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The Future of Warfare in the 21st Century

By Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Most recently the 18th international conference was held titled “The Future of Warfare in the 21st Century” at the Emirates Center of Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR). It was attended by a large number of researchers, academicians, experts of informational technology and the last but not the least renowned strategists. It was well planned and well-staged. Even the level of participation of the VIPS, guests and media was healthy and productive.

The conference comprised four sessions, during which 12 research papers were presented by prominent experts, intellectuals, researchers and officials from the UAE, the Gulf region and the rest of the world. The said conference offered a proper forum to exchange ideas and enrich discussions among experts and specialists on all the important subjects and drew a clearer vision about its limits and direction, and to highlight future options and alternatives.

The dawn of information technology has already brought about a revolution in the military and defense industries around the globe. The advanced technological revolution has been emerged into a new reality that altered previously recognized concepts of wars and armies, whereby asymmetrical warfare dominated traditional forms of conflict between adversaries. The technological evolution requires the provision of electronic warfare units in many of the world’s armies, where their role includes maintaining internal civil security and stability. Such technology advances have had implications for the quality and form of naval, air and land-based weapons, whether defensive or offensive. During two days of the said conferences experts, strategists and speakers highlighted the importance of informational technology, intelligence sharing, proper utilization of human resources, training, military and public cooperation and coexistence along with the role of private companies in the battle fields.

It was held under the patronage of H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and President of the centre, the two-day conference was inaugurated in the presence of diplomats and a select group of researchers, security experts and media persons. The 18th Annual Conference of Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR) called for international efforts to tackle terrorism, which remains one of the most prominent future challenges threatening global security and stability.

Dr. Jamal Al Suwaidi Director-General of the ECSSR thoroughly discussed the each and every aspect of the future of warfare in the 21st century in his welcome speech. He mentioned various state and non-state actors. He highlighted the growing role of information technology within traditional warfare; and the diminishing role of geography as wars are now waged in trans-border dimensions. He termed information technology crucial for the future wars. He predicted the enhanced role of informatics within traditional combat theories in naval, land and air services, and their expanded role in managing battles, decision-making and command and control mechanisms in the years to come. He rightly pinpointed the diminishing role of geography since wars are conducted across transnational spaces. He also thoroughly discussed the diminishing role of the human factor and the enhanced role of technological equipment and computer systems. According to him, margin of maneuverability and mobility and the enhanced impact and attack effectiveness through novel combat elements such as cyber warfare, which is completely different from traditional combat would be greatly affected by the emerging mix of information technologies.

He highlighted the importance of accuracy, efficacy and speed of the information infrastructures to counter the cyber-attacks on the capacities of states, command and control systems of communications and banks, financial markets, oil companies, etc. Cyber threats are the one of the leading challenges facing the national security of states in the 21st century, and the emergence of protection of state cyber space as one of the security and military priorities, he added. He accentuated the necessity of enhancing international cooperation to protect trade, economies and intellectual property in encountering current and anticipated cyber challenges. He elaborated that many researchers are increasingly convinced that cyber combatants have become a vital element within the armies of the 21st century. It explains the record increase in the cyber security allocations of many countries in spite of the reductions in military budgets in the last few years.

He identified the growing importance of deployment of small light forces with significant destructive and operational capacities to deal with sudden crises. He talked about the emergence of different patterns of challenges as a result of non-conventional security environments which would enhance the importance of understanding the present situation and information collection and analysis as a prime priority in field operational theaters, with the addition of the cyber dimension to the prevailing traditional military concepts and theories. He labeled terrorism as one of the main challenges threatening global security, since the existing counter-terrorism strategies are still partial and limited. Eliminating the roots of terrorism requires pragmatic policy to tackle the issues such as poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment he added. He was of the view that ideological and political issues would be key drivers for the future terrorist organizations in which the e-social networks would be optimally utilized at their virtual centers for directing their operations. Easy and smooth supplies of energy and trade would be badly hit by the terrorists in the future.

