While the future of war will undoubtedly look decidedly different to war of the past centuries, it will continue to transpire around the globe. Escalating global interconnectedness and the progressive erosion of state sovereignty are dramatically transforming war into an obscure combination of state violence, organised crime and large-scale human rights violations. Future warfare will also materialise as a hybridity of precursory conflicts, amalgamating state violence with irregular warfare. The developments in information technology capabilities will rapidly shift the entire nature of war, provoking ethical issues surrounding the use of lethal force by non-humans. War is not an abstraction of history and will transform into a broader, more politicised occurrence that is decisively fashioned by considerably enhanced technological capacities.

New Wars

The process of globalisation and the erosion of state sovereignty are transforming war into an obscure composition of state violence, non-state criminal activity and large-scale human rights violations. Mary Kaldor argues that at the conclusion of the 20th century we saw a shift in warfare to what she describes as “new wars”, a consequence of globalisation and the weakening capacity of states to unilaterally deploy force[1]. The term “new” is used to emphasise the political nature of this contemporary conflict, obscuring the distinctions between: war, defined as “violence between states or organised political groups for political motives”; organised crime, violence perpetrated by private actors for private purposes; and large scale human right violations, violence committed by states against non-state actors[2]. “New wars” are generally classified as ‘low-intensity conflicts’ and while heavily localised, involve a multitude of transnational connections, creating an ambiguous divergence between “internal and external, aggression and repression, and even between local and global”[3]. Kaldor argues that “new wars” will demand a cosmopolitan political response, accentuating the rule of law and individual rights[4]. The advent of information technology and rapidly increasing globalisation with respect to warfare, are commensurate with the battlefield evolution of horsepower to mechanical power[5], creating profound ramifications for the future of war. “New wars” are to be understood with reference to the process of globalisation, specifically the growing presence of international reporters, mercenary soldiers and military advisers, diaspora volunteers – many attached to a surplus of non-governmental agencies such as: Oxfam, Human Rights Watch, etc., and international institutions such as: the United Nations, European Union and others[6]. We have witnessed the increased prevalence of “new wars” as a poignant consequence of globalisation; increased global interconnectedness has substantially affected the future of state sovereignty – ultimately eroding a state’s autonomy[7]. This deterioration has facilitated the emergence of a repositioning of the legitimacy of organised violence, shifting form the state (who hitherto possessed a monopoly on force) through the transnationalisation and privatisation of military forces[8], creating colossus corporations who are deployed to battlefields without being beholden to any state. While state on state conflict is becoming more uncommon, Kaldor’s “new wars” are being formed through the processes that are reducing the occurrence of traditional war.

Hybrid Wars

The future of war will include the feasibility of hybrid combatants, combining the lethality of state violence with the zealousness and protracted fervour of irregular warfare. The hybrid nature of these future conflicts is derived from the compulsion of state actors to utilise irregular capabilities as an operational method, while non-state actors will at times, have the ability to carry out conventional attacks. Frank Hoffman argues that the war of the future will look less like the state-based conventional warfare of previous centuries, but will look “more and more like the Marines’ past”, embracing small wars, counterinsurgency, nation building, and peacekeeping[9]. The recent proliferation of irregular challenges across the globe has been accompanied by the retreat of state-based conventional war, demanding the development of “fourth-generation warfare”, equipped to address the fragile and weak states that emanate these threats[10]. Future combatants are likely to be non-state actors, exploiting access to modern lethal systems of warfare while nurturing prolonged insurgencies; possessing the abilities to execute ambushes, utilise improvised explosive devices, perform assassinations, among other methods of fighting[11]. The irrelevance of war law is likely to persist while a focus on tactical plagiarism and adaptation will be prevalent[12]. Future antagonists will attempt to implement their own element of “shock and awe”, as we have seen from numerous videos released depicting, among other horrors, decapitations[13]. The battlefield of these hybrid wars will comprise most likely of growing, developing cities, offering multiple advantages to the hybrid adversary who can offset conventional superiority through dense urban labyrinths and congested littorals, securing safe haven where the population density and transport networks provide escape and evasion methods, and the necessary conditions to plan attacks. The hybridisation of future battlefield opponents will oblige great power militaries to modify their approach to subsequent conflicts as conventional warfare becomes negligible.

