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Strategists evolve, shaped by the times they live in, prisoners of the problems of the day. And so, just as warfare constantly changes, so must strategists. So what will mold future strategists?

The task is to anticipate what future challenges might be on the horizon, and then connect them to the characteristics which might best contest them. This short essay thinks beyond today’s Millennial Generation to Generation Z, first born in the mid-1990s and running through the 2010s. As I was born at the tail end of Generation X, this is the generation of my two daughters, so I have a personal stake in contemplating their futures. Generation Z’s first strategists will enter positions of strategic military service about 2030 and by 2050 they will occupy the entirety of the national strategic decision making apparatus. What follows are five key characteristics which will differentiate them from us, today’s strategists, each tied to tidal trends in the strategic environment that will drive the next 35 years.

. . . future strategists will possess a blend of PT Barnum’s showmanship, Stephen King’s penmanship, and Don Draper’s salesmanship.

  1. Global. This is, perhaps, the easiest to gauge. All major American allies are in demographic decline, which over time will force countries to share the burdens of military expenditure. It’s one thing to not want to spend blood or treasure, it’s another thing entirely to not have enough young people to spend. In turn, this will mean more multinational operations, overseas assignments, and international engagement. Strategists will depend more on peers in other countries.
  1. Technical. As threats expand with technological advancement, so too will the need to possess requisite technical and scientific literacy. Nuclear weapons, precision strike, global pandemics, shifting climate, crop failure, water shortages – all require a working knowledge of what modern science can tell us about how these dangers function. Strategists will need to understand these.
  1. Command. Senior military command will be more meritocratic. Public belief in the old, experienced WASP male at the head of an institution has been shaken; the American people have grown comfortable with young leaders in positions of power through Silicon Valley’s start-up successes. Over time it will seem absurd that tactical prowess at the company, battalion, and brigade command-level necessarily means an officer will make a superior combatant commander. Some strategists will command at senior levels.
  1. Narrative. Traditionally, strategists focus on fighting and politics. But there’s a third area that’s gained steam in the information age: narrative. While the military creates a new monopoly on violence, and politicians certify this new monopoly, the people consecrate it by choosing a particular narrative that supports the monopoly’s continuance. Essentially, getting the other side to believe in and observe your story matters more than it used to when everybody has access to unlimited information. As such, future strategists will possess a blend of PT Barnum’s showmanship, Stephen King’s penmanship, and Don Draper’s salesmanship.
  1. Female. Two things are happening: first, women are out-graduating and outperforming men in nearly every important educational category; the officer corps will be more female. Second, the way women are perceived by society is changing, from the movies (nearly every major blockbuster has a female heroine), to elite military schools, to the selection of the first female combatant commander. My daughters could very well take up the family business (there’s a country song in that: “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Strategists”). And they’ll be better than their Dad ever was.

MAJ Matt Cavanaugh is a US Army Strategist, a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute at West Point, and has served in assignments from Iraq to the Pentagon, and Norway to New Zealand. A Contributor at War on the Rocks, he looks forward to connecting via Twitter @MLCavanaugh. This essay is an unofficial expression of opinion; the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of West Point, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or any agency of the US government.

 


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