Since the United States’ near-peer adversaries possess nuclear weapons, the U.S. Army needs to prepare for small, politically constrained, ambiguous, limited conflict. Without a reorientation on the future, the U.S. Army doctrine and concepts are not useful and potentially limit policymakers’ options, or worse, risk accidental nuclear escalation.
The international system is at the onset of a new period of transformation brought about by the interaction of two forces: increased democratization and the revolution in information technologies. There are more democracies than ever before, and there are more tools to easily influence public opinion. Even beyond Russia, there is little doubt other states will see its success and seek to mimic its capabilities. This will be true particularly in authoritarian states, whose bastioned societies ensure asymmetry and shield them from reciprocity. The more that democracies spread and the more their citizens connect online, the more vulnerable they will become to outside influence, subtly shifting international competition into the theater of public opinion.
The dramatic title of a 2015 magazine article in The Atlantic by Dominic Tierney, “Why has America Stopped Winning Wars?,” underscored a portrayal of the final military deaths in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq as both remarkable and poignant. A better question and the focus here is: Why do U.S. military outcomes after 1945 so often fail to achieve the policy objectives for which they are begun?
Both ISIS and Russia seek to present themselves as a solution to unbearable problems. If they are simultaneously the cause of those problems, or seek to exacerbate them, that is irrelevant. Especially in the case of ISIS, they believe that if they make life solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short enough, a given population will accept even draconian masters in exchange for peace and stability.