The military are not that unintelligent
Everyone has heard the one about “military intelligence” being a contradiction in terms. But military planners can’t afford to be stupid – and aren’t, as a recent Ministry of Defence publication shows.
Earlier this year the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) of the Ministry of Defence published a document on Strategic Trends which set out their view on the context for the activity of Britain’s armed forces over the next thirty years (see www.dcdc-strategictrends.org.uk). The man in charge, Rear Admiral Chris Parry, explains in the introduction that the trends identified in the document are “probability-based rather than predictions”. The degrees of probability being will, likely, may, possible.
What emerges from the document is that the military thinkers behind it share the socialist analysis that conflicts in the modern (capitalist) world arise out of competition between states over sources of raw materials, markets, investment outlets, trade routes and strategic points to control and protect these.
Against the sub-heading “securing natural resources”, the document says:
“Key natural resources, especially oil, gas and minerals of strategic value, will continue to be sourced from unstable areas and unreliable regions. Maintaining access and containing instability risks in these area is therefore likely to increase in importance, alongside wider developmental and stabilization roles. Where oil and gas sources are located in areas of doubtful security, military intervention may be used to protect the integrity of sites and to secure investments” ( p. 29).
In fact, the document regards “competition for energy” as one of the “hot topics” of the period. “Competition for energy supplies”, it says, “will dominate the economic landscape during the next 30 years” and that “requirements to access sources of supply in unstable regions or countries could lead to intervention to protect assets and investments” (p. 31).
“Overheating of energy markets may lead more countries to follow the example of China in establishing bilateral arrangements that seek to dominate or control the global market in their favour, possibly fuelling tension among those who are excluded or who cannot or will not compete in a market environment. This may lead to political and even military interventions in order to protect access and safeguard supply” (p. 26).
Then, there’s the trade routes:
“Most of the world’s trade by bulk, particularly energy, will continue to transit by sea and through maritime choke points such as the Straits of Hormuz, the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca, in areas which will remain highly unstable. This will demand high levels of international cooperation and a continuing dependence on the deployment of maritime power” (p. 54).
And the strategic points:
“There is likely to be more emphasis on the active containment of aggressors, symptoms of crisis and irregular elements, to deter and defeat military threats to partners and the international system. In these circumstances, the ability to secure and maintain free access to areas of strategic and operational interest will remain vital” (p. 54).
The MoD strategists don’t think that these tensions will lead to war in the sense of “state-on-state” conflicts (“Major interstate wars will be unlikely”, p. 67), at least not until after 2020:
“Although large-scale interstate warfare is unlikely, competition for finite resources and intolerance at market forces may lead to tensions and greater potential for confrontation and conflict between 2020 and 2035” (p. 43).
“Global economic and financial interdependency is likely to reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of major interstate warfare before 2020. However, increasing pressures on resources, particularly energy, and the growing assertiveness of emerging powers such as India, China and Iran, beyond this date may result in the return of great power rivalries as the defining characteristic of geopolitics, with a consequent increase in the risk of interstate and inter-bloc conflict” (p. 48).
“Conflict and crisis will become increasingly complex and unpredictable, both in their incidence and character, during the period to 2035, with serious interstate rivalry probably expressing itself through proxy actions by hostile groups who may or may not have issues of their own” (p.67).
Even before 2020, however, the strategists think that conflict between states will take place through proxies (as already happened during the Cold War period):
“In the absence of direct, open state-on-state conflict, there will be a marked increase in the prevalence of irregular activity . . . There will also be increased sponsorship of irregular activity and groups by states, seeking to utilize and exploit, through proxy, gaps in the international system, either to assert themselves or secure advantage without exposing themselves to state-on-state risks” (p. 52).
The document is not confined to narrow trends that concern the military directly but also mentions economic, political and other issues, singling out climate change, globalization and global inequality as the three “areas of change” which “will touch the lives of everyone on the planet” and underpin all the other trends.
On the world scale, the strategists think that “while life for most people is likely to improve materially, a significant number will continue to experience hardship, and unevenness and fluctuations within a globalized market-based economy will still mean that life will be uncertain for most” (p. 1).
“While material conditions for most people are likely to improve over the next 30 years, the gap between rich and poor will probably increase and absolute poverty will remain a global challenge. . . Absolute poverty and comparative disadvantage will fuel perceptions of injustice among those whose expectations are not met, increasing tension and instability, both within and between societies and resulting in expressions of violence such as disorder, criminality, terrorism and insurgency. They may also lead to the resurgence of not only anti-capitalist ideologies, possibly linked to religious, anarchist or nihilist movements, but also to populism and the revival of Marxism” (p. 3).
Let’s hope that on this very last point they are right.