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Alternative Futures

Today's states are largely at peace with one another and likely to remain so through 2018. Nevertheless, militaries are designed for the exceptional, not the ordinary. The same rule holds for the future. The path forward may look benign, but the U.S. military must continually prepare for a world in which conditions have turned sour. The U.S. public will forgive its military if the world turns out to be sunnier than military planners had forecast, but it will be far more critical if its forces are unprepared for the worst.

In a sense, the U.S. military must simultaneously learn from and forget its last war, particularly since it was such a great victory. In retrospect, Iraq was not large, technologically adept, or operationally clever; the Gulf War was clean cut. But hubris lurks in positing Iraq (or a comparable midsize, midtech rogue) as the foe against which DoD (or most of DoD) should be structured. True, states larger than Iraq are now among or on good terms with core states; they alone have mastered the weapons of mass desctruction (WMD) or interdiction which would imperil U.S. operations overseas. Global chaos appears to have increased or at least become more noticeable since the Cold War ended, small-scale contingencies (SSCs) continue, and U.S. participation in their resolution remains discretionary. With luck, the situation may hold through 2018, but not necessarily.

To survey the requirements for adapting in the present to an uncertain and possibly gloomier long-term future between 2008 and 2018, this section sketches a three- dimensional space. One vector features larger foes; a second, foes who have mastered nasty technologies; a third, a profusion of messy situations. Larger, nastier, and messier are understood here in relation to today's threat environment; even were the next 20 years free of unpleasant surprises, the environment in 2018 will be different from today's, a difference which must be reflected in defense planning.

In a sense, each dimension corresponds to some dysfunction within the world's state structure. A large transition state, for example, that failed to develop democratic institutions may emerge as a powerful foe. A rogue state may learn enough about the nasty technologies of warfighting to pose a serious challenge. The ranks of today's failed states may grow so large that a large share of the U.S. military (and those of its allies) would have to be devoted to coping with the resulting mess.

Any one future (or foe) may combine two or all three dimensions. A hostile Russia, for instance, would be bigger and enjoy better technology than Iraq did. Sea lines of communication (SLOC) can be contested by both a major power or clever rogue. Achieving the ends of conventional aggression by unconventional means (e.g., disguising military articles in the commerce of urban life) would prove that an enemy had mastered some nasty techniques and could cause a large mess (indeed, nastier becomes messier). The ambiguity that defines messiness can exacerbate military challenges because they generate operational constraints.

Each dimension, rather than being of intrinsic interest, is illustrated because it carries requirements for restructuring the armed forces in various ways. One can imagine interesting futures (e.g., a powerful neutral Brazil with a big, busy navy) that call for, at best, only modest changes in U.S. force structures. Finally, variant domestic futures (e.g., a $100 billion DoD budget or an unexpected willingness to take casualties), despite their potential impact on U.S. forces, were specifically excluded from consideration.

Comparing a Surprise-Free 2018 to 1998

The world of 2018 will be identical to that of 1998 only if today's trends come to a dead halt. That being improbable, the differences 20 years may make are worth sketching.

*Demographics. As recently as 1978, four times more people lived in greater Europe (i.e., between the Atlantic and the Urals) than in the Middle East (i.e., Iran plus Arab nations). By 1996, the toddler population in the two regions was equal. By 2018, nearly all those toddlers will be 25 (well over 95 percent of them having survived and stayed in their native region).

*Military Technology. Even if the leading edge of military technology does not advance, simply replacing legacy equipment with modern equipment will increase the average level of military technology. A few more states will have WMD and ballistic missile capability.

*International Relations. Some countries in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and Asia will probably become core states. Given another 20 years of experience, today's norms of international conduct, having been around that much longer, may be more accepted among core states and those aspiring to join them. Most of Asia will be richer than today despite recent economic troubles, but the larger countries (e.g., Indonesia, China) will still be less affluent than Europe is today.

*Globalization. The world's economy will doubtless grow more interconnected. Trade will account for a growing share of world GNP, more capital will be invested overseas, and multinationals of all sizes will do more business outside their home region. Unless energy prices rise spectacularly, the world's transportation network will grow denser--seaport, airport, and road capacity in Asia and Latin America in particular. Fiber-optic lines will connect nearly all cities of more than 100,000 inhabitants. Global satellite systems will serve affluent customers in both cities and hinterlands. Televisions will be as ubiquitous as radios today. Cellular telephones and the Internet will be almost as pervasive.


