Today’s politics is increasingly being defined by the resurgence of the old empires of past. China, Russia, Iran, and Turkey are steadily making inroads in defining their status as regional power brokers. Though each is facing a differing degree of economic turmoil they will continue to project embolden foreign policies relative to America’s diminishing ability to assert unipolar force.
As American power becomes more diffused its hegemonic ability to shape the actions of other nations will continue to wane. This has already led to widespread disputes across the Middle East and Asian Peninsula. Washington will need to be able to refocus security objectives and adapt to the rebalancing of power towards regional domains.
Power relations in Europe will remain in flux. Russia will continue to challenge the borders of the Baltics and Eastern Europe as it seeks westward expansion of its sphere of influence. Germany will flirt with power for some time as it will have to reconcile crises brought upon it by existentialism in the European Union and challenges to its economy by a waveringly protectionist United States. The politics of geography will force Germany to quickly decide if it has the ability to shape interdependence in a fracturing Europe and offset the encroachment of a bulking Russia on its eastward border.
NATO may begin to take upon a more political role, as it is the only institution capable of being able to shape a united front based on core defense interests. The European Union is likely to remain intact but its ability to project political power throughout the continent will probably stagnant, leading to decentralized zones of influence based on powerful economies. Crises in Europe will look very different from what will emerge in other parts of the world due to its long history of colonial expansion and competing empires within its own borders. It is a continent that has experimented with the political organization of a pan-Europe but has been unable to act as a superstate. Future conflicts in this region are likely to be shaped by external actors seeking to destabilize the post-World War II order.
Europe will face further economic instability that parallels with internal socio-political disunity that will sow further distrust in the EU’s ability to implement monetary reforms. Inter-state war is unlikely but Europe will have to contend with the possibility of have and have-not nations, that spurned of unequal prosperity within the Eurozone, leading to the onset of new political dividing lines.
For the rest of the world, problems will be local in impact but global in scope. America will need to be able to understand how to navigate future conflicts that will look nothing like wars of the past. This begins with being able to define the different battlefields taking shape throughout the globe and determining the utility of Washington’s superior conventional military force. In the wars of the future, ground troops and naval battleships will become a tactical liability if not used in conjunction with facilities that will allow for sufficient fighting abilities on multiple fronts.
Troops on the land or sea must be able to quickly adapt to threats posed by the sharpening rise of new commercial technology that aids in the agile amplification of an enemy’s offensive dexterity. Key technologies include cyber warfare, weaponized space/satellites, directed energy weapons, and artificial intelligence/robotics. The onset of such weaponry will pose a direct challenge to Washington’s ability to challenge adversaries from a distance. Our fighting forces must be able to maneuver on a multi-domain front by broadening the range of joint integration so to decisively defend against threats that are simultaneously from space and cyberspace.
One of the most consequential battles taking shape is China’s growing influence in the South China Sea and potentially in the Pacific Ocean. China is a regional hegemon that has slowly been upgrading its military technology to support more advanced aircrafts engines, naval vessels, and command-control systems. China has been working on how to integrate the capabilities of its fighting force with better operational procedure due to its growing network of sophisticated technology and broadening foreign policy agenda. The Pentagon has reported that China has created a fighting unit with the combined abilities of cyber, space, and electronic warfare. This high-tech gambit has the future potential to buffer against U.S naval superiority of China’s regional waters. As China continues to build artificial islands in the South China Sea and lay sovereignty claims to the East China Seas and the Senkaku Islands, which are contested with Japan, Beijing is showing its propensity for furthering its political objectives with military offenses.
Washington believes many of these islands are in the process of being weaponized with missile defense equipment. This combined with the onset of low-level warfare such as cyberattacks will allow China to steadily grow in power in its regional sphere of influence without provoking a confrontation with the U.S’s conventional forces. China will not seek traditional conflict with the U.S, as both countries will continue to benefit from a steady alliance. Future battles between the two countries are likely to be intense but short, with each outcome more broadly defining where Beijing’s threshold of power rests.
