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Contours of Conflict in the 21st Century

31 March 2011

Conflict remains a central element of la condition humaine. In some regions, traditional forms of conflict have virtually disappeared while in other it remains a fact of everyday life. Yet, there is a growing feeling in many parts of the world that the future nature of conflict may be changing. Much of the thinking behind this is informed by deep subject matter knowledge, firmly grounded in (military) history as well as present day experience. This being the case, the images of future conflict are inevitably a product of the respective contexts in which they are sketched.

It goes without saying that contexts differ enormously across the world. It is likely that a Russian author will paint a different picture of the future
nature of conflict than his English counterpart. A Chinese expert will undoubtedly see other forms of conflict emerge than an Arab observer. Such variations not only mark differences in contemporary strategic discourses worldwide, but also shed light on the types of conflict that may be anticipated in the future as it is these images of future conflict that inform strategic planning.

In gaining a better understanding of the future nature of conflict, it is therefore of the utmost importance to go beyond the traditional Western (English) language domain experts, and include views from regions across the world. The main purpose of the Future Nature of Conflict project is therefore to map and analyze global perspectives about the future nature of conflict published over the last two decades across four language domains – Arabic, Chinese, English and Slavic.

The aim is to gain a better understanding of the bandwidth of views about the future nature of conflict. These views are analyzed along different dimensions, such as actors, aims, domains, means – who, why, where, how?; as well as salience, length, extensiveness, distinctiveness – how often, how long, how widespread, how distinct? The various definitions of conflict across the language domains were also mapped. This study seeks to better inform decision makers from government and industry in preparing for the challenges of the future conflict environment.

Experts on this report

Director of the Security Program

Frank Bekkers

Frank Bekkers is Director of the Program Security. He is also theme leader of the Strategy and Change Program.

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Senior Analyst

Stephan De Spiegeleire

Stephan de Spiegeleire is senior scientist at HCSS. He has Master's degrees from the Graduate Institute in Geneva and Columbia University in New York, as well as a C.Phil. degree in Political Science from UCLA.

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Strategic Analyst

Tim Sweijs

Tim Sweijs is a Senior Strategist. He is the initiator, creator and author of numerous studies, methodologies, and tools for research projects in horizon scanning, conflict analysis, international and national security risk assessment, and capability development.

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