The Soldier of Future Wars

Idealistic notions about the possibility of a peaceful resolution of conflicts based on liberal democratic values, which were widespread in the early 1990s, are out of fashion today. The man with a gun once again took a leading role on the world stage. There will be several types of “soldiers for future wars.”

The increased interest in military issues in our time indicates a return to the idea of traditional military force in contemporary international political processes. The events of recent years confirm the dire predictions of pessimists – there will always be work for men with guns. Idealistic notions about the possibility of a peaceful resolution of conflicts based on liberal democratic values, which were widespread in the early 1990s, are out of fashion today. The man with a gun once again took a leading role on the world stage. The answers to the questions of “where?” and “when?” this will take place have already been given. If the time and place are already specified, the debate about which kind of qualities the “man with a gun” should have, and the tools he will be able to use, is still going on.

Why do we still need armed forces?

Experts have identified two major functions of them: supporting the implementation of foreign policy initiatives, and “grappling with disaster.” The wording of the second function should be noted. It is not only about the repulsion of a military attack, but also about contending with any kind of problem.

The particularity of the modern stage of the development of international relations is the fact that there has been an increase in the participation of non-state actors, and this is particularly noticeable in the security sphere. If in the mid-1990s scenarios of future wars were quite traditional, then today we are talking about qualitatively new wars – so-called non-contact wars.

The traditional factors of military force include: mobility (the “projection of power”), the ability to use firearms, the means of detection, control systems, logistics and communications. In quantitative terms, these traditional factors are still used in today's strategic planning, particularly in methods based on the concept of defensive and offensive balance. However, apart from armed forces, military power consists of the quality of training and proficiency, as well as the presence of allies. Moreover, the demonstration of allied commitments today is much more diverse: from direct military involvement to financial or informational support. Information technologies are considered a new factor in modern military power.

To perform the functions mentioned above, modern actors form and maintain armed forces. The difference between state actors and non-state ones is that the latter can only rely on professional mercenaries. In this case we are talking about a completely different motivation for soldiers’ behavior. A state can form its armed forces, depending on socio-economic, demographic and political factors. This gives it a distinct advantage.

Role of the military: different approaches

It should be mentioned that not all members of the political and expert communities approve of the expanding functions of the armed forces. An army exists, trains, and equips itself to reflect the threats that were traditionally defined in the terms of “national interests.” Realists define the state as the main actor in international relations, and for them, military intervention in the internal affairs of other countries (we are not talking about a direct repulsion of aggression) is justified only in cases such as self-defense, a response to territorial aggression, gaining an economic advantage over the enemy and ensuring the return of debts. But can a modern state provide the necessary conditions to attract soldiers to its armed forces? Observing the processes that are taking place in the U.S., we can talk about the imminent exhaustion of “human resources.” First the U.S. Army opened its doors to members of other races, then women were given nearly the same rights and responsibilities as men, then followed a so-far unsuccessful attempt to equalize the rights of homosexuals (reflecting on this, it seems that the success of conservatives is temporary). Who else can be attracted to expand this base? All other categories have the best chance to realize their socio-economic, psychological and other goals in civilian life. Today, even “tourism in uniform” is unable to attract young people, because the development of means of communication, transport systems and competition in this area has led to a significant reduction in the price of travel.

Liberals consider the role of the military in today's world more broadly. They think that the concept of national interest is outdated and does not meet modern realities. Their main argument is that, in terms of globalization, there is little possibility that anything can be considered an “internal problem”; moreover, it is a fact that many states do not have the potential to solve a problem by themselves. The rights of non-state actors, which can provide strong pressures and ensure safety, should be expanded. However, the professionalization of the security sector is fraught with many pitfalls. One of them is control over the activities of non-state actors: preparing, training and being able to use military force. If the process of conducting combat operations can be traced, then how can we contain the growth of aggressive attitudes and intentions of a subject that does not have any internal constraints (parliament, the media, public opinion, historical memory, etc.), and at the present level of technological development is prepared to conduct military operations, the consequences of which could be catastrophic?