Talking about the emerging geo-political and geo-strategic scenarios in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and MENA, he said there should be spirits of cooperation, coordination along with strong political commitment among the regional countries. Cyber threat is a potential security challenge he elaborated. UAE should play the key role to enhance awareness of “Internet Sovereignty” in the region since it is a leading country adapting to the digital age, knowledge economy, innovation, and IT technologies.


The panels of the first day was comprised of an inaugural session launched by H.E. Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director-General of the ECSSR, who delivered the welcoming remarks, followed by the keynote address of H.E. Michèle Allot-Marie, former Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs, Republic of France.

Panel I “Contemporary Threats and the Changing Nature of Warfare”

Chaired By Designation Research Papers
H.E. Saif Sultan Al-Aryani Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for National Security, UAE
Dr. Austin Long Assistant Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs and Member of the Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University, USA Asymmetrical Warfare and International Terrorism.
John Bassett OBE Associate Fellow, Cyber Security, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), UK Cyber Warfare: Offensive and Defensive.’
Dr. Christopher Kinsey Reader in Business and International Security, King’s College London, and Defense Studies Department, Joint Services Command and Staff College, UK The Rise of the Contractor in 21st Century Warfare.

The first day covered discussions of the changing nature of warfare and the new challenges facing national security such as terrorism and electronic warfare. The topic of innovation in the defense industry and the future role of technology in military use were also discussed. Furthermore, on the first day of the conference, discussions were held on the changing nature of warfare and the new challenges facing national security such as terrorism and electronic warfare. It was very interactive session which diagnosed different complicated aspects of the said subject. All the speakers talked highly about the infusion of information technology in warfare in the 21st Century.


Michele Alliot-Marie, former French Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs, in her key-note address praised the UAE leadership and the country’s peaceful approach in dealing with international affairs based on the principles of justice and respect for all. She pointed out that the UAE plays a vital role in fighting various forms of terrorism and stressed that technological innovation is crucial for any country in counter-terrorism efforts, especially cyber-attacks which pose a threat to national security as well as information security. She mentioned the importance of leadership, conflict resolution, crisis management and human resource management in the future. She also stressed the importance of information technology and intelligence sharing to counter the various threats of terrorism.

All the speakers jointly pinpointed that cyber-warfare and the rapid development and dissemination of cyber weapons threatens to far outstrip international efforts to secure cyberspace as a domain for all. John Basset, Associate Fellow, Cyber Security, Royal United Services Institute, UK said “these cyber weapons are all too often used without regard to international law and international norms. There is a real risk that unrestricted offensive cyber operations will poison and corrode wider international relations”.

Bassett said the way in which cyber-warfare is employed can range from sophisticated operations to the common kinds of hacking techniques employed by individual users of the internet. “Securing information technologies from cyber-attack requires a range of measures to ensure that operations systems are secure, that equipment is not vulnerable to hacking from external sources, and that emergency responses to protect systems from attack are effective and easily activated,” Bassett said.

He argued guaranteeing cyber-security requires a holistic approach base on the cooperation of all concerned public and private agencies. “There are several reasons why governments would want to establish effective international norms for cyber-security: to promote a rules-based approach to global problem-solving; to ensure that international norms are representative, balanced and effective and to enhance operational effectiveness, for example by sharing situational awareness information to improve network defence. Bassett said cyber-warfare and the development of related weapons might provide opportunities for agreement in the areas of arms control and shared operational effectiveness.

“At present, the attacker has the edge in cyber-warfare. This is not because the attacker has a technological advantage; it is rather that the defenders do not have their defences properly organised.”

Bassett sees that potential areas for cooperation may include: information-sharing to gain improved situational awareness for network defence for example within an alliance; evolution of a joint approach to concepts and doctrine; and better crisis management capability and resilience arrangements across security and regional alliances. Defeating the threat of cyber-attack in the future will require both a full understanding of the technologies involved and an understanding of how human nature affects the ways in which individuals seek to use technology and exploit the weaknesses of others.

