Contours of Conflict in the 21st Century

March 31st 2011 - 12:00
Conflict remains a central element of la condition humaine. In some regions, traditional forms of conflict have virtually disappeared while in other it remains a fact of everyday life. Yet, there is a growing feeling in many parts of the world that the future nature of conflict may be changing. Much of the thinking behind this is informed by deep subject matter knowledge, firmly grounded in (military) history as well as present day experience. This being the case, the images of future conflict are inevitably a product of the respective contexts in which they are sketched.

It goes without saying that contexts differ enormously across the world. It is likely that a Russian author will paint a different picture of the future
nature of conflict than his English counterpart. A Chinese expert will undoubtedly see other forms of conflict emerge than an Arab observer. Such variations not only mark differences in contemporary strategic discourses worldwide, but also shed light on the types of conflict that may be anticipated in the future as it is these images of future conflict that inform strategic planning.

In gaining a better understanding of the future nature of conflict, it is therefore of the utmost importance to go beyond the traditional Western (English) language domain experts, and include views from regions across the world. The main purpose of the Future Nature of Conflict project is therefore to map and analyze global perspectives about the future nature of conflict published over the last two decades across four language domains – Arabic, Chinese, English and Slavic.

The aim is to gain a better understanding of the bandwidth of views about the future nature of conflict. These views are analyzed along different dimensions, such as actors, aims, domains, means – who, why, where, how?; as well as salience, length, extensiveness, distinctiveness – how often, how long, how widespread, how distinct? The various definitions of conflict across the language domains were also mapped. This study seeks to better inform decision makers from government and industry in preparing for the challenges of the future conflict environment.

Frank Bekkers is Director of the Security Program. He studied Applied Mathematics at the University of Amsterdam and spent most of his career at the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), specializing in the area of Defence, Safety & Security. At TNO, he held a range of positions, including program manager, senior research scientist, group manager and account director. From 1996-1997, he worked as program manager for Call Media and Intelligent Networks for the telecom company KPN. His current position at HCSS combines shaping HCSS’s portfolio concerning defense and security-related projects with hands-on participation in a number of key projects.
Stephan De Spiegeleire is senior scientist at HCSS. He has Master’s degrees from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University in New York, as well as a C.Phil. degree in Political Science from UCLA. He worked for the RAND Corporation for nearly ten years, interrupted by stints at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik and the WEU’s Institute for Security Studies. Mr. De Spiegeleire started out as a Soviet specialist, but has since branched out into several fields of international security and defense policy. His current work at HCSS focuses on strategic defense management, security resilience, network-centrism, capabilities-based planning, and the transformation of defense planning.
Dr. Tim Sweijs is the Director of Research at The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for research projects in horizon scanning, conflict analysis, international and national security risk assessment, and strategy and capability development. His main research interest concerns the changing character of modern day conflict. He has led multicenter research projects for both private and public sector organisations. Tim is also an Affiliate at the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs at Georgiatech.