I’m afraid, no doubt, with very heavy civilian casualties in the process, which in turn probably makes the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaeda even more determined to strike overseas.

So, unless we were very lucky, I think that in the next five years, we’re going to be back in the era that we had in 2002-2006, with all the attacks around the world. It’s a bleak future, but I think that is what we’re looking at.


On 8 July, Joe Biden was asked if he saw any parallels between the situation in Afghanistan and the US withdrawal from South Vietnam, and the evacuation of the US embassy from what was then Saigon in 1975. He gave a pretty unequivocal response saying that the Taliban is not the North Vietnamese army – that they’re not remotely comparable in terms of capability, and there’s going to be no circumstance in which we see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy.

Do you think that latter claim is going to bear up?


Possibly it will. One has to remember that everything will focus on Kabul. The Americans apparently have something like 3,000 personnel there. That is a mixture of diplomats, aid officials, privates, military companies, contractors, and the rest.

There were two routes to Kabul essentially. One was Bagram, this very big base, quite a few kilometres to the north, which now has been handed over to the Afghans. America’s got out almost overnight in the dark, so to speak—


Without telling the Afghans, I believe.


Yes. There was this extraordinary picture of rows of SUVs and very posh vehicles, some of them even with the keys still in the lock.

The Taliban, of course, have used that repeatedly – they will do when they takeover Bagram. They’ve been doing it elsewhere already, but the main international airport in Kabul is in the suburbs, pretty close to the cities in the northeast. Interestingly, by agreement, the Turks have armed troops there to safeguard that airport.

So, my guess is that if it really does come to the rapid need to withdraw from Kabul, and that’s not impossible, then you may well see it done through the airport. So many Afghans may be desperate to get out at the last minute that you might still see helicopters going out. Where they go to will be pretty tricky, because they don’t usually have the range to get out of Afghanistan on a round trip. No doubt there are very extensive preparations underway for this kind of eventuality specifically to make it not look like a rout.


In your recent article in openDemocracy, you argue that India has the most to lose from a Taliban victory. Can you explain what India’s role has been in Afghanistan in recent years, and what a Taliban victory would mean for India’s relations, not just with whatever successor regime that will be in Kabul, but also with Pakistan and China?


India regards Afghanistan as important, because if Afghanistan has an internationalist government and one that is sympathetic to India, then that undermines Pakistan. As far as the Indian military is concerned, that’s very good news. The more Pakistan has problems in Afghanistan, the less it has the power to face up to India in Kashmir and elsewhere.

For India, then, Afghanistan is an important country. It has links through to Central Asia, although obviously that requires going through Pakistan. But India has been doing a lot. It’s put a lot of money into the judicial system in Afghanistan. It’s provided a lot of aid. And it has had senior Afghan people, particularly on the intelligence side, spending time in New Delhi and elsewhere. So it would like to maintain Afghanistan not under the Taliban.

If it was under the Taliban now, civilian Pakistani politicians will consider that bad news, because they want a peaceful country. The military takes a different view. Many senior people, and particularly the Pakistani military, see it as good news. They have good links with the Taliban, through the Inter-Services Intelligence Agency (ISI), and they see an Afghanistan in which they have influence as very useful as far as India is concerned. They also see that if Afghanistan ends up under the Taliban, there’s a strong possibility that China will come in and see a huge opportunity to improve its route to the West.

So as far as the Pakistanis and the Chinese are concerned, the Taliban they can live with. But for India, with its great concern about Chinese influence over Central and even West Asia, this is a worry.

I think that’s the root of it, but you will get a very different answer from a senior Pakistani politician than you would get from a senior Pakistani officer who’s prepared to talk off the record. The Pakistan Army is hugely worried about the Hindutva idea – the idea of a greater India covering the whole of South Asia. Hindutva may not go that far under Modi, but it goes a lot further than under the Congress Party. That means you get a degree of what I would almost call paranoia among many senior Pakistani military about India as the big threat. For them, anything which increases their influence in Afghanistan and the difficulty to India is, frankly, good news. Pakistani politicians would not normally say that. Maybe privately they don’t even think it.


The Taliban is sometimes described in the West almost as if it’s a creature of the ISI. How much truth do you think there ever was to that claim, and how much leverage does Pakistan have over the Taliban today?


