Sunday 01 June 2014

One of the fundamental roles of every strategic leader is to develop a future vision. Crafting such a vision requires leaders to imagine the future geopolitical circumstances and determine a best course for the nation to achieve its national interests . To do that effectively, leaders should understand all the ways national power may be used in the future. One of the uses of national power that could most decisively influence our prosperity is the character of future war. As Prussian Carl von Clausewitz noted in his book On War: "the first, the grandest, and most decisive act of judgment which the statesman exercises is to understand the war in which he engages .... the first, the most comprehensive, of all strategic questions'. ' So understanding the character of potential war is crucial for any national leader.

Though envisioning the character of future conflict is challenging, everyone should understand that the fundamental nature of war is unchanging . Clausewitz wrote that war burns resolutely, always based around the complex interaction of three enduring factors: passion, chance, and reason. That dynamic means that war will forever be dominated by extreme danger, monumental exertion , great uncertainty, and inescapable devastation. All of these characteristics combine to make every war inherently horrific . So why do nations fight? Before Clausewitz, Greek general and historian Thucydides described a fundamental insight which has endured for over 2500 years: wars will continue to be fought and military strategies will remain important because flawed humans overreact to notions of "fear, honor , and interest;' and much too frequently, they choose to fight each other because they fail to understand . The horror of death and destruction, along with human susceptibility to "fear, honor, and interest:' reveal the true and unchanging nature of war as brutish, destructive and potentially uncontrollable. What does evolve over time is the character of each war, which changes primarily due to advances in technology .

So, though the nature of war is unchanging, the character of future war will transform as the tools of war evolve. As P.W Singer notes in his Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and 21st Century Conflict, "an amazing revolution is taking place on the battlefield, starting to change not just how wars are fought, but also the politics , economics, laws, and ethics that surround war itself.' Nano-technology involves the manipulation of matter at the molecular level, yielding materials that take on entirely new qualities. For example, nano -technology is enabling ever-smaller drones which might be able to conduct even indoor surveillance . Nano-computer s could create projectiles capable of correcting their paths in flight, like mini cruise missiles. Smaller, more powerful nano-processors could produce great leaps in artificial intelligence, leading to more advanced weapons systems. Some analysts believe such powerful technological advances will make nations reluctant to engage in war, but just as theorists foolishly thought the atomic bomb would produce a lasting peace, Thucydides and Clausewitz accurately predict otherwise.

During the First World War some 16 million people died and another 20 million were wounded, making it one of the deadliest conflicts in human history . Today, exactly a century after that dreadful struggle began, we all must fully understand war in order to avoid conflict and preserve the peace that undergird s our national prosperity. We must also be able to envision how the character of war may change in the years ahead in order to ensure our nation does not suffer from the worst effects of fear, honor and national interest .