Americans today are enjoying the most peaceful period, on a per capita basis, in human history, with virtually all of the remaining mass violence in the system occurring not between organized militaries, but rather sub- and transnationally -- that is, within nation-states and across their borders. The frequency, length and lethality of conflicts are all down from Cold War highs, despite the growth in both numbers of countries and world population. Nonetheless, most Americans continue to have extremely misdirected fears and impressions regarding the global security landscape. We see a world of wars and believe them all to be of our creating, when in fact it is globalization's initially destabilizing advance that creates the vast bulk of the civil strife into which our military forces are drawn -- to the tune of well more than 150 crisis responses since Cold War's end.
In our confusion over root causes, we come up with an endless series of "war on [fill in the noun]" formulations. But what our wars on drugs, terror, extremism and the like have in common is that they pull our troops into those states and regions that are most disconnected from globalization's deep embrace -- and from all the rules that accompany such connectivity. Collectively, you could say that America wages a war on disconnectedness, but that only highlights the fact that we currently lack nation-state enemies, even as many in our national security establishment continue to fantasize about China in this regard.
In actual practice, when we wage "war" in this era -- always undeclared in a constitutional sense -- it's to capture or kill bad actors: Panama's Manuel Noriega, Somalia's Mohamed Farrah Aidid, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Afghanistan's Taliban leaders, Iraq's "deck of cards," al-Qaida's senior operatives, as well as various drug traffickers, cyber criminals and others. Violent actors such as these aren't "what's next"; they're "what's left over" following the success of America's grand strategy of encouraging globalization's rapid advance around the planet.