Motivated by escalating competition with China and Russia, the United States military has begun to pivot away from a focus on counterinsurgency and towards great power conflict scenarios such as large scale combat operations and “grey zone” conflict that falls short of open warfare but blends diverse conventional and non-conventional means. This shift in focus has motivated significant changes in U.S. military planning, doctrine, and training. Coupled with an increased lethality of military weapons, emerging technologies such as cyber and artificial intelligence, and heightened disregard for international norms by some actors, these changes will significantly impact civilians in conflict-affected areas, in both current and future wars. However, despite high potential risks to civilians, U.S. strategic planning currently provides little guidance regarding the role of civilian populations in a great power conflict, nor does it adequately examine existing assumptions about civilian behavior in war. 

Among the most pressing questions:

  • What types of conflict scenarios do the U.S. military and its allies anticipate confronting in a great power conflict?
  • What assumptions are U.S. military planners making about civilian behavior in conflict?
  • How do these predictions and assumptions affect the way the U.S. military, its allies, and potential adversaries plan, train, and operate?  
  • What are the risks and challenges for protection of civilians and humanitarian response in great power conflict scenarios? What about the opportunities? 

In collaboration with interdisciplinary partners including Stanford University, the U.S. Naval War College, and U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, CIVIC is undertaking research and policy advocacy aimed at identifying the challenges to civilian protection posed by great power conflict scenarios and issuing concrete recommendations for U.S. military planners and policymakers to prevent and mitigate those challenges.

Image courtesy of Alex Patino