Peering into the Crystal Ball
May 11, 2020
This volume of the Future of Warfare series explains six geopolitical trends—U.S. polarization and retrenchment, China's rise, Asia's realignment, emergence of a revanchist Russia, upheaval in Europe, and turmoil in the Islamic world—that will drive conflict between now and 2030. These trends will shift U.S. alliances; pull limited resources in different directions; and, ultimately, create a deepening strategic dilemma for U.S. defense strategy.
The Changing Global Environment and Its Implications for the U.S. Air Force
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Carl von Clausewitz famously argued that "war is the continuation of politics by other means," and that aphorism remains as true in the 21st century as it was in the 19th: The future of warfare will depend on geopolitics. In this volume of the Future of Warfare series, RAND researchers examined six trends—U.S. polarization and retrenchment, China's rise, Asia's reassessment, the emergence of a revanchist Russia, upheaval in Europe, and turmoil in the Islamic world—to determine the drivers of conflict between now and 2030. Drawing on official strategy statements, secondary sources, and an extensive set of interviews across eight countries, this report explains how each of these trends has shaped conflict in the past and will likely continue to do so over the next decade. Together, these six trends point to three overarching findings. First, many of the underlying geopolitical assumptions in the U.S. National Defense Strategy for 2018—about the centrality of great-power competition and likelihood of aggression in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East—are correct. Second, although U.S. adversaries will likely remain relatively stable over the next decade, U.S. allies will likely change, especially as Europe becomes increasingly preoccupied with its own problems and as Asia reacts to the rise of China. Finally, and most importantly, U.S. strategists will face a deepening series of strategic dilemmas as the possibility of conflict in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East pull limited U.S. resources in different directions.
Global Political Trends
Trend 1: U.S. Polarization and Retrenchment
Trend 2: China's Rise
Trend 3: Asia's Reassessment
Trend 4: The Emergence of a Revanchist Russia
Trend 5: Upheaval in Europe
Trend 6: Turmoil in the Islamic World
This research was sponsored by the United States Air Force and conducted by the Strategy and Doctrine Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.
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