The Small Wars Journal / Small Wars Council has been given permission to republish several articles from the archives of the Marine Corps Gazette (1916 2005).

The linked article is the third posted here and on the SWJ Library page.

Dealing With Uncertainty: The Future Requires Flexibility by Colonel Thomas X. Hammes, USMC (Ret.). Marine Corps Gazette, November 2005.

Martin van Creveld entitled his look at future war, "Through a Glass, Darkly." In this short title he captured the essential problem of looking into the future; it is never clear. Yet, looking is a requirement... There are three major points to keep in mind when thinking about future war.

First, war evolves from the political, economic, social, and technical structures of the time. It is not an evolution based purely on technology. In fact, despite America's great love for technology, it is not even driven primarily by technology. Rather, warfare reflects the society from which it springs. Whether it was Genghis Khan's incredibly mobile light cavalry or the exceptional advance of U.S. forces to Baghdad in 2003, the forces of a nation reflect the political, economic, social, and technical structure of the nation for which they are fighting.

Second, whatever your predictions about the future, they will probably be wrong. History is full of examples of military forces surprised and defeated by an enemy's adaptation to the changes in society. Only in retrospect does the innovation seem obvious. Whether the armored knight sitting in his castle trying to figure out the Swiss phalanx or today's Marine trying to sort out the conflicting information on future enemies, the practitioner peering into the future sees mostly murk.

Third, there are at least two sides, and often more, staring into that murk-you and potential enemies. They do not see things any more clearly than you do, but they are determined to find a way to beat you. Thus the future will not evolve based only on your actions but on the actions of all sides of the conflict.

This essay does not presume to predict the future. Rather, its purpose is to stimulate a continuing discussion of what that future might look like. Before we can look into the future, we have to have a common understanding of the present. Unfortunately, while there is widespread agreement that warfare is changing, there is no agreement as to what it is changing to. Prior to Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, the Pentagon had decided that the future lay with small, high-technology, rapid deploying forces. Now, at the end of the second year of combating insurgency in Iraq and with unrest increasing in Afghanistan, the Pentagon is considering additional threats to include irregular warfare and homeland defense. As a result, the Pentagon is sounding a bit schizophrenic about the future-purchasing for big wars but examining how we will deal with other possibilities. This is not a bad thing. Our Nation must be prepared to respond to a spectrum of threats...