Monday, January 27, 2014

Urban Warfare



David Kilcullen's latest book makes a decently provocative claim about the future of warfare although he hedges quite a bit throughout. The basis of his projections are the facts that humans are clustering in cities to an extent never before seen. Along with urban migration, these mega-cities (Mumbai, Rio, Lagos) are also increasingly littoral. Kilcullen asks us to think of these cities as organisms or environmental systems with flows of people, energy, infrastructure, etc. Cities encounter problems when overpopulation strains the local government's ability to provide sewage, electricity, trash, security and other basic services. This can create criminal or insurgent groups which compete for control of a city sector or sub-population. He explains this in the third chapter of the book, "The Theory of Competitive Control". This section I found to be most interesting.

The claim that more warfare will take place in urban and littoral settings is not that far-reaching. Warfare is about humans. If humans accelerate their living patterns to these types of habitats then it seems logical, ceteris paribus, that more warfare will occur in these settings. However, Kilcullen's claim is stronger. Cities offer refuge and resources, an asymmetric advantage, to sub-state groups. Their comparative advantage vis a vis the US and the nation-state system is in the city. Warfare will be less Afghanistan and more Mogadishu. Fighting village-to-village on the mountainous border with Pakistan is an anomaly. We will fight these groups for competitive control but it will be in dense urban areas.  

The appendix promised some proscriptions about how to prepare a military to deal with the security challenges of urban littoral settings. This section under-delivered but to be fair it was not intended to be part of Kilcullen's main point.       

Aside from the third chapter, which I found insightful and provocative, the rest of the book felt like a long-form article that went to 200+ pages. It was all mostly useful but the length of the book (290pgs) didn't justify itself. That said, it wasn't as if the work was 500 pages. Still easily digestible in a few days. Recommend for strategists and those interested in warfare...YMMV otherwise.     

1 comment:

  1. One could argue that nation-states have long been plagued by non-state groups that thrive in urban centers. I'm thinking of criminal networks that operate within the gaps and seams of overlapping security organizations. In some cases, these groups conduct illegal and disruptive operations with seemingly near impunity. Is this a result of a failure of capability and capacity on the part of law enforcement or a matter of prioritization? Interesting to speculate what the persistence of the urban gang and organized crime threat says about the limits of internal power projection and coercion. Did he go into a discussion of civil liberties and the states challenge in balancing the rights of individuals against an interest in countering these networks?

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