Academic journal article Military Review

Future Strategic Environment in an Era of Persistent Conflict

Academic journal article Military Review

Future Strategic Environment in an Era of Persistent Conflict

Article excerpt


FRAMING THE FUTURE strategic environment in an era of persistent conflict is an immense challenge. (1) Unlike during the Cold War era, the United States no longer has an overarching paradigm through which it can view the world. Nonstate actors and irregular warfare dominate America's attention as it continues to fight insurgencies while coping with terrorist threats like Al-Qaeda. Traditional threats persist in places like the Korean peninsula, while the rise of China presents the prospect of a future strategic competitor. Increasingly global forces in economics, the environment, and health have greater impact on citizens worldwide. The U.S. is not sure how to structure, fund, and oversee its national security apparatus to meet these future challenges. No overarching paradigm suffices, and the United States faces the prospect of racing from one crisis to the next.

Several institutions have conducted studies to help policymakers plan for national challenges beyond the next 20 years. Among the most recent are Mapping the Global Future by the National Intelligence Council; Joint Operating Environment by United States Joint Forces Command; Forging a World of Liberty under Law by the Princeton Project on National Security; The New Global Puzzle by the European Union Institute for Security Studies; and Global Strategic Trends Programme by the British Ministry of Defense Development, Concepts, and Doctrine Centre.

These studies suggest the trends that will characterize and shape the future strategic environment: globalization, demographics, the rise of emerging powers, the environment and competition for resources, nonstate actors and challenge to governance, and advances in technology. These trends will present complex, multidimensional challenges that may require careful use of the military along with other instruments of national power.

To respond to this future strategic environment, the United States will most likely be involved in three types of missions: expeditionary warfare to manage violence and peace, defense of the command of the commons, and homeland defense. The land forces will spearhead expeditionary missions to "contested zones" to protect American interests abroad. (2) Sea, air, and space forces will counter threats to the American command of the commons--air, sea, space, and cyberspace--where the American military currently has dominance. The military will also support the interagency effort in homeland defense as technological advances weaken traditional natural barriers to attack on U.S. soil.

Future Trends of the Next 20 Years

Globalization will force future trends that present both optimistic and pessimistic likelihoods.

The good. In Mapping the Global Future, the National Intelligence Council calls globalization the overarching "mega-trend" that will shape all other trends of the future. (3) Globalization is an amorphous concept, but here it is meant in its broadest definition--the increasingly rapid exchange of capital, goods, and services, as well as information, technology, ideas, people, and culture. (4) Markets for goods, finance, services, and labor will continue to become more internationalized and interdependent, bringing immense benefits to the world as a whole. (5) Globalization will continue to be the engine for greater economic growth. The world will be richer with many lifted out of poverty. It is unclear, however, whether a richer world where America has less relative economic power will be better for the United States in terms of its global influence. (6)

Studies before the recent economic shock had expected the global economy to be 80 percent larger in 2020 than in 2000, with average per capita income 50 percent higher. (7) According to the European Union Institute for Security Studies, the world economy will grow at a sustained annual rate of 3.5 percent between 2006 and 2020. (8) The United States, European Union, and Japan will likely continue to lead in many high-value markets, with the United States continuing to be the main driving force as the world's leading economic power. …

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