Panel II “Innovation in the Defense Industry: Future Military Technology”

Chaired By Designation Research Papers
Major General (Staff) Pilot Rashad Mohamed Salem Al-Saadi Commandant of the National Defence College, UAE
Peter Singer Director of the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, USA Next War: Key Trends Shaping the Future of War.
Riad Kahwaji Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), UAE Command and Control: Evolution and Requirements for Modern Arab Militaries.’
Prof. Wesley K. Wark Munk School of Global Affairs, University of Toronto, Canada Information and Intelligence in the 21st Century.’

All the speakers highlighted the importance of command and control systems in the future of warfare in the 21st century. Peter Singer briefed about the evolutionary expansion and different development stages in the warfare patterns along with weaponry. He outlined the different important tasks or policies needed to be implemented in the modern arena.

Riad Kahwaji explained the trends in the command and control systems in the globe and how the Arab militaries could adapt to it. The subject was interesting and interactive. It outlined the multidimensional benefits of having better command and control systems. It would speed-up response time. It would guarantee peace and stability in the country, he added. He emphasized the need to have communication experts, computer strategists and the last but not the least, strong political commitment to institutionalize the command and control systems in the Arab Militaries.

Prof. Wesley K. Wark displayed an interesting presentation with a mild mode. He termed financial intelligence, economic intelligence and of course human intelligence as the things to remain even in the future. He suggested that digital divide should be discourage and there should be greater informational pool in the region and the world.

The second day’s discussions included political and civil aspects affecting the future of warfare such as relations between civil and military institutions, the future role of armies in war prevention, peacekeeping, and the close and strategic relationship between arms manufacturers and military institutions. The proceedings of the conference concluded with a session on the future of warfare and stability in the Middle East, which included topics related to the region such as the purchase of weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, and the risks facing the region’s security.

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Panel III “Political and Civilian Impacts on the Future of Warfare”

Chaired By Designation Research Papers
Major General (Ret.) Khaled Abdullah Al-Bu-Ainnain Former Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense, President of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), UAE
Dr. Alan Ryan Executive Director of the Australian Civil–Military Center, Australia Future Trends in Civil-Military Relations.’
Richard Gowan Associate Director for Crisis Diplomacy and Peace Operations at the Center on International Cooperation, NYU, UAE. War Prevention and Peacekeeping
Dr. Henrik Heidenkamp Research Fellow, Defence, Industries and Society, Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), United Kingdom The Private Sector’s Role in Defence: Challenges and Opportunities for Governments and Industry.

In his well prepared speech Richard Gowan, associate director for Crisis Diplomacy and Peace Operations at the New York University Centre on International Cooperation, USA said that UN needed helicopters and combat aircraft from the UAE in its peacekeeping missions. The UAE’s soft power and well-trained military can fill gaps in the United Nations peace-keeping missions around the world. “A regional power such as the UAE has the capacity to fill gaps in the United nations peace-keeping missions around the world and especially in Syria he added. He said the UAE military’s experience in Afghanistan were a valuable asset in conducting peacekeeping operations, which require the effective management of sophisticated military and development policies across a range of multi-national actors.

He stressed the need to have people having diversified expertise and professions to tackle the emerging geo-political and geo-strategic issues in the region and around the globe. United Nations badly needed experts of conflict resolution, crisis management, strategists, political scientists, personnel of global media and the last but not the least, cultural diversification oriented people from all of the world and especially dedicated people from this region in order to make the organization more vibrant and independent. He categorically said no to infantry while delivering his speech. He highlighted the success stories of the UN interventions which have stabilised Sierra Leone, Liberia and Haiti. The UN has played an important role in managing the difficult post-conflict situation in Libya after the fall of the Muammar Gaddafi regime. He was of the opinion that peacekeeping forces would also be required in Somalia, both to contain the threat of piracy and to help with the reconstruction of the country.

