The Future of Force

MUNICH – At the World Economic Forum’s recent annual meeting in Davos, I participated in a panel of defense leaders to discuss the future of the military. The issue we addressed is a critical one: What kind of war should militaries today be preparing to fight?

Governments have a very poor track record when it comes to answering this question. After the Vietnam War, for example, the United States’ armed forces suppressed what it had learned about counter-insurgency, only to rediscover it the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

America’s military interventions in these countries exemplify another key challenge of modern warfare. As outgoing US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel pointed out in a recent interview, in war, “things can get out of control, and drift and wander” in ways that can cause a military to fall into a more “accelerated” use of force than was initially anticipated. Against this background, the notion that force alone can transform conflict-riven societies in the Middle East and elsewhere is a dangerous fallacy.

But, while war and force may be down, they are not out. They are simply evolving according to a new “generation” of rules and tactics.