21st Century Security Environment: An Era of Uncertainty and Unpredictability


We remain an Army at War. It is a war unlike any other in our Nation's history, prosecuted not by states, but by extremists employing irregular means to erode our power and resolve. Our adversaries threaten the ideas that form the bedrock of our society, endangering our freedoms and way of life. Fueled by an ideology that promotes intractable hatred, this war will endure in some form for the foreseeable future. The Army, in service to the Nation, must therefore be prepared to sustain operations during a period of persistent conflict -- a blurring of familiar distinctions between war and peace. This is the most significant aspect of the 21st century security environment.

The emergence of unconventional and asymmetric threats, such as radical Islamic terrorist efforts aimed at the United States and other developed countries, has stretched the U.S. military. Protection afforded by geographic distance has decreased, while challenges and threats from extremists using weapons of mass destruction and attacks on civilian, military and economic targets have increased. While the current trend toward regional and global integration may render inter-state war less likely, the stability and legitimacy of the conventional political order in regions vital to the United States are increasingly under pressure.

There are now new actors, methods and capabilities that imperil the United States, its interests and its alliances in strategically significant ways. The Defense Strategy has identified four types of emerging security challenges for U.S. forces: irregular, traditional, catastrophic and disruptive. The "Four Challenges," described in Figure 1, categorize many of the issues expected in the future security environment. In many situations, these challenges may overlap, may occur simultaneously and may offer no easily discernible transition from one to another.

The Defense Strategy still recognizes the traditional threat paradigm, focused primarily on other states and known enemies. In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, however, it is no longer sufficient to be prepared to defend only against this type of threat. Our old concepts of security, deterrence and warning, developed through traditional intelligence approaches, do not apply sufficiently in this new strategic environment. While we must remain ready to sustain the full range of our global commitments, our overwhelming military superiority no longer serves as an adequate deterrent against many emerging threats, especially those of radical fundamentalist terrorists.

The implications of our environment are clear. We must understand the character of the irregular warfare we now face and adapt accordingly. In waging this war against determined adversaries, we have arrayed a vast, hierarchical organization against an elusive, adaptive network. Consequently, the Army is adapting to eliminate irrelevant policies, processes and doctrines. We must move beyond marginal improvements in our efforts to strengthen interdependencies with other Services and other agencies and reinforce a culture that fosters innovation and agility.

To respond to the challenges presented in this era of uncertainty and unpredictability, the Army has accelerated its transformation. During times of peace, change is generally slow and deliberate - at a pace supported by limited resources. In wartime, however, change must occur faster; a measured approach to change will not work.

We must remain ready to sustain the full range of our global commitments beyond those associated with the Global War on Terror. At the same time, the Army must be prepared to conduct sustained operations during a period of protracted conflict.