He ironically admitted some mistakes and failures of the UN which was highly appreciated by the participants. He pinpointed that the UN lacked helicopters and other aircraft, combat aircraft even Special Forces. He acknowledged the need of overhauling in the UN technology and logistics departments. UN has struggled to manage the flow of refugees into Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan he added.

He confessed that the crises in Libya, Mali and Syria have highlighted the limitations of international crises management. In each case, diplomats and international officials responded to the first signs of conflict with a mixture of caution and confusion, allowing violence to escalate.
He explained that while a NATO-led coalition eventually responded to the deteriorating situation in Libya with significant force, the campaign was hampered by gaps between the European military capabilities. The coalition left the post-conflict peace building to a small UN mission, which was able to facilitate credible elections, but could not prevent southern Libya slipping into chaos.

He further shared that a similar series of events is now unfolding in Mali, where the French intervention has finally brought an escalating crisis under control, but the transition to a UN-led peacekeeping force has been confused. The situation in Syria is far worse. A series of diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict have failed, in part because of tensions between Russia and the West. “Syria didn’t truly have a peacekeeping force, but a war watching one,” stressed Gowan. There may not been any effective UN intervention in Syria yet, but he claimed the organisation is ready to go back in. He wished the greater participatory roles of the Arab League and the African Union in order to durable peace in the turbulent areas. He emphasized the need to have better command, better communication and better cooperation.

Panel IV “The Future of Warfare: Conflict and Order in the Middle East”

Chaired By Designation Research Papers
Dr. Albadr Alshateri Researcher at the GHQ of the UAE Armed Forces.
Dr. Anthony Cordesman Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), United States of America The Future of Warfare: Conflict and Order in the Middle East”

Major General (Ret.) Khaled Abdullah Al-Bu-Ainnain Former Commander of the UAE Air Force and Air Defense and President of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) The Future of Warfare: Conflict and Order in the Middle East”

Brigadier General (Ret.) Elias Hanna
Military Strategist and Senior Lecturer at the American University of Beirut and Notre Dame University, Lebanese Republic The Future of Warfare: Conflict and Order in the Middle East”

The whole panel spoke about the future of warfare in the Middle East region. They also highlighted the emerging conflicts and order in the Middle East. Dr. Anthony Cordesman said the Arab Gulf states would face major challenges in terms of their stability and security interests. He suggested that each state should revisit its security apparatus and streamline its national security challenges in order to establish an advanced security shield to meet the internal and external security threats. He emphasized the need to have a closed coordination among the internal security mechanism, counter-terrorism strategies and the last but not the least, civil-military stability operations. He pinpointed that Arab states must develop the professional skill to deal with the weapon of mass destruction, weapons of mass effectiveness, cyber warfare and wild card patterns of conflict and escalation. He strongly focused to have an effective mix of deterrence and defense by radically further strengthening of their security cooperation and coordination.

Brigadier General (Ret.) Elias Hanna talked about different centers of power in the Middle East. He tried his best to shed light on these emerging geo-political and geo-strategic trends on micro and macro levels with all expected regional and global spillover repercussions. He outlined the different types of weaponry existed in the region and how power brokers have been playing with the souls in the region in the shape of proxy wars and full-fledge outside support. He narrated interesting comparison of warfare based on sophisticated and simplicity mentioning the example of Israel and Hezbollah conflict. He suggested the role of leadership and HRM must be integrated to tackle the future security concerns in the region.

He termed geo-politics and geo-strategic actors important to resolve any conflicting realities in the region. He emphasized the need to have new paradigm shift in security, deterrence and defense. He tried to convince to make alternative routes of energy supplies and trade in the future. He supported the concept of diversification of resources and alternativeness in the marital philosophies and prophecies. Being a strategist he mentioned different existed axis of power, and angles of coaxes and emerging power players in the region. He also showed different models of resistance, co-existence, hegemony and anti-hegemony in the region conflicting for strategic cushion, greater political superiority and socio-economic prosperity in the days to come.