In 2018, the United States may face a much larger adversary than any current rogue state. A large transition state could turn away from the core, become hostile, and build military forces. A large coalition could be constructed by the convergence of several hostile states, no one of which has that much mass.

A larger foe would challenge U.S. force planning in several ways. It might simply fight better, thanks to greater robustness, more striking power, or deeper C4ISR. One that could project power around its periphery may be able to challenge U.S. interests in many places simultaneously; in so doing, it would enjoy the advantages of operating from interior lines. A major power with robust nuclear capability and space assets could jeopardize the U.S. sanctuary and threaten its strategic assets. If nothing else, its vote in the Security Council could stymie U.S. use of the United Nations for international security.

A critical factor in tomorrow's correlation of forces would be how U.S. friends react. In the Cold War, the United States and its allies faced the Soviet Union as a team, something that surely affected the Soviet calculations. Will a future foe induce the same reaction? Not automatically. As earlier chapters explain, most core states take a softer line toward Iran (not to mention Cuba) than the United States. A threat to some core states may not be seen as such by others; a foe may use a strategy of divide and conquer. Allies may very well shrink from a cohesive partnership with the United States just as U.S. policy would have them take more responsibility for global security.

A major power may participate in international trade and institutions, looking relatively benign to some, yet still help those whose behavior is hostile. China's trade with Middle Eastern rogues, for instance, has often been seen as a response to U.S. military sales to Taiwan. Under different circumstances, Russia could have helped Serbia, while the United States provided aid to Croatia and Bosnia.

China, Russia, and India as Potential Regional Peers

Three transition states, China, Russia, and India, possess the theoretical resources and sufficient independence of interest to become larger adversaries of the core states. Such an evolution is neither inevitable nor unlikely. Indeed, the three are counted among the transition states precisely because they are now integrating themselves into the world economy, embracing market forces, and leaning toward greater democracy. U.S. policy will certainly influence the path to power of these nations over the next two decades. Yet worse surprises have happened.

*China is the most likely major power foe of the three, for several reasons: a growing GNP to finance a big military, an authoritarian government undergirded by a large army, a robust nationalism, and a history that leaves the state less than sympathetic to the interests of core states. But would China be willing and able to amass sufficient military power by 2018? Maybe not. First, because China is becoming rich as a trading state (rather than through the kind of forced draft industrialization that the Soviet Union underwent), its economic health requires global trade and hence an absence of major conflict. China's coastal provinces are growing richer and could serve as a potential counterweight to the center: even were China to bridge coast-inland schisms, the government's ability to mobilize resources for central ends might be limited. Second, a competent military takes years of investment; projecting power takes painstaking attention to the details of doctrine, logistics, and C4ISR. China has a long way to go: its rocket forces have mixed performance records, its air force and navy are unimpressive, and no army can get half its budget from running businesses without putting its warrior orientation in question. How soon China might challenge the United States as a near equal will be determined by its economic growth rates, its willingness to subjugate economic to state interests, and a demonstrated competence in military operations, especially those requiring power projection.

*Russia couples great strengths and grave weaknesses. Among its strengths are vast resources, a large nuclear arsenal, and a reservoir of technology. But much of Russia's industry is shuttered. Its military sits at the edge of crisis. Birthrates have fallen below death rates. Technology-savvy people are emigrating. The central government has problems with organized crime and fissiparous tendencies in the perimeter (e.g., Siberia, the Caucasus). Russians still aspire toward great power status, but in a bleak economy individuals are consumed by survival. To reemerge as a power by 2018 Russia would need to pull out from its depression before its technological strengths dissipate, reassert central authority (either crushing or coming to terms with its Mafiya), and undertake serious military reform. Russia is unlikely to be a foe if it lacks security issues that define its own interests in clear and meaningful opposition to those of core states. Another indicator (if not necessarily cause) of strength would be a strong power position in former near abroad states (e.g., Ukraine, Kazakhstan).

*India has a growing economy (roughly 6 percent a year), a large technically trained population, the world's largest population of preschool children (i.e., adults in 2018), a functioning space program, nuclear weapons, and a military of proven competence--as well as vast poverty and backwardness, a politically and culturally divided population, and a relatively weak central government. India has established a hegemonic position in South Asia and sits near two shipping chokepoints (the straits of Hormuz and Malacca). Yet, India is a democratic state with no serious quarrels with core states. To emerge as a major power by 2018, India would need faster economic growth (e.g., 10 percent a year), a unified will to power, and a greatly accelerated space and nuclear program. Even then India is likely to be on good terms with the core.