The more powerful the Taliban gets, the less they will feel the need to have leverage with Pakistan. There has been a lot of leverage, but one must remember that the Taliban’s origins come from many sources and include the more religiously motivated to the Mujahideen back in the 1980s against the Soviet Union. The idea that it was something completely new is a myth.

The way in which the religious element came in in the early 1990s was significant, and much of it was due to the education of Pakistanis, particularly Pashtuns, and Afghans in the madrasas funded by the Saudis in the 1980s and early 1990s. So it was different to an extent, but not massively.

But one also has to remember that during the 1990s, when the Taliban were trying to defeat the warlords, which they’d largely but never fully done by 1996, they were getting more and more aid from outside. This is when Osama bin Laden and the others were coming in. They were already internationalising, to an extent.

There’s a very good book called The Arabs in Afghanistan, which charts this involvement of outsiders. So to that extent, yes, there was a close relationship with the ISI, but that was not the only iron that the Talibans had in the fire, even ten or twenty years ago.


You’ve already touched on this a little bit, but in terms of the Taliban’s relations with China and the Wakhan Corridor—the narrow sliver of land that you described that connects Afghanistan with China—you’re suggesting in your article in openDemocracy that the arrangement the two sides might come to might be pretty disastrous for human rights on both sides of the border. Can you explain what you were getting at there?


A little bit of history to this. This corridor actually came from the mutual rivalry between the British Empire and the Russian Empire, the Cyrus Empire, in the 1880s. In 1893, when the borders were more or less being finalised, the British and the Russians agreed to have this corridor between British India and the Russian Empire, which would separate the two. It was between twenty-five and fifty kilometres wide, and 250 kilometres long, West to East. And of course, it bordered with China in the East, so there was no direct connection.

That is modern day Pakistan and Tajikistan, and that has held ever since. It’s not well populated – 12,000 or 15,000 people in the whole territory, of different ethnicities and cultures. There is no manageable connection across the path. It’s a very high path, still used by herders and others.

China basically has it closed. It has military patrols on the road their side, but there’s long been the idea that a proper route would be provided over that. The Chinese capability for high-level roads is astonishing. They could put a tunnel through so they could have this connection.

What would it mean for the two groups? Let’s say we have a Chinese government working with a Taliban government. Well, as far as the Chinese are concerned, the key thing here would be that they will be able to leverage the Taliban government of Afghanistan to hold in check any kind of involvement with the opposition to the Uyghur rule in Xinjiang Province. That is a real worry for the Chinese, because they are fairly paranoid about the capabilities of Uyghurs, even though they exert such firm human rights control over the province.

But as far as the Chinese are concerned, the several thousand ethnic Uyghurs who’ve been working with the Taliban in Afghanistan are a real danger. If China goes into a real relationship with Afghanistan, they could avoid that. They would also be able to produce new land routes through to, say, Gwadar, the port which they’ve helped build in Western Pakistan. And links through to Iran, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and even possibly in the future Turkmenistan as well.

In other words, it would open up what you might call a little bit of the Silk Road. That particular path at the top of the Wakhan Corridor was even used in Roman times. Even though it’s only passable in the summer months, it was a regular route between China and Europe, 1,500, 2,000 years ago.

The Chinese could also put a lot of money into developing the massive mineral resources in Afghanistan, including rare earths which of course are very important. As far as the Taliban are concerned, they could get a huge boost in the economic development of the country, maintaining all the rigidity of the critique-type Islamist rule, but benefiting from growth and therefore probably more able to survive.

This is another area where the Indians would be very worried. The net effect is that if this came to pass—and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility by a long shot now—then China would help solve any future problem in Xinjiang, which would damage human rights even more in that province, whereas the Taliban will be firmly in control with their own attitudes to human rights, particularly in relation to women and children. To that extent, I think it would be grim.


Do you think that the possibility of some kind of informal alliance with China is perhaps having the effect of making the threat from the US—that Afghanistan will again become a pariah state—seem somewhat empty to the Taliban, because they can look elsewhere in an increasingly multipolar world?