Closing remarks was delivered by H.E. Dr. Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi, Director General of the ECSSR. He praised all the speakers, researchers, security experts, academicians and guests who made this conference a great success in order to promote the principles of security, stability and peace in the region and beyond. The said conference provided an opportunity to discuss the future risks and threats to humanity and to explore what possible measures to be taken to protect humanity from the evils and threats of war, he added.
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Suggestions and predictions are given below as:

Actors/Factors Present Assessments & Future Predictions
Terrorism Terrorism is complicated and complex phenomenon which will remain one of the most bulging future challenges threatening global security and stability.
Counter-Terrorism Strategies Existing counter-terrorism strategies are still partial and limited. There is a long way to go to achieve elements of perfection in preemptive measures and interception.
EU-GCC Partnership The level of military cooperation is at its initial stage right now which needs to be further strengthened. The well-established partnership between the European Union and the GCC can play an important role in international security in the 21st century
Cyber-Attack Cyber-attach are a potential threat in the world. It requires a range of measures at operational and tactical levels. Operations system must be secured from hacking from the external source. Emergence response and activation response must be quick.
Drones Drones have multiplier effects. It is being used as one of the most important means of countering the growth of asymmetric warfare. Role of drones in the future of warfare in the 21st century would be on the rise.
Private War Contractors Although controversial and conspiratorial in nature but it would remain in the greater picture of war and conflict engagements. Its role in logistics would be increased.
State-of-the-art Weaponry Old gadgetry of mass destruction would be replaced with the weapons of effectiveness. Smart improvised explosive devices, nanotech applications, bio-agents and genetic weaponry, chemical and hardware enhancements to the human body, autonomous armed robots, and electromagnetic pulse weaponry; all may be applied in the days to come.
C4ISRs Effectiveness of effective C4I structures combined with the best possible use of new technologies must be followed and implemented. Arab Armies may not be at easy path to install effective command and control systems in Arab armies.
Digital Divide Digital divide harms the prospects of mutual cooperation and coordination which needs to be rectified within the region and at global level too.
Counter-Intelligence It has great role to play in the future. It would be used in collaboration of drones and super computers. Climate change and expertise of economic would play an essential role in the future.
Civil-Mlitary Relations It must be further strengthened, transparent and opened. It requires more comprehensive long term strategies based on greater knowledge of organizational behavior and theory, cultural diversity, HRM, crisis management and conflict resolution.
Preemptive & Surgical Strikes It is a sensitive issue which needs thorough reconsideration and re-collaboration. International military interventions in the Middle East and North Africa must be revisited
Greater Role of Private Sector Greater role of private sector in the warfare of 21st century. But there should be some regulatory mechanism and limits.
Security Paradigm Shift Gulf Cooperation Council and MENA must reshape their existing security structures. There must be paradigm shift from conventional warfare to modern weaponry systems in order to meet the challenges of internal security and counterterrorism, asymmetric wars, conventional wars. Progress in weapons of mass destruction and cyber warfare must be preferred.
Joint Security Shield Joint security shield would be answered to many potential security challenges in the GCC and MENA. It would one of the ideal means to control the foreign infiltration, issues of civil unrest and deteriorating of law and order situation.
Reevaluation of Chinese Greater Role China’s geo-political and geo-strategic role would be further enhanced which needs to be recounted and revalued especially in the GCC and MENA.
Fault-lines of Geo-Political and Geo-Strategic Nature Serious research work is needed to pinpoint the faulty lines of red zones of geo-politics and geo-strategy in the region.
Diversification of Resources and Routes Diversification of resources (oil & gas) is the need of the hour. Renewables have a great scope in the future of warfare in the 21st century. Routes of trade & commerce and easy & smooth of energy supplies would be in the line of fire in the days to come if not manage properly.
Diplomacy War starts when diplomacy fails. Role of pragmatic/interactive diplomacy would be great in resolving the conflicting realities.

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