Scale is the essence of this threat, even though the larger foes are likely to have mastered the nasty technologies.

The character of an operational challenge from a major power depends, of course, on who the major power is. Were China and India hostile, the United States might seek broad naval and amphibious capabilities (including riverine operations) and the ability to operate in jungles and cities, possibly against very large armies. Were Russia to turn itself around, return to great power status, but pick fights with the core, the United States may have to return ground and air force units to Europe and buy additional nuclear submarines and related assets for SLOC protection.

A major power that was covertly or at least ambiguously hostile could prove a tricky challenge. As a player in the international system, it would have the same access to all infrastructure and technology as any other nation enjoyed. Such a power might be able to avoid the wrath of U.S. allies, especially in a proxy conflict in which it and the United States backed opposite sides. As a result, U.S. forces might face a nation with unexpectedly good capabilities such as the ability to borrow or reconstitute command and control infrastructure, access to navigation information, imagery from space, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) et al., and links to third-state markets. The United States would face a choice between ignoring the help provided or widening a conflict. Ignoring the help would vitiate current planning assumptions of both information and logistics superiority. But striking back may be hard to justify to world publics, especially if assistance from the large power comes in as encrypted intelligence rather than boatloads of weaponry.

A major constraint on fighting a larger foe directly is how to manage conflict to avoid escalation into nuclear war. Unlimited aims may lead adversaries to desperate measures. Thus, U.S. aims may have to be limited, and strategic objectives may have to be defined in terms of settlement rather than surrender. Some or all of the major power's territory might need to be considered off-limits to U.S. operations.


The plausibility of a larger foe varies with who that might be and how core states might respond to its emergence. Although both Japan and Europe have the resources to be major powers, each has firmly decided to work with the United States to pursue common security. Both have, on many occasions, lobbied the United States to exercise more, rather than less, global leadership.

China has demonstrated national security objectives at odds with U.S. interests (e.g., over Taiwan or islands in the South China Sea) and it abuts nations at or near core status (e.g., South Korea, Japan, ASEAN states). Russia, at this point, is primarily interested in its near-abroad. India has defined few interests outside its immediate subcontinent. A global challenge to the United States is much less likely; that would take decades of military investment, practice in power projection, and a belief system that results in global interests--all of which no large transition state possesses.

One contradiction inherent in the challenge of a potentially larger foe is that requisite economic and technological growth requires a nation to be open to interaction with the core. Yet the government of an open society may have more difficulty mobilizing resources against core states. A coherently hostile national will may be hard to induce if many internal forces identify their own well-being with the survival and prosperity of the core. The sooner a challenger arises, the more it will evoke memories of (and possibly responses to) the old Soviet Union. Yet, these contradictions do not apply to the rise of a major power that simultaneously works with the core on one level but takes military issue with it elsewhere.

Technology Races and Globalization

When the worlds of defense and commerce were separate, technological competition between the United States and its adversaries could be abstracted as a two-handed match. The leader developed and deployed new technologies at the bleeding edge; the follower stole or copied (at the cost of being a few years behind), adapted it to national exigencies, and concentrated research on a few specialties (thus posing a niche challenge).

Dual-use technology offers the prospect of buying what one cannot steal, but until roughly the mid-1970s, commercial technology lagged military technology. The United States maintained its technological lead by declassifying technologies slowly and restricting the sale of advanced dual-use technologies to hostile states. Even if the system leaked, it helped contribute to the Communist bloc's relative backwardness.

Today some military equipment may be far superior to anything available commercially, but many defense systems lag commercial systems (because of delays associated with defense acquisition practices and the need to adapt products to military specifications). The sophistication and hardness of other military equipment are often purchased at a premium. Globalization means technologies are introduced everywhere at the same time (even if nations differ in their absorption rates). The end of the Cold War removed the constraint on selling dual-use equipment to almost anyone. These factors combined have led, in many areas, to where a dollar in the hands of adversaries can buy as much or more capability than the same dollar in the hands of DoD.

