Maintaining the largest and most high-tech military arsenal will not be sufficient to provide security for the United States in the years ahead. That was the conclusion reached by the “Future of War Think-Fest” held in September 2005 at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico. The think-fest was put together by the Future of Warfare team (FOW), working under Sandia’s Advanced Concepts Group.
According to team member Wendell Jones, the event produced a number of ideas that are being considered in greater depth, independently, by the think-fest participants in their various fields. “What the group recognized,” says Jones, “was that future U.S. security issues are going to include things well beyond the traditional scope of defense planning.”
Following the end of the Cold War, much of U.S. military planning consisted of seeking out and defining a worthy adversary, a “peer” enemy with a conventional and nuclear force similar to that of the United States. Post-Soviet Russia and a newly aggressive China were seen as the most-likely threats both to U.S. military dominance and to global security.
The most-dangerous global military threat in the decades ahead will likely arise from small, independent groups lacking the strength to directly challenge U.S. might, the think-fest agreed. These groups will employ indirect military techniques-terrorism, disinformation campaigns, market or economic sabotage, and political disruption-to instill fear and doubt in the civilian populations of peaceful nations allied with the United States. Responding to such subtle threats will involve more than deploying a fleet of battleships or simple “shock-andawe” techniques. Possible responses include expanded use of nonlethal weapons, Internet-deployable weapons, and greater use of robotic warriors, such as drones or remote, all-terrain battle units. But the mostimportant development to come out of the FOW think-fest, according to Jones, was recognition of the fact that the future of war is not actually about weapons at all.
“The clear, nearly unanimous view was that the future of warfare is not in hardware, technology, platforms, or weapons systems. The fact that there are alliances of convenience to neutralize U.S. interests, developing and dissolving readily, the fact that the people who would do the United States harm are now distributed in more than dozens of countries and are connected through the Internet, all of that speaks to a profoundly different world than the one we’re used to looking at,” says Jones.
The changing face of “the enemy” requires that planners shift their focus from securing military dominance to facilitating social dynamics that contribute to security.
“A diffused, networked adversary committed to low-tech tactics, suicide bombings, etc., is not something the U.S. defense establishment is tuned to respond to,” Jones notes. “Part of what came out of this event is the notion that how humans think, create reality and identity, and make decisions is an important organizing feature in terms of both understanding the adversary and rethinking our own decision-making process. How do vf e help our decision makers get out of the linear straitjackets they’ve been in, and how do we get them into a more fluid mind-set in order to make twenty-first-century decisions, instead of trying to make twentieth-century methods work in the twenty-first century?”
The Future of War think-fest foresaw the following possible developments:
* The U.S. may become increasingly dependent on China for goods and credit.
* The U.S. military’s growing role in peacekeeping and peacemaking might be enhanced if the military had more negotiating capacity.
* U.S. policy makers will increasingly acknowledge U.S. military limitations and will become more humble.
* Worldwide business consortiums may build their own armies to protect their interests in foreign countries.
* The sudden rise of “green” energy may cause OPEC to crash, further inciting anger in Muslim nations against the United States, China, and the European Union.
* A continental state may be formed of Canada, the United States, and Mexico, ending border disputes.
* Anthropologists and sociologists might be included in policy decisions to provide greater insight into potential problems, such as those the U.S. military is currently facing in Iraq.
According to Jones, the key challenge for national-security experts in the future will be breaking free of the traditional mind-set that drives military planning. “The recognition was that [the future of U.S. security] is about culture and identity-a collection of things that the department of defense has not been interested in thinking about until recently. We saw that clearly in our event. How do you influence the way people around the world see us and see themselves? That will be the key to our security.” -Patrick Tucker
Source: Advanced Concepts Group, Sandia National Laboratories, P.O. Box 5800, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185. Web site http://www.sandia./acg/gov.
Originally published in THE FUTURIST, March-April 2006