Yes, I think that’s true. This is why the talks which, as we record this, are apparently going on in Doha, I believe do include Russian and Chinese personnel who’ve been brought in by the Americans. It’s possible that China might decide for its own purposes that it would be good to get some sort of settlement, because it would know for sure it could go ahead and develop along the lines we’ve already been discussing. To that extent, there may still be a glimmer of hope, and that could change within twenty-four hours of the time we’re recording this.

Basically, what Biden is trying to do is put diplomatic pressure on the Taliban now and say, yes, you’ll become a pariah state. I’m not too sure that the Taliban really take that seriously, simply because to have the head of your political section engaging with the Chinese foreign minister in China after a Chinese invitation only two weeks ago does rather suggest that they’re not without, if not friends, interested observers.


You wrote that there are indications that some Western governments, including the US, see increased Chinese involvement in Afghanistan as a welcome stabilising development. Obviously, given all the talk about containing China in a new cold war, that might seem a bit surprising.

Is it the view from Washington that there are certain parts of the world where it may actually be beneficial for China to be involved, and Afghanistan happens to be one of them, in contrast to other parts of the world where they very much want to keep the Chinese out?


Yes – but two caveats there. One is that the openDemocracy piece was written, I think, a fortnight ago, and things have changed quite a lot since then. I think the view in the United States has been changed simply by the rate of the Taliban advance. To that extent, they may be not quite as keen on that as they were.

On the other hand, that might also be the reason why the Americans are trying to persuade all the countries surrounding Afghanistan and the big powers to come together to try and put this pressure on the Taliban, because they may feel some sort of compromise—which will end up with a lot of Chinese influence in Afghanistan—may be preferable to basically an independent and determinedly-minded Taliban Afghanistan. But as I say, things are changing so fast that what you write can be out of date quickly.


If we think about the now pretty long history of Western military involvement in Afghanistan following 9/11, how do you think the Western intervention—predominantly US intervention—will be judged?


One has to remember that in the past twenty years, there have been four major failed wars, of which Afghanistan is only one. You had the Iraq War, which ended up with a failing and insecure state by 2008 or 2010. You had then Libya in 2011, which we’re not even touching on. That has been a disaster. So, you’ve had Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. And then, when ISIS came on the scene in Iraq and Syria, you had that largely unreported but intense air war fought between mid-2014 and 2018 – and there are still American and British attacks going on in Syria and in Iraq against ISIS-linked units. The UN reckons that there are still 10,000 active paramilitaries available in Iraq and Syria.

So basically, you had four failed wars. If one is right in the long term, that will really be the message left. Of those four, Afghanistan has been the longest and possibly the worst, although in terms of loss of life, Iraq has been an utter disaster. But you’ve got to see this in the wider context.

We’re moving into a world in which our traditional idea of going to war is obsolete. We see it clearly with the coronavirus, and we’re nowhere near out of the woods: although the official figure is that four million people have died in the pandemic so far, even the WHO admits it’s probably twice that – nearer ten million. We’re seeing that you can’t nuke a virus. Aircraft carriers aren’t much good. It’s a different kind of security threat.

And that pales into insignificance if we don’t get on top of climate change and climate breakdown. Covid is already going to make the widening wealth and poverty differentials deeper – that’s happening almost by the month at present. The way in which the world’s richest people, the billionaires, have increased their wealth by twenty percent during the pandemic gives you some idea of just how terribly wrong the whole neoliberal system is going, and it can’t handle climate change as well.

I think this needs to be a fundamental rethink of attitudes to security, and that is what we’re facing now. It’s a massive global change. There are three paradigms under threat: one is the neoliberal economic order, and its transformation into more complex forms; second is the failure to come to terms with environmental limitation so far; third is the security paradigm, which is about maintaining control. You keep the lid on things, rather than going underneath to what’s really going on. That is what we’re facing. You could say in a nutshell that Afghanistan and the other wars are examples of the way one of those three paradigms in particular is failing – and failing dismally.

This conversation originally appeared as an episode of Politics Theory Other on Tribune Radio. To listen in full, click here.

About the Author

Paul Rogers is emeritus professor in the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, and openDemocracy's international security advisor. His latest book is Losing Control: Global Security in the Twenty-first Century (Pluto).

About the Interviewer

Alex Doherty is the host of Tribune Radio's Politics Theory Other podcast.