Where is the long-term U.S. technology advantage? First, the United States is richer; second, its military technologies give it unique capabilities; and third, the United States possesses systems integration skills that permit it to make more of a whole from its parts than others do. But do they suffice? China may have a larger GNP by 2018. Unique military technologies are becoming a thinner edge. The contribution of systems integration per se is hard to prove or even quantify.


Estimates of future conflict often assume that it would involve only conventional weapons, that lines of communications to the front (or elsewhere) would be unimpeded, and that the United States would hold supreme technological advantages. All three assumptions are more likely than not. But a foe might plausibly have the will, wherewithal, and wit to figure out how to violate each of them. Chapter 11 outlines some paths a nation can take to confound the United States, particularly its ability to project forces overseas. To do so by 2008 would require good luck on the part of today's rogue states. But with globalization, technology is likely to spread faster. The 20 years between today and 2018 offer potential foes time to master the nasty technologies of warfare.

Weapons of mass destruction are a looming threat. The United States, for instance, has already fought an adversary, Iraq, which possessed medium-range missiles and chemical warheads that might have been mated and fired, even though they were not. Tomorrow's adversary may be less reluctant; its missiles might have longer ranges (possibly intercontinental), greater accuracy, and nuclear warheads.

A denial strategy can operate in many ways. No nation is likely to dominate any warfighting medium in competition with the United States. Yet mines, missiles, surface raiders, and long-range guns can increase the hazards of sea transit, thereby throttling commerce. Foes can attack runways, air-traffic control sites, support services, and even aircraft. Information warfare against military information systems is inevitable, but the closed nature of most military systems may favor defenders. By contrast, most parts of the global information infrastructure are open and likely to be more vulnerable. They could be held for ransom, or attacked so that the citizenry thinks twice before supporting intervention into the attacker's neighborhoods.

Although exploitation of the information revolution for defense has gone furthest in the United States, even partial exploitation elsewhere could have a disproportionate effect on the capabilities of an adversary. Three pillars of tomorrow's military--precision-guided munitions (PGM), unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and access to space--could be acquired from many countries. Commercial technologies with military potential--computers (e.g., portables, which can store detailed maps on CD-ROMs), cellular telephones, networks, digital signal processors, and software (e.g., for simulation, manipulating databases, and encryption)--are even easier to acquire. Future foes may not have the reach or legs of U.S. forces, but they do not need them to put up a stiff fight in their own neighborhoods.


A foe's mastery of nasty military technologies--WMD, attacks on lines of communication, or a cheap revolution in
military affairs (RMA)--could extract unacceptable casualties from military forces operating overseas. A foe's technological competence could strike hardest against power projection, which is both a U.S. core competence and the most vulnerable aspect of U.S. global military capabilities. In the hands of state or nonstate actors, WMD may be used against homeland populations.

The impact of WMD depends on how they are wielded. A threat against a lukewarm ally of the United States could persuade it to leave a U.S.-led coalition (thereby reducing the coalition's combat power) or deny the ally's facilities to U.S. forces (complicating logistics). The specter of WMD use would hang heaviest on force concentrations and close-in warfighting methods where soldiers must be massed if their effects are to be focused. The existence of countermeasures against chemical and biological warfare (e.g., aerosol detectors) by no means eliminates the problem. Chemical-weapons suits are hard to fight in. Defenses against WMD delivery systems such as ballistic or cruise missiles are advancing, but today's best systems leak, and progress belies optimistic expectations of their performance. Even reliable missile defenses would afford little protection against terrorist WMD or weapons delivered by artillery (e.g., North Korea's overlooking Seoul). Any deterrence provided by retaliation-in-kind (e.g., hitting back with nuclear weapons) is problematic because it would legitimize a class of weapons otherwise receding from the inventories of today's powers.

Somali "technicals"

Potential threats against cities of core states, especially in North America, have to be taken seriously. If the technologies of hitting an ICBM in flight continue to be refined into something reliable, a shield against a sparse attack might be upgraded to cover successively denser ones. True, sensors proliferated in space could increase detection and localization of missiles, but stealth and decoy techniques can hide true missile tracks. Beyond some point, the calculus of antimissile defense runs into the same technical problems (e.g., the mathematics of leak-proof defense or cheap countermeasures) that convinced the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972 to conclude the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

The use of mines, shore-based bombardment, submarines, or surface raiders to threaten straits (e.g., Gibraltar, Bosporus, Hormuz, Malacca, and Tsushima), canals (e.g., Suez, Panama), and littorals could frustrate global commerce, blackmail nations or corporations, and generally complicate deployment. Air threats pose similar challenges, and many are directed against lives rather than against commerce.

