A soldier crosses a battlefield holding a rifle with a bayonet. A sergeant strategically leads a platoon of men against an enemy base. Tanks roll down a dusty, conflict-riddled road.
This used to be the face of war, of combat. But just as beliefs, political ideologies, and even whole governments change, so too does the face of war.
The war on terror has been indicative of this trend. The primary enemy, al-Qaeda, was not a single nation. They weren’t a united Germany collectively standing behind Hitler, and they weren’t Stalin’s mighty U.S.S.R., banding together under a preconceived notion of communism.
They were an army without a state. A collection of militants that found common ground based on a hatred of the Western way of life. Some point to Afghanistan as the central ground, the “nation state” that harbored al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But the U.S. did not wage war on Afghanistan; it waged war IN Afghanistan. Bombings and small-scale assaults were the driving force in this conflict.
Most national security experts now often refer to al-Qaeda as a “spent force.” Most of its leaders have been destroyed, and there are only small bands of insurgents still active, most notably in Yemen.
So what does the U.S. do next? The world’s strongest military power must remain vigilant against large-scale, traditional war. China and North Korea both remain as significant threats, but in today’s world, a full-scale war seems unlikely.
The U.S. now prepares diligently for two things: a technological war of sabotage, and small, quick surge-like attacks. Wars are fought with intelligence, not sheer power.
The threats facing America have shifted and changed, and now, so too has the paradigm of war.