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Steven Metz
James O. Kievit

July 25, 1994

The views expressed in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


For many experts on U.S. national security, the combination of emerging technology and innovative ideas seen in the Gulf War seem to herald a genuine revolution in military affairs. The victory of coalition forces demonstrated the technology and seemed to suggest that the revolution in military affairs can solve many of the strategic problems faced by the United States in the post-Cold War security environment.

In this study, the authors concede that the revolution in military affairs holds great promise for conventional, combined-arms warfare, but conclude that its potential value in conflict short of war, whether terrorism, insurgency, or violence associated with narcotrafficking, is not so clear-cut. Given this, national leaders and strategists should proceed cautiously and only after a full exploration of the ethical, political, and social implications of their decisions. To illustrate this, the authors develop a hypothetical future scenario--a "history" of U.S. efforts in conflict short of war during the first decade of the 21st century.

It is too early to offer concrete policy prescriptions for adapting many aspects of the revolution in military affairs to conflict short of war, but the authors do suggest an array of questions that should be debated. In order to decide whether to apply new technology and emerging concepts or how to employ them, the United States must first reach consensus on ultimate objectives and acceptable costs. The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to offer this study as a first step in this process.

                              JOHN W. MOUNTCASTLE
                              Colonel, U.S. Army            
                              Director, Strategic Studies Institute


Many American strategic thinkers believe that we are in the beginning stages of a historical revolution in military affairs (RMA). This will not only change the nature of warfare, but also alter the global geopolitical balance.

To date, most attention has fallen on the opportunities provided by the RMA rather than its risks, costs, and unintended consequences. In the arena of conflict short of war, these risks, costs, and unintended consequences may outweigh the potential benefits.

The Strategic Context.

The Cold War notion of conflict short of war is obsolete. Politically and militarily, the Third World of the future will be full of danger. The future will most likely be dominated by peace enforcement in failed states, new forms of insurgency and terrorism, and "gray area phenomena." Many if not most Third World states will fragment into smaller units. Ungovernability and instability will be the norm with power dispersed among warlords, primal militias, and well-organized politico-criminal organizations. U.S. policy in the Third World is likely to be more selective and the U.S. homeland may no longer provide sanctuary. Renewed external support will restore the lagging proficiency of insurgents and terrorists.

The Application of Emerging Technology.

Emerging technology will have less impact on conflict short of war than on conventional, combined-arms warfare. It will, however, have some role. In noncombatant evacuation operations, new technology can assist with identification and notification of evacuees. Sensor technology, robotics, nonlethal weapons, and intelligence meshes will be used in combatting terrorism, countering narcotrafficking, and peace operations. These technologies, along with simulator training and unmanned aerial vehicles, will also be useful in insurgency and counterinsurgency.

Constraints and Countermeasures.

There are a number of constraints on applying the RMA to conflict short of war. These include the lack of a powerful institutional advocate for this process, a shortage of money for the development of technology specifically for conflict short of war, and the possibility that new technology may run counter to American values.

Enemies may also develop countermeasures to RMA innovations. Rather than attempt to match the technological prowess of U.S. forces, future enemies will probably seek asymmetrical countermeasures designed to strike at U.S. public support for engagement in conflict short of war, at the will of our friends and allies, or, in some cases, at deployed U.S. forces.

Making Revolution.

Rather than simply graft emerging technology to existing strategy, doctrine, organization, force structure, objectives, concepts, attitudes, and norms, the United States could pursue a full revolution in the way we approach conflict short of war. This is rife with hidden dangers and unintended consequences. A hypothetical future scenario illustrates some of these.

Conclusions and Recommendations.

In the near future, change will occur in the American approach to conflict short of war. To understand and control ongoing change, research, analysis, and debate is needed on a number of topics:

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