Cyber warfare, as noted in chapter eleven, could destroy (although more likely corrupt) information required for high-technology operations, curtail access to information systems and services when most needed, and either compromise the security of war plans and technologies or reveal locations of friendly forces. Threats against lines of communication could complicate the use of split basing and reach-back (i.e., supporting forces abroad with information systems in the United States) or force the addition of further layers of protection for the existing infrastructure. A thin but redundant support architecture might survive information warfare better than a thick but expensive one, prone to single-point failure because no one can afford to make it redundant.

By learning to apply information technology to conventional warfare, a nasty foe could easily undo the three pillars of the coalition victory in the Gulf: superior logistics, command-and-control warfare, and dominant maneuver. An adroit combination of cruise missiles and laser-equipped UAVs could pose substantial risks to the high concentrations of value that define U.S. platforms, notably ships, but also logistics transfer and storage points. An adversary's ability to disperse its own C4ISR systems would complicate U.S. efforts at command-and-control warfare. If a trackable signature constitutes a target for precision guided missiles, then maneuvering (thus, disturbing the environment) can, by enhancing signature, introduce new vulnerabilities. Today's operational philosophy counts on the United States' sensor superiority through such platforms as Aegis ships, or aircraft hosting AWACS, JSTARS, Cobra Ball, and Rivet Joint suites, none of them particularly stealthy and all operating within 100 to 200 kilometers of battle. Against a foe so equipped, the United States would need to rethink the optimistic pictures of Joint Vision 2010. By contrast, networks of sensors, processors, and weapons can be arrayed to take hits and still recompose themselves in near real time to support operations.


A nasty threat arises only if the requisite technologies are mastered by those willing to take the risk of using them.

Many rogue states have WMD warheads and theater missiles. Few missiles exceed 1,000 kilometers in range, but North Korea, if it survives long enough, may have weaponry that does. Yet, developing WMD or strategic delivery systems is fraught with risks. The very activity gets one noticed and may lead to countermeasures by the United States and others before efforts have been completed. Those who would employ biological and chemical WMD must also calculate that while the odds of success may vary, even a serious attempt that fails to generate all the desired effects may result in retaliation, and nuclear means cannot be ruled out.

Because the means to challenge sea and air lines of communications are within reach of many, terrorism against either has to be considered a real threat (even if blue-water operational capability remains expensive and rare). Information warfare is cheap and many systems are vulnerable, but whether even a coordinated attack against prepared defenses can surpass the level of annoyance is not clear.

Finally, the innovative exploitation of commercial information technology is quite likely. Electronics is a commodity and is thus globally available. Although the United States prides itself on its superior skills in systems integration (a lead it should enjoy through at least 2018), the technological sophistication of the Third World is not to be underestimated. Given the Internet, the number of students studying engineering in the core states, the level of foreign direct investment, and the reverse engineering of complex systems, a potential exists to learn adequate systems integration skills.

Indications and Warnings of a Revolution in Military Affairs by Other States

Military intelligence tends to assess the progress of other countries toward an RMA by examining their doctrine plus current and in-the-pipeline equipment, most of it acquired and developed along established military lines. Were such assessments reliable, other countries' RMAs could be seen coming years away, and the U.S. lead could be managed by a vigorous response where most threatened.

The civilian nature of most RMA technologies suggests that an RMA itself may arise from civilian ranks. Third World strategists may be able to figure out how to build an effective military by rummaging through the global Radio Shack. They might not even have to be defense strategists. Much of the RMA entails how to know about and control land and immediate airspace. Domination of battlespace has similarities to other tasks of national space management, such as environmental control, transportation management, urban and regional planning, law enforcement, and even public health. RMA concepts may also arise among defense firms in core states eager for overseas customers. Rogue states are unlikely to be favored customers, but today's approved customer can become tomorrow's enemy (e.g., Iran in the late 1970s).

If new concepts for C4ISR and related aspects of warfighting do not show up in normal defense acquisition channels, they may be missed. Watching Beijing is not enough if the RMA comes out of Shenzhen.


