DTP 107: Shifting Human Environment: How Trends in Human Geography Will Shape Future Military Operations


DTP 107Editors: Paul T. Bartone & Mitchell Armbruster

In January 2014 the Center for Technology and National Security Policy was asked to examine some major trends within the domain of human geography, developments that will have important influence on the type of environments future military forces will be operating in. Experts were identified to address the following key topics:

  • Population, migration and the development of megacities
  • Technology change and education
  • Ideological and cultural factors in conflict
  • Irregular and hybrid threats
  • Growth of transnational crime organizations and activities

One goal of this effort was to provide useful information to DoD policy makers engaged in future force planning and “futures thinking.” The papers contained in this volume all deal with major developments and trends in the human arena that are likely to change the way military forces must operate in the future. Each paper contains a section addressing anticipated implications for future military operations. And by presenting these papers as a package, the reader is encouraged to move beyond a simple recognition of particular trends, and consider how these factors may interact to shape a more complex and surprising future operating environment.1

As economic growth has spread to more and more of the developing world, an unprecedented level of migration to large urban centers has occurred in response. The first paper by Bartone and Sciarretta explores the rise of these “megacities,” and what they mean for the future of U.S. defense policy. According to the United Nations, by 2025 there will be 37 megacities worldwide, up from 27 today. Up until now, the U.S. military has attempted to avoid operating in hostile urban environments whenever possible. Bartone and Sciarretta show that the military needs to develop significant urban warfare capabilities in order to effectively carry out future missions.

Albert Sciarretta’s paper on ideology and decision making examines how bias shapes and informs the decisions that government and non-government groups make. Sciarretta reviews the various types of biases and ideologies that leaders have, including religious, pragmatic, and cultural beliefs systems. Understanding what these ideologies are, how they influence thought processes, and who possesses them is critical in order to develop strategies to face emerging threats.

One way that future adversaries are likely to employ force is through a mix of conventional warfare, irregular tactics, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, cyberattacks, and criminal behavior called hybrid warfare. James Keagle’s paper on hybrid threats explores the nature of hybrid threats and ways in which the U.S. can counter them. Understanding the hybrid threat is critical for, as Keagle explains, hybrid threats are often located in the global commons that the U.S. has sought to control. This paper is especially timely, as Russia has employed elements of hybrid warfare in its assault on Ukraine. As more and more actors turn to the tactics associated with hybrid warfare, the U.S. military must develop capabilities and strategies to counter them.

Celina Realuyo’s paper addresses the rising threat the U.S. will face from transnational criminal enterprises. New opportunities, such as cyberspace, now allow transitional criminal elements to spread their operations further and faster than before. While the globalized economy has created previously unimaginable wealth and opportunities, it has also come with a dark side. Transnational criminal groups and international terrorists have used the same infrastructure to enrich themselves and promote their interests around the world. As transnational criminal networks become wealthy, they will seek to infiltrate and corrupt government institutions, creating in effect “criminal states” that protect and promote the interests of the gangs that control them. Transnational criminal networks have also found common cause with terrorist groups, with both operating in the same “governance gaps” that permit their behavior. A renewed whole of government approach to transnational criminal gangs will be necessary in order to combat this emerging threat.

Robinson, Armbruster, and Snapp’s contribution on the future of education details how changes in technology and approaches are reshaping education, not only in the U.S. but around the world. New approaches to education, such as flipped classrooms, competency based education, massive open online courses (MOOCs), and mobile learning are challenging educational institutions to rapidly adapt. In addition, advanced technology makes education more affordable and accessible to more people, and further advances are expected to radically re-order the educational landscape. Virtual classrooms, augmented reality, 3D printing, and gamification are all challenging the traditional model of education. U.S. military leaders need to understand how these changes will both impact our society and how they will affect the rest of the world.

Taken together, these papers describe an increasingly networked, technologically sophisticated and complex world that the U.S. military will have to operate in. By being aware of these trends, national security leaders and decision makers will be better equipped for the awesome task of anticipating future force challenges and requirements.

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