Effects of Economic and Conflict Shift on U.S. Military Operations: What Future Conflict May Look Like


On 29 September 2008, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by over 700 points. This is generally considered to be the start of the Great Recession, the worst economic global incident of modern times since the Great Depression of 1929. There were many causes of the Great Recession, misunderstanding of the banking crisis, greed, and poor decision-making on the behalf of both bankers and consumers to name just some of the more prominent causes. In addition to those, however, there was the underlying shift in the global economy. That shift, away from rural to urban, and to a more service based economy in the developed world; combined with the desire of the multitude of those newly released from poverty, as the number of those below the poverty line continued to shrink, is an economic shift that has only accelerated as we now surpass the 10 year anniversary of the event. These developments have helped shift population growth to urban areas as more people seek to better their lives and fortunes. This, in turn, has led to the increased development of the mega-city or alpha city.

Also, 10 years ago over the course 4 days – from the 26th to the 29th of November – a highly sophisticated and deadly terrorist attack was perpetrated in the city of Mumbai, India, which is considered one of the aforementioned mega-cities. The terrorist had entered the country by boat. The target set was determined, in part, with help by a member in the United States. The terrorist used cell phones to communicate with a support and leadership cell that may have partially been residing in a third country. Additionally, the perpetrators utilized the very means of free speech enjoyed by the citizenry to target and enhance their capabilities. Controllers watched the news to direct the terrorists to the most advantageous spot to conduct attacks and warn them of what the security services were doing. This example of new urban conflict in littoral mega-cities may become the case study for conflict in the future.

These two forces – the global economy and the nature of conflict changing and shifting – are the most likely aspects of ongoing change that will affect United States joint and multinational military operations. As illustrated in the Global Trends: Paradoxes and Progress, without intervention, massive change will affect global culture and society. As these shifts occur, the global economy will affect immigration flows and the ability of governments to provide for their citizenry. Without proper governance and protection, caused by the economic shift, the very nature of conflict will change. These changes to population due to economics and the changing nature of conflict will be the driving factors in future joint and multinational military operations.

A globally shifting economy will cause a commensurate shift in population flow, causing a massive increase in immigration. The existing global conflict hot-spots enhances migration; increasing both immigration and the number of internally displaced persons. As immigration flow increases, this disruption of the social fabric causes conflict in and among nation states and fosters protectionism. George Friedman notes in The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century that as protectionism and restrictions on immigration increase this, will exacerbate and fuel conflicts. This shift in immigration pattern and in the nature and location of conflict will make it increasingly harder for sovereign nations to provide adequate governance and protection for its people.

Inability to provide governance and protection will likely lead to an increase in the number and frequency of conflicts in which the United States and specifically the United States military will be involved. The United States is a signatory to several international treaties and conventions including; the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and has been a member of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which obliges the United States to become involved in conflict. Additionally, the recent development of the concept of a sovereign states “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) its citizens – as demonstrated in the articles presented in Theorising the Responsibility to Protect – provides an additional emphasis for intervention. As the demographic shift caused by economic instability crashes against an increase in the responsibility and obligations to intervene, the United States and its military will be required to intervene more often.

Author David Kilcullen argues in his book Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla, the most likely confluence of these two trends will be in the developing littoral mega-cities. With the change in economics, immigration will be towards the jobs that will be in these cities. As more people flow into the mega-cities the grey area of governance will increase. With this lack of governance, nefarious actors will propagate causing strain and disruption to the system. As the system breaks, obligations – both international and national – are likely to compel the United States to intervene. The United States military in joint and as part of multinational operations will need to be able to operate in this changing environment.

The United States military will likely face a dramatic increase in the number of joint and multinational operations the government will apply it to as the global economy shifts to a more protectionist stance. Additionally, the nature of these conflicts will change as the United States faces a more urban and littoral combat environment. In addition to the shifts require of combined arms doctrine and leadership, within the specific discipline of Military Intelligence, this shift will require the intelligence analysts to deal with a more complex situation and require a greater understanding of the operational environment. These changes will require the United States military – as part of joint and multinational operations – to be a more dynamic and a more flexible force.

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