If the military did not have the constraints imposed on them by traditional principles of national sovereignty, then the expansion of the list of threats and challenges, which some experts call “non-traditional”, would provide a broad base for grounding, including uncontrolled military intervention.

What does American experience show?

New insight into the problems was brought in by the discussions about imperial (liberal and not liberal) models of the world. If you perceive the contemporary United States as an empire, then the U.S. armed forces, which currently have a presence in 26 countries, can be considered the police. This statement does not imply ongoing commitment to aggression on the part of Washington. Moreover, in the last decade, the United States argued for the de-escalation and withdrawal of troops, but in the late 1990s, the U.S. transitioned into a new stage of modernization and qualitative expansion of its military presence.

Having relatively little experience in “real” contact ground battles, the U.S. armed forces are more like the “police.” It is a well-known fact that the career of a military officer and that of a police officer are different. The main distinction, in our opinion, is a different system of motivations, because the implementation of police functions requires other mental preparations that are different from the traditional system of military education and other value criteria. The ideas of generals during the time of industrial wars are not suitable for training officers involved in police operations. Combat experience of armies in battles of the past loses its former practical value. Paradoxically, politicians have already faced a shortage of senior military officers who understand the need for reforms and who are able to implement them.

There is another factor. We believe that only the United States needs speedy reform. In addition, it is necessary to prepare the army to conduct only two types of asymmetric warfare: war with the armed forces of a non-state entity, and war with armed forces, equipped with a qualitatively different technique and utilizing different warfare tactics. Most other states would rather be prepared for the second type of war.

Traditional and modern armies: main factors and definitions

The main thesis, which is often repeated by senior military officials as well as experts and politicians, is that the modern army of the majority of states is armed, structured, organized and trained to win in traditional contact wars with ground operations. Performing other functions requires special psychological and financial training. Historically, the army played an important regulatory role, leveling disparities in the development of society.

What was a traditional army for a citizen of a country, that was formed based on appeal? The institution of recruiting a young man led to new socio-economic conditions. For most of those who made the decision to serve, it was a chance to rise to a new social level, as guaranteed by the state.

A traditional army provided many benefits. Firstly, there was the sense of responsibility, combined with a high awareness of the importance to fulfill obligations. This is an important psychological factor for anyone, especially for men. Secondly, there was the sense of belonging to an organized community. It does not matter if you are a representative of an ethnic or racial minority, or a resident of the backward, rural areas of the country, you will get an equal chance to lift yourself out of poverty and overcome your problems. In the U.S., for example, the army became the first institution where it was possible to overcome racial discrimination. The army gave black citizens the chance to occupy the highest military and government posts for the first time in the country’s history. Thirdly, the army provided those who served with an education. At first this consisted of the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out their duties and work with machines. And this is always at the forefront of scientific and technological achievements. Moreover, a former soldier, if he desired, could study in a civil institution, receiving all sorts of benefits and support. Similar programs existed in many countries. It is necessary to add to this the honor and respect that surrounded the “man with a gun.” If we add to this the results of the state propaganda machine, which is aimed at promoting patriotism and love for country, then we get a model for creating an attractive image of the armed forces. This allowed those who served to feel satisfied with the decision that they had made. And the state received a devoted and highly motivated “man with a gun”.

How to create really effective armed forces?

Which of the above is working today? The answer to this question depends on the qualitative composition of a modern army. If the emphasis is only on patriotism and a sense of duty to the country, this would not be enough to create effective armed forces. Attracting today's young member of a consumer society with a liberal view of life to this “dead institution” is difficult. On the other hand, a non-state actor today can provide almost the whole range of socio-economic benefits that previously was provided to the soldier by his country. But in this case we lose a very important, and at the same time regulating , motivational factor – a sense of patriotism and responsibility to the country. A private military campaign, for example, can provide financial guarantees for a "new life" or education, but today a mercenary is considered a criminal, and how effective the international community will be in “regulating” the behavior of this soldier during the battle and after it is unclear.

