"In unusually strong language, Gates warned against what he described as a tendency in the Pentagon to fall back on Cold War mentalities and said he feared that lessons from the U.S. struggle against insurgencies in Iraq could fade unless military commanders understand that today’s enemies are the foes of the future.
Gates said there must be a balance between meeting today’s demands and tomorrow’s contingencies, but he expressed concern that the defense establishment is not concentrating hard enough on what might be needed in future conflicts. He said the armed services and their corporate counterparts should steer technology and resources toward battling insurgencies. " Washpost
With respect for the opinion of my colleagues who count Gates among their close friends, (or at least close associates) this is not very profound.
Yes, it is true that the military would prefer to deal with enemies whose vagaries are more easily perceived and estimated in mechanistic sensor driven and applied mathematical kinds of ways.
The US Army did turn away from what it learned in the counterinsurgency wars of the 20th Century. That was a bad thing.
Nevertheless, it seems clear that there is not some sort of evolutionary development in the nature of war. There never was such a thing. War is war. It has always existed in many forms and usually simultaneously. The metaphor of generational development in warfare is essentially flawed. This image was created in the last decade or two to provide existing military leadership with a psychological crutch that enabled them to say that they had not been so woefully ignorant of history as to not know that irregular warfare had always been a major factor in conflict. No. The "4th Generation" label allowed the generals to tell each other that something new had appeared on the world scene – guerrilla war. They could not be expected to have anticipated this new thing, guerrilla war, could they?
Now, Mr. Gates, who seems to be a sensible man, is espousing the idea that the armed forces should configure themselves to fight guerrillas as the main kind of enemy. Such an idea is superficially attractive, but not a viable solution for doctrinal thought and force structure design.
The future is not really knowable. It is, in fact, the undiscovered country. History gives us a ghostly image of what people have done over the millennia. Will people do the same things in the future? Perhaps they will not, but the record of the past is the only real indication we have of what mankind tends to do.
War remains a social activity which relies on basic attributes of the evolved human beast. Weapons change but people do not in any time scale that is useful for contemplation.
The record of the past indicates that future wars will be fought in many different forms and often in many different forms within the same war.
Let us be careful that we do not prepare to fight only one of the many forms of war. pl