Current events happening in North Korea will be one factor in determining the scope of future China-U.S relations. Kim Jong -un’s regime is unwilling to compromise on reducing its nuclear capabilities, as his regime’s survival is based on superfluous threats to deter U.S intervention. Washington is determined the curb North Korea’s nuclear weapons program due to the very real threat of a miniaturized nuclear bomb launched with a long range missile. North Korea has increased its threats to American allies Japan and South Korea and is unwilling to dismantle its weapons industry. If back-channel diplomacy and a hardening sanctions regime cannot subdue the North Korean state, it is possible the U.S may want to initiate war. Washington may want such a war to be to be a short-term venture, as any spillover to a larger scale regional war would cause tremendous damage to trade and world markets. China’s role in such an event would impart greater clarity to its ability to be a regional leader in partnership with the U.S or if it seeks an upper hand by destabilizing U.S positions of force.
The Middle East is currently puttering on the cusp of inter-state war. Battles in this region will be profuse and will force the U.S to implement policies that help facilitate political stabilization. Counter-terrorism tactics alone are not capable of effectively diffusing the great power politics currently on display in the region. Much of the conflict in the Middle East is due to the lack of stable political institutions. It is a place where old empires of the past (Iran, Turkey) are seeking to build defensive resources (with proxy militias) and build a power base that can actualize their attack capabilities. The monarchies of the region will try to hold onto power as long as they can, but will face momentous threats from extremist groups wanting to create Islamist governance and civil society groups seeking to modernize.
The recent Islamic State attack on Iran and Saudi led diplomatic showdown with Qatar portends a seismic shift at play, one that will shine a light on the conflicting interests of Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. If Saudi Arabia is unable to diversify its oil-dependent economy with its “Vision 2030” reform agenda, the kingdom may see formal attempts by homegrown movements to erode the ruling legitimacy of the al-Saud family. Turkey will seek to balance its relationship with the kingdom as it watches to see if the al-Saud monarchy’s new aggressive foreign policy will further destabilize proxy wars in Yemen, Libya, and Syria. If Saudi Arabia’s trial play at acting as an aggressive regional power becomes too burdensome, Iran and Turkey will be ready to demonstrate how far their power has expanded and challenge each other for regional heir.
Emerging crises in the critical regions of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East will require that Washington understand the nature of emerging threats and that conventional military superiority will not always work to offset an enemy’s offensive tactics. Washington must prepare traditional fighting units of the air, land, and sea to be able to competently operate new technologies while facilitating a broader range of fighting capacity. Battles started in the seas may merge into cyberspace where viruses can be used to paralyze land-based energy grids. Whether this threat emanates from China or Iran, Washington’s military structure will need the organizational capacity to operate on multiple fronts simultaneously where different fighting units have clear commands on how to fight across multiple battle domains.
Continuing to protect vital sea lanes, such as the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal, is imperative if the U.S is to maintain dominance over important trade routes and battleship navigability. Old battles over control of the sea has re-emerging as a strategic threat to U.S naval authority with nations fighting to define spheres of influence for future geopolitical dominance. The U.S will have to contend with new enemy tactics that can put an adversary on par with U.S capabilities, such as the use of precision targeting systems and autonomy that challenge the effectiveness of human judgment in making complex decisions based on risk.
Threats to the U.S’s declining unipolar power will be vast but does not mean that its primacy is lost. The U.S will have to be careful with the way it wields its enterprise of leadership due emerging powers using unconventional tactics to challenge U.S supremacy. Washington will have to learn how to wield power in a newly re-formulating multipolar world order, one based on old empires of the past regaining lost capital on the ability to project offensive clout. A Europe dispersing, an Asia cohering, and a Middle East realigning will shape regional battlefields.
It is a fight to protect sovereignty and territorial integrity in an age where the boundaries of nation-states are becoming blurred, where trade pacts and economic partnerships are routinely being defined as the modus operandi of great power politics. In the near future, it is likely that capital will upend traditional definitions of state-based borders. Washington must evince a policy of a united destiny with the world, as globalization and technology continue to democratize not political representation, but power.