The U.S. Joint Forces Command has updated its assessment of emerging geopolitical and technological trends and estimated their potential impact on future military operations in the new Joint Operating Environment (JOE) 2010 report (pdf).
“We will find ourselves caught off guard by changes in the political, economic, technological, strategic, and operational environments,” the report states. “We will find ourselves surprised by the creativity and capability of our adversaries. Our goal is not to eliminate surprise – that is impossible. Our goal is, by a careful consideration of the future, to suggest the attributes of a joint force capable of adjusting with minimum difficulty when the surprise inevitably comes.”
The JOE 2010 report is not overly sophisticated. It is full of clumsily formulated truisms. (“Modern wars are fought in more than simply the physical elements of the battlefield.”) It recycles tired maxims from Sun Tzu. It misspells Hitler’s first name.
But it also presents a number of stimulating assertions and provocative observations. For example:
Growing financial deficits “will likely mean far fewer dollars available to spend on defense… Indeed, the Department of Defense may shrink to less than ten percent of the total Federal budget…. If the U.S. enters a financial regime in which defense is to be cut by a third or more, Joint Force planners must carefully explore new areas of risk as force posture and procurement budgets shrink.”
“Future Joint Force commanders will find conflict over water endemic to their world, whether as the spark or the underlying cause of conflicts among various racial, tribal, or political groups, …with armed groups controlling or warring over remaining water, while the specter of disease resulting from unsanitary conditions would hover in the background.”
“The challenges that Chinese leadership confronts at present are enormous, and an unsuccessful China is perhaps more worrisome than a prosperous one. China is confronting major internal problems that could have an impact on its strategic course. The country will face increasing demographic pressures as its population ages. Due to its ‘one child’ policy, China may grow old before it grows rich. Furthermore, a cultural preference for male heirs will create a surplus male population nearing 30 million by 2020.”
“The open and free flow of information favored by the West will allow adversaries an unprecedented ability to gather intelligence. Other nations without the legal and cultural restraints found in the U.S. may excel at capturing, assessing, or even manipulating this information for military purposes as an aid to waging the ‘Battle of Narratives.’ Indeed, adversaries have already taken advantage of computer networks and the power of information technology not only to plan and execute savage acts of terrorism, but also to influence directly the perceptions and will of the U.S. Government and the American population.”
“It is by no means certain that the United States and its allies will maintain their overall lead in technological development over the next 25 years. America’s secondary educational system is declining in a relative sense when compared to leading technological competitors, e.g., India and China.”
The previous edition (pdf) of the JOE report in 2008 generated unwanted controversy when it explicitly identified North Korea and Israel as nuclear weapons states, and warned of a threat to the stability of Mexico from criminal gangs and drug cartels. Regrettably, perhaps, most of those rough edges have been smoothed out in the latest report.