Strategic Horizons: The U.S. Military Can’t Ignore the Deep Future

Strategic Horizons: The U.S. Military Can’t Ignore the Deep Future

During the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Defense concluded that it was in a "strategic pause." With the Soviet Union gone and no equal threat on the horizon, the Pentagon had the luxury of doing things like building a "futures" industry to think big thoughts about long-range changes underway in the security environment and the nature of armed conflict. But today strategic futurists face hard times. As the defense budget shrinks, money and time for forecasting and analysis are hard to come by. There is no doubt that cuts in defense spending are needed, but if thinking about the future falls by the wayside, the result could be deadly. After all, big changes in the nature of conflict and warfare are already underway. Preparation must begin now.

Current trends suggest that the future strategic environment will be very different from that of today. Take the global movement toward increased connectivity -- the density of human connections is greater today than at any time in history. The profusion of information sources and narratives is changing the way people develop beliefs, perceptions, attitudes and preferences. It is often impossible to know where an idea originated and thus difficult to judge its validity, leading to an erosion of traditional authority and legitimacy.

Connectivity also lowers the start-up costs for political organizations and movements as well as for violence-based entities like criminal gangs, terrorists and insurgents. The ability to draw resources from multiple, often transnational sources helps sustain such groups. Yet as the events collectively known as the Arab Spring show, ad hoc organizations can coalesce into loose coalitions to bring down governments. All this suggests that the future strategic environment will see constant political turmoil as the fragile governments that populate it fall with dizzying frequency.

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