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Which Way to the Future?

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Journal article

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The Armed Forces are at a crossroads. There has been vigorous debate since the Cold War over the nature of future war. This article identifies four major positions in that debate and argues that each represents not only a possible future, but a likely one. The sign at the crossroads points in four directions and the future lies each way. No wonder the controversy seems inconclusive. Debates on future wars and other military operations are usually set against the inherited or legacy image of war. Proponents of various persuasions argue that a particular scenario portends the future. They usually contend with conservatives who they cast as unwilling to change rapidly enough to prepare for their view of the future. The argument is about which future to prepare for. The argument that there is only one likely future leads to premature closure and narrowing of options as force planners and doctrinal scribes sense the pressure to translate hazy guesses into concrete designs. Accordingly, this article argues that one should recognize that multiple futures are possible and likely to occur simultaneously. Moreover, the future will not be one-dimensional, but rather multidimensional. How should we prepare for these multiple futures The four positions on the future currently being debated in defense circles can be identified as systemic war, cyber war, peace war, and dirty war. To them must be added the legacy position, or mechanical war. Mechanical war characterizes the recent past of the Armed Forces. It conceives of war as a clash of massed and tactical air, with deep strikes to weaken enemy will, along the lines of Operation Desert Storm. The four images of war are described and then plotted along two dimensions highlow technology and hardsoft power. The goal should not be to create a military after next, but rather four militaries after next, corresponding to four visible futures. 2 figures, 8 photographs

Subject Categories:

  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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