Future of Conflict

Global trends indicate increasing instability and growing opportunity for confrontation and conflict. With the world in the midst of flux and technology being the prime driver for national power, it is very difficult to predict with any degree of certainty the contours of future conflict. Panel comprising of Sanjay Mitra, IAS, Former Defence Secretary GoI, Joseph Felter, Deputy Secretary of Defence, US, Dr Aravind Gupta, former Deputy NSA and Director Vivekananda Foundation and Sitaraman Shankar, Editor of Deccan, who acted as the moderator, with its vast cumulative knowledge and experience was able to paint a very vivid picture what the world could expect.


According to Carl Von Clausewitz, the Prussian General who lived in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the nature of war remains the same, and it is only the character of war that changes. The Nature of War is inherently violent, interactive and fundamentally political. On the other hand, the Character of War is the phenomenon that manifests in the real world and is constantly changing. In the last few months, we saw technology bring new variations to 4th Generation Warfare; drones were used for stand-off attacks on a President and a modern refinery. Are armed forces trained and equipped for 3rd Generation warfare unprepared for 4th Generation warfare? 

With the world in the midst of cataclysmic changes in technology, and with technology being the prime driver for national power, it is very difficult to predict with any degree certainty the contours of future conflict. 


Explaining the traditional concepts in conflicts, Sanjay Mitra described how traditional diplomacy could manage conflicts during the Cold war era, where states played the dominant role. International conflicts were treated as occurring between nation-states that acted in a unitary fashion on the basis of stable and discrete national interests. These national interests were generally rooted in geopolitics, natural resources, and other enduring features of countries. If the behaviour of states was dictated by such interests, it followed that conflict between states reflected conflicting interests. Such conflicts were often perceived as zero-sum: the more one state gained, the more its adversary lost. But technology has turned this concept on its head, and when diplomacy is being conducted via twitter, Globalization has made markets as the new battlefields, and board rooms are as much making policies and influencing decisions as military leaders led by politicians did in the past.

Nuclear weapons have, of course, changed the entire dynamics and just the fear that a potential owner may threaten the world can cause global turmoil. The ongoing efforts to prevent Iran’s nuclear weaponization is raising the spectre of all-out war in the region. This will have a devastating effect on the world economy.

Joseph Felter provided the foreign perspective on India’s concerns. With time, power projection too, has changed in many ways. Today it is through a much softer approach taken by the major countries and towards this end, India has substantial soft power projection ability. He conveyed the concern the world has on the evolving situation in Kashmir. India is doing an effective job of containing ISIS/ISK and AQIS activities in Kashmir but is nervous about any potential for destabilizing events between India and Pakistan and the risk of proliferation. On the topic of U.S.-India security relations more broadly, he referred to the new U.S. National Security Strategy and the U.S. National Defence Strategy. The U.S.-India strategic partnership, based on shared values and common interests, is a game-changer in ensuring we maintain a rules-based order in the region and one we plan to invest in. For the future, the partnership can improve further. He spoke of a vision that resonates with both US and India, and therefore there should not be any need for either party to make choices.

According to Arvind Gupta, War is a conventional concept in the struggle for power, and the Globalization has facilitated it further. The world does not present military challenges in tidy packages, as suggested by a focus on individual trends and their extensions into the future. In reality, security challenges result from the collision of a range of factors. For example, while Globalization serves to raise hundreds of millions of people around the world out of poverty and misery and into longer and more comfortable lives, greater wealth around the world also translates into the potential emergence of competitor states with new and powerful military capabilities. Greater wealth and comfort for some could also translate into greater demand for scarce resources, including food, water, and energy, raising prices, causing instability, civil conflict, and government failure in areas already living on the edge of subsistence.

Warfare has progressed beyond traditional spaces to new ones. The idea of public-opinion warfare is to use all forms of media to influence both domestic and international public opinion on the rectitude of China’s policies and actions. This includes newspapers, television, radio, social media, and the use of front organizations to convey messages to other countries. Some of these activities are close to traditional propaganda operations, but others border on sophisticated deception operations or perception management. In this sense, psychological warfare and media warfare have similarities. 

Cultural dimensions also play an important role as conflicts essentially are generated in the minds of people. The so-called clash of civilization has been fueling conflicts. This requires a change of mindset.

Climate change is yet another factor fanning conflicts with Globalization having blurred national and international boundaries. Water, air and other natural resources are being poisoned, and their scarcity is leading to fierce competition. 


  •  No matter how clearly we think, it is impossible to anticipate precisely the character of future conflict. The key is to not to be so far off the mark that it becomes impossible to adjust once that character is revealed.
  • State failure will be one of the dominant, defining features of future conflict. Preventative engagement may help to mitigate the occurrence and consequences of state failure if the military capability is used as an integrated element of smart power.
  • The access to resources (energy, food, water) will drive states’ security interest; control over these resources and their methods of distribution through the global commons will be a critical feature of conflict in the international system. It may dictate why we fight, where we fight and thus how we fight. 
  • Technology is the game-changer, and the narrative is shifting from conventional threats to non-conventional threats like cyber and proliferation of technology-assisted attacks initiated by private individuals and non-state actors.  
  • Globalization is giving rise to new challenges as national boundaries are becoming less relevant. 
  • India features as the top three targets for cyber-attacks, and we need to look at cyber threat more than viruses being implanted out our mobiles and laptop.