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Many American strategic thinkers believe that we are in the beginning stages of a historical revolution in military affairs (RMA) . This will not only change the nature of warfare, but also alter the global geopolitical balance.
To date, most attention has fallen on the opportunities provided by the RMA rather than its risks, costs, and unintended consequences. In the arena of conflict short of war, these risks, costs, and unintended consequences may outweigh the potential benefits.
The Cold War notion of conflict short of war is obsolete.Politically and militarily, the Third World of the future will be full of danger. The future will most likely be dominated by peace enforcement in failed states, new forms of insurgency and terrorism, and "gray area phenomena." Many if not most Third World states will fragment into smaller units. Ungovernability and instability will be the norm with power dispersed among warlords, primal militias, and well-organized politico-criminal organizations. U.S. policy in the Third World is likely to be more selective and the U.S. homeland may no longer provide sanctuary. Renewed external support will restore the lagging proficiency of insurgents and terrorists.
Emerging technology will have less impact on conflict short of war than on conventional, combined-arms warfare. It will, however, have some role. In noncombatant evacuation operations, new technology can assist with identification and notification of evacuees. Sensor technology, robotics, nonlethal weapons, and intelligence meshes will be used in combatting terrorism, countering narcotrafficking, and peace operations. These technologies, along with simulator training and unmanned aerial vehicles, will also be useful in insurgency and counterinsurgency.
There are a number of constraints on applying the RMA to conflict short of war. These include the lack of a powerful institutional advocate for this process, a shortage of money for the development of technology specifically for conflict short of war, and the possibility that new technology may run counter to American values.
Enemies may also develop countermeasures to RMA innovations. Rather than attempt to match the technological prowess of U.S. forces, future enemies will probably seek asymmetrical countermeasures designed to strike at U.S. public support for engagement in conflict short of war, at the will of our friends and allies, or, in some cases, at deployed U.S. forces.
Rather than simply graft emerging technology to existing strategy, doctrine, organization, force structure, objectives, concepts, attitudes, and norms, the United States could pursue a full revolution in the way we approach conflict short of war. This is rife with hidden dangers and unintended consequences. A hypothetical future scenario illustrates some of these.
In the near future, change will occur in the American approach to conflict short of war. To understand and control ongoing change, research, analysis, and debate is needed on a number of topics: