Home » Historical » War in the 21st Century: How has warfare changed?

War in the 21st Century: How has warfare changed?

Why War?

Nation’s have traditionally tried to make other nations change their political objectives through many means:

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Social-Psychological
  • Military
  • Netwar / Cyber

What will change now that we are in the 21st Century?

  • Weapons will be more sophisticated, and maybe less plentiful for the haves
  • Weapons will proliferate but be less sophisticated for the have nots
  • The nation states may not be the only warriors
    • Changing objectives of those not empowered to do so may be more difficult–Leaders may not have decisive authority
    • Rational will be irrational
  • Socio-Psychological means will be more important
    • Will blur in information warfare
  • Asymmetries will increase


  • No one can challenge the US in late 20th Century forms of warfare
  • Enemies will therefore seek asymmetric approaches
    • Low tech mass vice high tech limited quantity
    • Psychological
    • New rules
    • Reduce vulnerability to sophisticated weapons
    • Netwar / Cyber


  • Warfare will be characterized by asymmetries
    • Tactical–complex terrain, use of non-combatants, different rules of behavior
    • Operational–Deep strikes, target detection vice deception
    • Strategic
  • Military–homeland attacks–target detection vice deception
  • Political–Preparation of the body politic
  • Multi-domain—gain local /temporary advantage by exploiting cyber, fires, maneuver, etc. for limited time or location

Modes of Warfare

  • Hands-on
  • Standoff
  • Netwar / Cyber

Some mix of each will be the norm rather than the exception—multi-domain

Hands on War

  • Opponent states or independent organizations
  • Antagonists may be:
    • Passionate
    • Less technologically sophisticated
    • Less vulnerable to technology
  • Fought on complex physical and psychological terrain

Hands on War

  • Characterized by large numbers of refugees and non-combatants
  • Complex terrain–urban sprawl
  • Antagonists have different cultural values
    • What will they be willing lose–what is center of gravity?
    • Different decision process
  • Unattractive to Americans–therefore to be expected

Standoff War

  • State against state
  • Obvious objectives
  • A set of rules
  • Rational actors
  • Decisive authority present
  • Superior technology may be key
  • More robotic forces employed from afar
  • Deception and defense take on added importance
  • May go directly to strategic targets
  • Different calculus to determine the center of gravity
  • Space and information tools more important

Netwar / Cyber Warfare

  • Cyberspace is the battlefield–is the opponent vulnerable–are we?
  • Much more subtle psychological and infrastructure focus
  • When is competition war?
  • Where does national security begin and law enforcement end?
  • Characterized by extreme ambiguity and opponent identification problems
  • Time compressed

The Challenge

  • Designing a military to operate in such ambiguity will be difficult
  • Developing the warrior spirit for netwar/cyber

Developing doctrine and resultant agility and flexibility to conduct multi-domain operations

  • What are the new “rules of war”?

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