Anyone who wants to understand the nature of war in the 21st century would do well to read The Sling and the Stone, by Colonel Thomas X. Hammes (USMC). This important book describes four evolving methods of warfare over the last two centuries, with each previous generation being defeated by the successive generation of warfare.
Hammes and others assert that we are presently in the fourth generation.
- Open source warfare -- An ability to decentralize beyond the limits of a single group (way beyond cell structures) using new development and coordination methodologies. This new structure doesn't only radically expand the number of potential participants, it shrinks the group size well below any normal measures of viability. This organizational structure creates a dynamic whereby new entrants can appear anywhere. In London, Madrid, Berlin, and New York.
- Systems disruption -- A method of sabotage that goes beyond the simple destruction of physical infrastructure. This method of warfare, which can burst onto the scene as a black swan, uses network dynamics (a new form of leveraged maneuver) to undermine and reorder global systems. It is through this Schumpeterian "creative destruction" that new environments favorable to opposition forces are built (often due to a descent into primary loyalties and pressure from global markets).
- Virtual states -- Unlike the guerrilla movements of the past, many of the 4GW forces we are fighting today have found a way to integrate their activities with global "crime." No longer are guerrilla movements or terrorists aimed at taking control of the reigns of the state or merely proxies for states. A new form of economic sustenance has been found. This black globalization is already vast (a GDP of trillions per year), and gains momentum through weakening and disruption of states. This military/economic integration creates a virtuous feedback loop that allows groups to gain greater degrees of independence and financial wealth through the warfare they conduct.
Now add into your thinking not just the nature and strategies of ultramodern warfare, but also the new generations of weapons that are becoming available.
By 2015, the US Department of Defense plans that one third of its fighting strength will be composed of robots, part of a $127 billion project known as Future Combat Systems (FCS), a transformation that is part of the largest technology project in American history. . . By 2035, the plan is for the first completely autonomous robot soldiers to stride on to the battlefield.
Of course, molecular manufacturing -- part of the fourth generation of nanotechnology development -- will exponentially expand the destructive potential of autonomous weapons, and it also could make war more likely by reducing factors that contribute to global stability.