Each year the newspaper La Libération hosts a forum in Rennes, inviting experts to speak on a variety of topics centering around a main theme. This year’s theme was “The World in 2030” and I attended a debate (all in French, I might add) discussing the foreign landscape and the possibilities of war in the future entitled “Les Guerres de 2030.” The panel consisted of Dominique David (Executive Director of IFRI- L’Institut français des rélations internationales), Vincent Desportes (former director of the French School of War) and Percy Kemp (geo-strategy consultant and spy-novel author).
Marc Sémo, a writer for the Libération, opened the discussion with some predictions for how foreign relations and the world will look like in 2030. Based on our current situation and wars in the past, Sémo believes that in the future, there will be many wars, with different actors fought on a variety of levels. First, he brought up the idea of la guerre asymétrique, which is basically a war between a formal military and a less equipped, smaller often internal force, and includes guerilla warfare, insurgency and terrorism. Incidentally, the next war Sémo brought up was the war against terror that started in a big way with the 9/11 attacks and has become a major focus not only for the US but also for other major world players. Recently, the threat of a cyber-war has also become much more realistic, especially in the wake of the NSA scandal and the discovery of the Heartbleed virus, which have shed a light on the large holes in global internet security. I asked the panel how they would rank the threat of a “cyber-war” and Dominique David said that in his mind, in the future, cyber warfare will be used first to attack the big powers via these new open “side-doors”, the only spot where countries like the U.S are majorly vulnerable. The final form of war Sémo mentioned was the technological war, fought remotely via drones and other progressive technologies. The panelists noted that drone warfare eliminates a large component of the emotional attachment associated with traditional fighting but as it is still in the developing stages, they’re uncertain as to how big a role drones will play in future wars.
According to Vincent Desportes, the wars of the future will manifest themselves rather differently than they have in the past. For him, there’s no question as to whether or not there will be another “big” war in the future. Citing the Fruedian notion that “we can’t purify war,” Desportes maintained that as long as there is man, there will be war. However, it is very difficult to predict exactly the forms war will assume in the future, because strategically, we are always looking to adapt to what our enemies throw at us. As Percy Kemp said, “it’s the menace that defines the enemy,” and as the menace of the future is as of yet undefined, so to are the war tactics. As the world evolves, foreign relations are more spacio-political than they are purely geopolitical, leading conflicts to become a quest to dominate and neutralise the opponent instead of to conquer and dominate like in the past. Nevertheless, war remains the domain of friction, chance and incertitude. Chaos will inevitably reign.
Desportes proposed that the wars in 2030 won’t escalate to become the big wars like those that have happened in the past. War will no longer be a greek tragedy with a defined place and time-span. World forces will be engaged for long periods of time with diverse operations on multiple terrains; war will be multi-spacial and multi-dimensional. On a spacio-political level, the world is monopolistic but on a geopolitical level, the major players operate multipolarly; is multipolar. It’s like how in soccer, the good players don’t track individuals or blindly follow the ball, rather, they control what happens within their zone or “sphere of influence.” The goal will be for each major local player to control their space, which means that military action will probably be confined to nearby territories. As a result, the perception of a country’s power will be stem from their importance within their zones of influence and power.
Once the panelists had speculated upon where these wars of the future would be happening and who would be engaged in them, the conversation turned towards how these wars would play out. Desportes was of the opinon that the wars of tomorrow will not be robot wars or completely remote (though they may start out like that), but he believes that those who imagine a non-human war are confusing the war with its tools. Technology influences the warfare, not the war. As a result, it won’t change the broader art of war (which is based on long-standing strategies circa Sun Tzu), it will profoundly modify the art of the battle. The appropriate weapons of choice for a specific battle are determined by the social, political and strategic context surrounding each war, thus it makes sense that as the enemy has become faceless and obscure, the arms (like drones and nukes) are remotely deployed and in a sense, dehumanized too. But technology can only go so far, and all the panelists agreed with Desportes that though in the future many wars may contain battles fought remotely and with new-fangled weapons (maybe even robots),”human force hasn’t finished playing its role in the hard international competitions.”
All in all, thought the premise may seem rather pessimistic, the session was highly informative and raised some important, probing questions about how much our socio-political landscape has changed. The discussion got me thinking about the huge advancements that have happened already within my lifetime which made me dubiously curious about what’s to come. Rest assured, I’ll be keeping one eye on the murky waters of international relations and another trained to the constant barrage of news, watching out for any signs of a robot war or further cyber attacks. As Professor Moody (from the Harry Potter series) would say, “Constant Vigilance!”