It has been more than 14 years since the U.S. military last fought large formations of conventional enemy troops. Unless the unthinkable happens with North Korea, American forces may not see a large-scale traditional war for many more years to come, if ever. Yet, every day, the military, intelligence community, law enforcement and other government agencies face a plethora of shadow enemies, ranging from complex criminal-terrorist networks to ideologically motivated individuals.
While the risk of conventional war or gray-zone aggression from an adversary state is not gone entirely, the 21st-century security environment is dominated by nonstate challenges. This is an extraordinarily complex, history-altering revolution with many dimensions, causes and effects. But one of its primary propellants is the proliferation of what Benjamin Wittes and Gabriella Blum call “technologies of mass empowerment.”
In their book “The Future of Violence,” they write, “Modern technology enables individuals to wield the destructive power of states... [and] makes less relevant many of the traditional concepts around which our laws and political organization for security have evolved.... Our nation—and every nation—can face attack through channels controlled and operated not by governments but by the private sector and by means against which governments lack the ability to defend, making private actors pivotal to defense.” The result is a “world of many-to-many threats, a world in which every individual, group, or state has to regard every other individual, group, or state as at least a potential security threat.”