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Strategic Context

An Era of Persistent Conflict

The global security environment is more ambiguous and unpredictable than in the past. Many national security and intelligence experts share the Army’s assessment that the next several decades will be characterized by persistent conflict—protracted confrontation among state, non-state, and individual actors that are increasingly willing to use violence to achieve their political and ideological ends. We live in a world where global terrorism and extremist ideologies, including extremist movements such as Al Qaeda, threaten our personal freedom and our national interests. We face adept and ruthless adversaries who exploit technological, informational, and cultural differences to call the disaffected to their cause. Future operations in this dynamic environment will likely span the spectrum of conflict from peacekeeping operations to counterinsurgency to major combat.

Global Trends

Several global trends are evident in this evolving security environment. Globalization has increased interdependence and prosperity in many parts of the world. It also has led to greater disparities in wealth which set conditions that can foster conflict. The current global recession will further increase the likelihood of social, political, and economic tensions.

Technology, which has enabled globalization and benefited people all over the world, also is exploited by extremists to manipulate perceptions, export terror, and recruit people who feel disenfranchised or threatened.

Population growth increases the likelihood of instability with the vast majority of growth occurring in urban areas of the poorest regions in the world. The limited resources in these areas make young, unemployed males especially vulnerable to anti-government and radical ideologies. The inability of governments to meet the challenges of rapid population growth fuels local and regional conflicts with potential global ramifications.

Increasing demand for resources, such as energy, water, and food, especially in developing economies, will increase competition and the likelihood of conflict. Climate change and natural disasters further strain already limited resources, increasing the potential for humanitarian crises and population migrations.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) remains a vital concern. Growing access to technology increases the potential for highly disruptive or even catastrophic events involving nuclear, radiological, chemical, and biological weapons or materials. Many terrorist groups are actively seeking WMD. Failed or failing states, lacking the capacity or will to maintain territorial control, can provide safe havens for terrorist groups to plan and export operations, which could include the use of WMD.

These global trends, fueled by local, regional, and religious tensions, create a volatile security environment with increased potential for conflict. As these global trends contribute to an era of persistent conflict, the character of conflict in the 21st Century is changing.

The Evolving Character of Conflict

Although the fundamental nature of conflict is timeless, its ever-evolving character reflects the unique conditions of each era. Current global trends include a diverse range of complex operational challenges that alter the manner and timing of conflict emergence, change the attributes and processes of conflict, require new techniques of conflict resolution, and demand much greater integration of all elements of national power. The following specific characteristics of conflict in the 21st Century are especially important.

Diverse actors, especially non-state actors, frequently operate covertly or as proxies for states. They are not bound by internationally recognized norms of behavior, and they are resistant to traditional means of deterrence.

Hybrid threats are dynamic combinations of conventional, irregular, terrorist, and criminal capabilities. They make pursuit of singular approaches ineffective, necessitating innovative solutions that integrate new combinations of all elements of national power.

Conflicts are increasingly waged among the people instead of around the people. Foes seeking to mitigate our conventional advantages operate among the people to avoid detection, deter counterstrikes, and secure popular support or acquiescence. To secure lasting stability, the allegiance of indigenous populations becomes the very object of the conflict.

Conflicts are becoming more unpredictable. They arise suddenly, expand rapidly, and continue for uncertain durations in unanticipated, austere locations. They are expanding to areas historically outside the realm of conflict such as cyberspace and space. Our nation must be able to rapidly adapt its capabilities in order to respond to the increasingly unpredictable nature of conflict.

Indigenous governments and forces frequently lack the capability to resolve or prevent conflicts. Therefore, our Army must be able to work with these governments, to create favorable conditions for security and assist them in building their own military and civil capacity.

Interagency partnerships are essential to avoid and resolve conflicts that result from deeply rooted social, economic, and cultural conditions. Military forces alone cannot establish the conditions for lasting stability.

Images of conflicts spread rapidly across communication, social, and cyber networks by way of 24-hour global media and increased access to information through satellite and fiber-optic communications add to the complexity of conflict. Worldwide media coverage highlights the social, economic, and political consequences of local conflicts and increases potential for spillover, creating regional and global destabilizing effects.

Despite its evolving character, conflict continues to be primarily conducted on land; therefore, landpower—the ability to achieve decisive results on land—remains central to any national security strategy. Landpower secures the outcome of conflict through an integrated application of civil and military capabilities, even when landpower is not the decisive instrument. The Army, capable of full spectrum operations as part of the Joint Force, continues to transform itself to provide the prompt, sustainable, and dominant effects necessary to ensure our Nation’s security in the 21st Century.

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