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Research Questions

  1. What is the trajectory of America's 21st-century military?
  2. What was the dominant location of the common defense, and where is it now?
  3. What constitutes organized violence?
  4. What is the relationship between service members and organized violence, and how does proximity to violence affect that relationship?

Today's U.S. military is full of perplexing questions and issues. Individually, each can be explained, but collectively the explanations seem too complicated. This complexity makes the military difficult to comprehend even to those in uniform. This report is an attempt to understand this complexity and to start a conversation about how to better understand America's 21st-century military. To do that, a return to first principles is necessary, starting with how the nation understands "the common defense" and the role that organized violence plays in providing for it. The nation's understanding of both the common defense and organized violence has changed dramatically in the years since 2001. The diversification in the employment of violence produced a profound paradigm shift that Thomas Kuhn's seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, helps to identify and explain. America's senior civilian and military leaders must understand this shift in order to create the military the nation needs in the coming decades and to ensure that it is an institution the American people continue to trust.


  • U.S. policymakers should identify what is central to the U.S. military and what best belongs elsewhere in the U.S. government.
  • Civilian and military leaders need to recognize, understand, and assess what is happening to America's military so they shape it in a way that best serves the nation's 21st-century needs.

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The research described in this reporte was Prepared for the United States Air Force and conducted by RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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