When waging war, the United States prefers going in hard, knowing whom to fight, winning decisively, getting an enemy to admit defeat, and leaving a state to its (ultimately) grateful populace. Reality is rarely that clean. Wars, such as the one fought in Vietnam, may lack obvious starting points, clear lines between enemy and noncombatant, obvious ending points, and enemies that quit when beaten. Transitions between a large-scale peace operation, scattered resistance to peacemakers, dissolution into chaos, and the onset of outright war may not be possible to determine (even after the fact).

As the Gulf War has shown, the United States is hard to beat in open terrain. Dense terrain gives some protection, but the ability to intermingle one's warriors amongst the background population can generate especial advantages. Making military weapons (e.g., a pickup truck with a Bushmaster-class machine gun in back) look commercial (e.g., a pickup truck) is a tempting option for a foe preferring to abjure uniforms and shield itself behind the local population (whether as supporters or hostages may be irrelevant). As events in Mogadishu or Grozny proved, even poor people can generate challenging counters to technologically sophisticated weapons confined in urban areas. The cheaper electronics gets (and anything that can be pressed into a chip will eventually be tantamount to free), the faster it is likely to spread within the Third World. By 2018, many cities may be densely wired into virtual grids permitting the detection of and mobilization against even fast-moving military units.

The U.S. military can also be stressed if loaded with enough responsibilities for military operations other than war: peace operations occasioned by failing states, natural disaster relief, or large-scale noncombatant evacuation operations (NEOs). Rapid urbanization coupled with a decline of integrating belief systems may yield an ungovernable world where criminal organizations or gangs control neighborhoods and hold commerce for ransom. Failed states already pull in core forces in intermittent, frustrating attempts to relieve potential tragedy, restore order, or protect the interests of core states.

The occupation of even a defeated nation can pose problems if its population is:

Israel, for example, beat Syrian forces in Lebanon in 1982 and has suffered 16 years of constant casualties since, while occupying a security zone south of the Litani River.


Messy situations are manpower intensive. If they go wrong, the institutional cohesion of the military may be put at risk.

Patrol, whether for peace operations, or the occupation of a hostile land, could absorb tens or hundreds of thousands of foot soldiers. Forces may have to find a mix between visible presence and the rapid, stealthy insertion and recovery of forces to conduct strikes on opposing leaders and concentrations--with international media looking on. Although technology (e.g., unmanned hovering lookouts, sniper-round detectors, microwave and infrared (IR) see-through devices) can help find things, true information dominance requires an understanding of an area in its full human dimension. This is never easy, especially in the face of a suspicious or hostile population.

Evacuation and disaster operations require working with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and private voluntary organizations (PVOs), contracting for and delivering commercial services, and exercising power to acquire enough food, medicine, and transport vehicles. Eventually militaries will come to play a skeletal organizing role, and private support services will provide the bulk of the effort (except, perhaps, quarantine enforcement).


The extent to which the U.S. military is preoccupied with a messy world depends on whether the world becomes more of a mess, and whether it does so in ways that compel U.S. interest.

The persistence of messiness is guaranteed. Dirty wars will not go away. State failure in Africa continues. Populations in many parts of the world are pressing against food supplies. Global warming, overpopulation, deforestation, and the potential rise of antibiotic-resistant infectious agents raise the likelihood of certain natural disasters. Youth unemployment in tomorrow's growing megacities is extremely high even as such conurbations become more vital to the world economy; irruptions against them may well call for evacuating their populations.

The United States will not send forces forward into every crisis or disaster. The more distant the trouble, the greater the temptation to do nothing. Yet, continued difficulties with drugs, organized crime, and unchecked immigration coupled with failing or corrupt state authority to the south may force the U.S. military to preoccupy itself with problems in its own backyard. A good deal depends on other nations' expectations of the world's unipolar power, U.S. public opinion, and the interdependence and growth of the global infrastructure. In an age of air transport, the outbreak of a highly contagious disease could force core states into action, which, in some circumstances, could involve military forces (e.g., to protect health workers in failed states). Given a globalized economy, the security of any one Third World city tied into core states affects the terms on which others live.

Responding to Worsening News

The United States could respond to a worsening world in two ways. As the next chapter details, the plausibility of larger foes, nastier technologies, or messy situations reinforces the need for defense institutions and systems to be broadly adaptive. But DoD must also monitor the world's threat environment and respond if it worsens.