What does the contract principle of manning the armed forces accomplish? The U.S. Army, which has managed to mutate qualitatively, is often considered as an example of study. Requirements of knowledge and education have risen not only for ordinary soldiers, but also for those in higher ranks as well. The army has become more integrated in terms of race and gender. Thanks to this, the possibility appears to solve a number of important socio-economic problems, including a painless adjustment to the formation of the political elite in the country, which developed new rules and methods of military training. It is necessary to mention the fact that a professional army, formed by contract, is better suited for police and special operations, which is encouraged by some modern military strategists and politicians.

In recent years, the media have begun the “gentrification” of police and special operations, taking them from the margins. Performing this kind of job, according to public opinion, becomes honorable. In many ways, this contributes to the actualization of non-traditional security threats, such as illegal immigration in Florida or the landing of troops in Grenada, the illegal distribution of drugs, the bombing of areas controlled by drug cartels in Latin America, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. Hopefully, environmental threats will not become a cause for military operations.

We believe that the success of future military operations will depend on the ability of the state to maintain a high level of two types of armies: one for war and one for traditional police operations. Preparation of the second kind requires special training programs, with an emphasis on psychosocial, humanitarian and moral training. More attention should be paid to the study of the cultural, historical, linguistic and political particulars of other nations and countries (where it is planned to use these forces). The preparation of “police with a gun” requires much more time and money, because the emphasis should be not only on technique, but also on a special training and educational technology. For how long are the non-traditional actors ready to spend money for such training? It seems that the international community should develop and enforce specific requirements and standards for professional mercenaries that use non-state actors to conduct military operations.

The military and the performance of administrative tasks

Another problem experts talk about is the military's preparation to perform administrative functions. In democratic countries, the military have limited access to the process of political, economic and social decision-making. However, these days the military can perform administrative tasks in other countries. Being not just in another country, but sometimes in a hostile religious or ethnic-cultural environment, the military must be prepared not only to speak the same language as those whom they govern, they must understand how the governed think and how they feel. The state should also create conditions for military career advancement during peaceful times. It is not necessary to have combat experience, because not all of them will have to take part in combat operations. But at the same time, everyone who wears a uniform who, for example, rescues civilians after a flood, should be sure to get a promotion. It is even more difficult to create the necessary public opinion in this case. Citizens need to respect the general who received his rank for a rescue operation.

If the qualitative characteristics of the soldiers who are involved in military, police and administrative tasks are more or less clear, the training of soldiers for weapons use in the classical Clausewitz sense, with the aim of destruction rather than maintaining order, requires no extra cost. In the new information age, such operations can and should cause negative reactions. Experience shows (as in the bombing of Libya, Yugoslavia, Iraq, etc.) that such operations should not be conceived, planned and implemented as military ones.


Based on all of the above, it is possible to conclude that there will be several types of “soldiers for future wars.” There will be the soldier-warrior, the soldier-police/lifeguard and the soldier-administrator. The latter two are more likely to develop in peaceful times (in the absence of traditional land-based military contact). The preparation of each of them will require large expenditures. And the emphasis should be placed not only on traditional military and physical training, but also on psychological and human knowledge. The “boss” of the soldier of the future war cannot only be the state. The non-state actor has significant financial and organizational resources, but should be limited by the norms of international law. The concept of victory is also changing. To be promoted today, it is not necessary to be a combat officer. In order to feel like a winner, you do not need to destroy the enemy and capture territory. The asymmetric perception of operation results should be the norm. With the advent of an army with more and more robots and technology – the “combatant without a man” – the “man with a gun” has become more human. The emphasis should not be on physical, but rather, intellectual resources. This is how we see the soldier of future wars.

The author is laureate of the Valdai Club Foundation Grant Program .

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.