Transnational terrorism poses a sixth global trend. Stateless actors can inflict unprecedented damage, and we must be on our guard against catastrophic terrorism. Meanwhile, we will have to brace ourselves for conventional terror strikes, not just from al Qaeda central and the general Salafi jihadist movement but also by aggrieved local groups, as a still-simmering Mumbai reminds. But passion is not strategy, and overreaction strengthens terrorists. Extensive use of military force will make our strongest instrument the leading liability.
Seventh, the character of war is changing. Low-level uses of force and greater civil-military integration, whether to interdict traffickers or conduct humanitarian operations, are becoming more necessary. Meanwhile, "modern" wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon have produced a renaissance in counterinsurgency and irregular warfare. In the future, capable opponents may seek to pursue "hybrid warfare"—combining conventional, irregular, and catastrophic forms of warfare. Hedging against potential peer competitors means balancing immediate demands with future requirements, not least with respect to conventional forces and space power.
An eighth trend shaping tomorrow's security environment is the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Our worst fears regarding mass-disruption weapons have not been realized, but important developments have made it increasingly possible that nuclear or biological weapons may be used in the coming years. Iran's prospective status as a nuclear "threshold" state may be the leading indicator that suggests that we are on the verge of a second nuclear age. Meanwhile, there is a growing danger that flourishing life sciences may spawn uncontrolled biological agents.
There is nothing foreordained about another American Century. Constraints on the nation's resources preclude costly trial and error. Global order is not something managed on a budget. The Obama administration will be hard pressed to manage global disorder without a game-changing strategy. Here are five pathways to initiate recalibration.
- Heal thyself. To a remarkable degree, security hinges on America having its house in order. A stable economy is Step 1. Restoring legitimacy will lower U.S. transaction costs around the world. Americans need to export hope, not fear, preparing as much for a long search for peace and prosperity rather than just a long war. Over time, better national education is the prerequisite for joining a globalized world.
- Redefine problems. Ends should be realistic. In seeking to transform a region, one is more likely to be transformed; in a quixotic search for definitive victory or permanent peace, one is more apt to hasten exhaustion and failure. Preventing a 9/11 sequel is hard, but it need not produce bankruptcy. A broader definition of security will be needed, recognizing emerging interrelationships, for instance, among energy, the environment, food, and climate change.
- Surge civilians. Complex challenges require a larger whole-of-government team of national security professionals, with particular new investments in diplomats and development specialists, as well as the arts of planning, implementation, and assessment. It's time to construct a serious civilian expeditionary corps for complex operations, including conflict prevention. A permanent surge of civilian capacity within the career bureaucracy might enhance government's ability to be more strategic, better trained, and more integrated.
- Countermobilize. The United States can use its considerable standing to mobilize emerging power centers into action through bilateral alliances and coalitions of the willing but also through multilateral institutions. Only a multitude of actors have a chance of tackling complex challenges. Some problems can become opportunities around which society and international actors may be catalyzed into action. For example, when it comes to countering a general threat such as terrorism, the most important partners are Muslims, who are best placed to marginalize a radical Salafi jihadist ideology.