Satellite communications        

Responding to the problem of a larger foe is largely one of coping with unexpected but nevertheless historically familiar size. Today's forces need not be raised to meet a larger foe that, itself, must take comparable time to build forces. Yet some elements of defense, like advanced technology, take longer to complete than others. Some tasks that once consumed the assets of the Nation's R&D establishment--strategic warning, intercontinental strike, national missile defense, space control and denial, high-energy systems, and electronic warfare--may need to be intensified when a large adversary is on the ascent rather than when it has already arrived. Investments in lift would similarly be required to face a foe capable of challenging the United States in many places.

Pacing the force to follow a rogue's progress at mastering nasty technology is difficult. Few obvious indicators foretell a foe's ability to interdict lines of communication or field a cheap RMA. Harder still is correctly forecasting a will to be nastier. For this reason, many of the coping strategies must be in place or en route to begin with.

Many methods of coping with the possession of WMD are getting attention: warning systems, counterproliferation, and deterrence strategies. Operating with widely dispersed or over-the-horizon forces, although a more radical response that challenges command-and-control doctrine and inter-service roles, may need to be pressed.

Sea lines of communication can be pro-tected by using airborne surveillance and other C4ISR assets against shore attack or raiders. Mine-clearing and submarine-detection remain complex problems. Protecting the open ocean may require monitoring global ship movements continually, for example, by using air- or spaceborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to pick out wakes.

Conventional threats to airways can be managed by general air superiority, runway protection (e.g., rapid repair kits and revetments), and redundancy in radar and navigation systems. Coping with the proliferation of portable heat-seeking missiles (with vertical ranges up to 3 kilometers) into terrorist hands is difficult. Exclusion zones around some military airports may be workable, but many civilian airports cannot be protected this way. Hardening civilian aircraft would be hideously expensive, but infrared countermeasures may be affordable for aircraft with certain missions (e.g., the Civil Reserve Air Fleet).

DoD already protects its information systems and by contractual methods could induce similar protection for its suppliers' systems. To help bolster civilian but still critical infrastructures, DoD could fund help centers, computer-hacker trackers, security technology and related tests, standards, metrics, and verification suites; DoD experts could directly assist systems administrators. Yet DoD cannot protect private systems.

The United States could respond to an adversary's cheap RMA by accelerating its own, notably its ability to conduct stand-off warfare. The growing vulnerability of platforms will inevitably force consideration of dispersing data collection, information processing, manning, and weaponry into networks that can be assembled quickly, withstand attack, and degrade gracefully under its effects.

Escalation is another method of dealing with the threats of WMD and attacks on LOCs. In effect, the United States could declare a differentiation between the operational (conventional weapons used on the battlefield overseas) and the strategic (WMD and threats to the United States or its friends). Strategic threats warrant a strategic response. Declaring a firebreak, however, does not guarantee its acceptance; even allies might not countenance a U.S. strategic response unless there were many casualties at home.

Some trends toward a messier world can be monitored, but without sorting out its own values a nation will not know when and where it may intervene. Messy situations can be managed by using forces with sufficient mass to quell them. In other cases, control may be impossible and successful intervention a matter of influence: stand-off weapons for isolated, obvious targets; rapid-strike operations for targets of opportunity; and copious information support to local forces to help them handle problems. The challenges involved are to:

Large-scale NEOs require development of a doctrine of cordon sanitaire, a firebreak between the irruption and evacuees. The latter may include antimissile and anti-aircraft assets and counterfire operations.


Although today's world is benign and likely to stay so, the U.S. military must be prepared for less inviting futures. Compared to the canonical major theater war (MTW) foe, tomorrow may see larger foes, those who have mastered nastier technologies, or situations far messier than theater conflict.

The most difficult of plausible bleak futures may not be those that are obvious and ugly but those whose character is ambiguous. Ugliness derives from tradeoffs that even rogues may be unwilling to make. Taking on core states may impede the access to trade and technology necessary to financing and building a modern military. Brandishing WMD or threatening LOCs may risk devastating escalation by the United States. The messiest situations may not affect U.S. interests.

The futures to watch would skirt these tradeoffs. One might be a major power with a smiling face and steel-pointed boots kicking furiously under the table as domestic debate ensues over its true character. Another might be a midsize state that had mastered the jujitsu of commercial information technology and learned to build low-cost, high-tech defenses against U.S. intervention. A third might be a messy situation that strikes at the interests of core states: disasters that threaten to spread quickly along a swift infrastructure, or irruptions best dealt with by evacuation, rather than full-scale conventional combat operations.

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