Forecasting The Future

Nope I am not going to be some soothsayer to tell you your magic lotto numbers…..not this time….as a student of conflict I am always looking for indications of a coming conflict that the US will have to fight and our young will have to die.

Our cracker jack leaders seem to fail at learning from their mistakes in past conflicts…they fail to comprehend the true nature of armed conflict…..

In August 2014, I interviewed a group of shell-shocked Christian refugees from the town of Qarakosh — then, the largest Christian city of Iraq — in a makeshift refugee camp in Erbil following their harrowing escape from the terror group Islamic State (ISIS). ISIS fighters had just occupied Qarakosh a few days prior and immediately set out to systematically destroy any evidence of Christianity in the city. What struck me the most when I was interviewing the refugees was their sense of impotence. They wanted to fight but did not have the necessary arms. As their ancestral homes and churches were razed to the ground 80 kilometers west of Erbil, there was nothing they could do.

After covering the war in Afghanistan for two years, for the first time I could see the direct results of a battlefield defeat: Assyrian and Kurdish militias failed to fight off ISIS and as a result Qarakosh was taken. It was plain and simple. There was no need for abstractions to drive home the point of military power to those Christian refugees; no need to invoke complex concepts such as the “Domino Theory” or the “1938 Munich analogy” to justify a fight. The linear results of their military weakness were plainly obvious and the consequences absolute.

An old adage about war is that it is violent politics……a some seem to ignore this when trying to analyze future conflicts…..

Wherever U.S. forces have deployed in recent years — be it Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere — they have faced political and strategic realities that their military training and education prepared them poorly for. Similarly, wherever its interests are most threatened — in the South China Sea or Russia’s Near Abroad — the American government has faced strategies chosen by adversaries precisely because the United States has no response to offer.

In all cases, the United States has remained overly reliant on the strategic utility of military force and struggled to translate such martial abilities into political progress. Despite some advances in terminology — most recently the rise of “hybrid war” and “the gray zone” — the fundamental understanding of war in the West remains replete with theoretical barriers and unfounded presumptions, with real implications for how resources are distributed and strategy is conceived.

The US military is trying to come to grips with the track of conflict these days……

The Army’s decision to create a “Futures Command” is long overdue, well-intended, and absolutely necessary if the Army is to emerge from the malaise that has held modernization in its vice for all of this new century. But accelerating the pace of modernization without a rigorous understanding of how militaries anticipate the future of war might run the risk of creating an accelerating engine with greater thrust, but no vectors.

I’ve spent almost three decades studying the art and science of future gazing. The high point of my immersion as a futurist began in 1991 when then Army Chief of Staff Gen. Gordon Sullivan, entrusted me with writing the Army’s official history of the Gulf War, Certain Victory. Three years later, in 1995 another chief of staff, Gen. Dennis Reimer, gave me the mission of looking into the deep future of warfare, beyond 2020 to 2025. As head of the Army After Next project, I had access to an enormously talented group of young officers, many of whom are still doing great work today. With the assistance of my deputy, Col. Bob Killebrew, we invented the Army’s first strategic game, which continues today in heavily modified form as Unified Quest.

I feel that our future leaders and generals are not getting a complete education into war and conflict management…..these days it is all out military knows and it must be understood completely…..maybe with a better more complete education we could avoid some of the entanglements that keeps us forever fighting.

2 thoughts on “Forecasting The Future

  1. I worry about such ‘think tanks’ and their predictions. Likely the US will go to war with another country based on a ‘what if?’
    Best wishes, Pete.

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