Technological Wars

The shift to robotics and technological advances in warfare will not diminish the ubiquity of global conflict, but will dramatically alter how war is waged. The battlefield has already begun to shift beyond “human space” as weapons are created that become “too fast, too small, too numerous and too complex for humans to direct”[14]. Robotic warfare is compelling us toward a future we may not necessarily desire, but may not be able to avoid[15]. Current trends in information technology and robotic warfare suggest that 2040-50 will be a milestone decade, where robots will commence their inevitable assimilation into the armed forces of the most advanced states, initiating their presence on the battlefield. The United States Air Force has suggested that robotics have the potential to reduce the “Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA)” loop to nanoseconds, generating a substantial advantage in making combat decisions within a legal and policy framework, but without the requirement of human input[16]. There are obvious hesitations to such advancements and the United Nations has stipulated a moratorium on what is describes as “lethal autonomous robotics”[17] while an international Campaign to “Stop Killer Robots” is gaining ground; however, this future of war is inevitable, as every other revolution in military affairs has been, because if these weapons are not embraced and deployed, the enemy may do so first[18]. George Friedman who is a strategic forecaster has argued that by 2050, we will possess hugely sophisticated “space-based intelligence systems”[19]. Friedman continues by suggesting that American power will be “anchored” on a string of these great space stations, protected by smaller satellites, similar to how destroyers and frigates protect aircraft carriers. These orbiting “flotillas” will monitor and police the earth by firing missiles and collecting and analysing data[20]. The militarisation of information technology and robotics will drastically transform the nature of warfare and the capabilities that great power states have at their disposal.

While the nature of war and its focus will evolve over the next decades to focus more on the political nature of “new wars” and the developing hybridity of threats, the technology and weapons at the disposal of great power states will have evolved dramatically. War unquestionably has a future, one that is set to be significantly dissimilar to history. The retreat of the state in global affairs has modified the nature of interstate conflict to also include non-state actors such as organised crime networks, and the wide spread violation of human rights creating “new wars” that demand a distinct response. The combination of state violence and irregular warfare has produced a hybrid adversary, set to become prevalent moving into the future. The advancements in technology and robotics mean the nature of war twenty-five years from today will appear drastically different. War has not been consigned to history, it will possess multiple forms and continue to evolve as we look towards the future.


[1] M Kaldor, New and Old Wars, (USA: Stanford University Press, 2012), 1-2.

[2] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 2.

[3] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 2.

[4] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 3.

[5] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 3.

[6] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 5.

[7] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 5.

[8] Kaldor, New and Old Wars, 5-6.

[9] F Hoffman, “Preparing for Hybrid Wars,” Marine Corps Gazette, 91 (2007): 57.

[10] Hoffman, “Preparing for Hybrid Wars,” 57.

[11] Hoffman, “Preparing for Hybrid Wars,” 58.

[12] Hoffman, “Preparing for Hybrid Wars,” 58.

[13] S Greenhill, J Reilly and K Corcoran, “ISIS butchers leave ‘roads lined with decapitated police and soldiers’: Battle for Baghdad looms as thousands answer Iraqi government’s call to arms and jihadists bear down on capital,” The Daily Mail, June 12, 2014, accessed June 13, 2014, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2655977/ISIS-militants-march-Baghdad-trademark-bullet-head-gets-way-control-north.html.

[14] I Morris, War: What is it Good for? (USA: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014), 374.

[15] Morris, War: What is it Good for? 374.

[16] Morris, War: What is it Good for? 373.

[17] C Heyns, “Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,” (Report on “lethal autonomous robotics” delivered to the second session of the Human Rights Council on May 29 2013).

[18] Morris, War: What is it Good for? 374.

[19] Morris, War: What is it Good for? 375.

[20] Morris, War: What is it Good for? 375.