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The Socio-Cultural World of 2020-2050: What might it mean for militaries?

Defence Futurists focus upon technological trajectories, like artificial intelligence or cyber-warfare, while analysis of the human dimension considers population growth; urbanisation; mega-cities and economic inequality. However, what is going on in the human heart and soul? Could global socio-cultural trends be a mega-shaping force?

To highlight the relevance of this to military capability, it is useful to reflect upon the early success of the Napoléonic Armies, which inform much of Clausewitz’s thinking in On War. Napoléon came to power in a time of great ideological change —the Enlightenment— where philosophers such as Rousseau and Voltaire introduced entirely new ways of thinking. The capacity of people to ‘reason’ was elevated over the inherited authority of the Monarchy and the Catholic Church, while the new values of ‘liberté, égalité, fraternité’ drove the subsequent French Revolution. Unlike most of his aristocratic French military compatriots, Napoléon was attuned to these socio-ideological shifts and therefore, as a military leader, was able to connect with the masses and harness the moral forces of his time.

Applying this to the present era, what philosophical and ideological shifts are occurring in our time? The research paper, Teaming, proposes that the period 2020 to 2050 may be the ‘Era of Equality.’ It suggests the ‘equity and diversity’ trend will solidify and instead of some minorities now being ‘included’ in decision-making, the next step will be that the world will start to inherit fundamentally different sorts of leadership teams. These new leaders will emerge in varied ways across the world and among different strata of society. At National and International levels, they will likely bring new approaches to a range of socio-political issues, including security.

There are already early indicators of this. For example, both Sweden and Canada now have openly declared Feminist International Relations strategies. What’s new about these is the greater emphasis upon ‘human security.’ That itself may flag something of importance to Futurists, but if this new priority is placed in context with other trends—such as war among the people; child-soldiers; human trafficking; and sexual violence in conflict, (against women, men and children); and if future stressors like environmental degradation and climate change are considered —collectively, it starts to suggest that ‘human security’ may have implications for future military tasking and force structure.
There may be a need for a new type of a capability, with a ‘human dimension’ focus and a population protection task. In Teaming, one idea put forward to achieve this is the ‘Wake Force’—a type of infantry-based peacekeeping unit, with a roughly 50% male-female mix. It would incorporate the ‘women, peace and security’ aspects but also have expertise in areas like infrastructure repair, policing, and in responding to issues like ‘bacha bazi’(boy-rape). Ideally its members would have cultural and language proficiencies.

How could the Wake Force be employed? If a main battle group is tasked with an ‘eyes-out’ threat focus; the Wake Force would have an ‘eyes-in’ protection focus. The complexity of the future operating environment may demand this type of 360-degree vision. Depending upon the situation, these force elements could work in tandem, or the Wake Force could be conceived as being—like the wake of a boat—an element which comes in behind combat forces, freeing them up to move on to pursue threats more widely. Considering conflict in mega-cities, the Wake Force might have a role in establishing safe spaces or evacuation corridors, while combat forces hunt down the threat.

That is only one idea. However, a deep dive into the field of ‘gender studies,’ in the context of future military land capability, reveals many other considerations and insights. While there has been much discussion about women; LGBTI people and gender fluidity, a sleeper issue is that men have also been hindered by dated gender constructs, and that they are also in transition.

Masculinity Studies also turns out to be highly pertinent to analysing the operating environment. An example of such a potential gem is the concept of ‘Protest Masculinity,’ developed by psychologist Alfred Adler and masculinity researcher Raewyn Connell. Protest Masculinity refers to the idea of men performing and claiming masculine status and power without changing their political or socially validated manhood status. David Duriesmith used this lens to analyse the Sierra Leone civil war of 1991 to 2002; he writes:
… ‘true manhood’ was inaccessible to those young men who were poor, unmarried or stigmatized… violent domination of others granted masculine status.
The politics of protest masculinity provide a meaningful basis to understand organization of violence in the RUF [Revolutionary United Front], the tactics that were used and the targets that were chosen. The original cause of conflict was a gender order that told young men they should be powerful without providing the mechanisms for them to attain that status.

Protest Masculinity is important to consider more deeply as it likely has application to the ways in the Daesh threat is conceived and countered. Additionally, the mega-trends that lead to mass impoverished and disempowered young men, (like over-population, environmental degradation, weakened and corrupt States) persist, and will be exasperated by other influences, like climate change, in the decades ahead.
Overall, ‘gender studies’ need not be feared. If included in routine analysis of Futures, military capability and force structure, as well as in internal aspects like teamwork and leadership, it can add valuable insights, and thus, increase preparedness and capability.

You can find the larger version of this article at this link.

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Australian Army

Contributor: Liz is the author of Teaming, which draws upon her PhD research into ‘deep framing.’ Her background is as a Transport Officer, who has served in East Timor and Iraq. She has also worked in the climate science and policy sector, in a civil capacity. She is presently a research officer within the Australian Army’s ‘Army Knowledge Centre.’

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