Understanding Conflict Trends
Sep 12, 2017
Future conflict projections suggest a continued decline in both interstate and intrastate conflict is likely through 2040. RAND researchers conclude the Army should help to support these trends by preparing for conventional wars against other states, although its most likely future missions will continue to involve irregular warfare against nonstate actors.
An Empirical Assessment of Historical Conflict Patterns and Future Conflict Projections
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Armed conflict has declined in both frequency and intensity since the end of the Cold War. The trends are especially clear for interstate conflict, but they also hold true for intrastate conflict. Taking into account historical trends and projections of key conflict drivers, the interstate and intrastate baseline future conflict projections in this report depict a continued decline through 2040, with interstate conflict down to extremely low levels and a much lower incidence of intrastate conflict. Some divergence from these projections is likely. The three factors that most strongly increased interstate conflict expectations were declining U.S. preeminence, declining capabilities of international organizations, and declining prevalence of consolidated democracies. The incidence of intrastate conflict is expected to increase if the capacity of state institutions or the rate of economic growth declines. Although the authors' projections indicate that interstate conflict may be rare in the future, the United States must retain a ready and credible land power deterrent to ensure such a future. Such a deterrent might not be used frequently, but its very existence delays the rise of a challenger and has a dampening effect on the incidence of conflict. The authors' projections also indicate that intrastate conflict (including proxy wars) will continue to be the main form of conflict incidence and, given the U.S. position in the international state system, Army forces are likely to become engaged in such conflicts. The trends toward a decrease in conflict incidence do not necessarily mean fewer U.S. interventions.
Overview of Conflict Trends
Operationalizing and Projecting Key Factors That Will Influence the Future Incidence of Conflict
Establishing the "No Surprises" Future
Trends in Conflict, 1946–2015: A Review of Conflict Types and Data Sets
Alternative Futures Tool
Review of the Social Science Literature on the Causes of Conflict
This research was sponsored by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-2 (Intelligence), Headquarters, Department of the Army, and conducted by the Strategy, Doctrine, and Resources Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.
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