Archive for July 19th, 2012

Three new contributions continue the discussion of the national security implications of urbanization:

In “Fighting in the New World: What Urbanization Means for Military Planners,” Janine Davidson of George Mason University explores the implications of the new urbanization for future war planning.

In “Military Operations as Urban Planning,” Michael Evans of the Australian Defence College makes the case for an interagency approach to future military casino pa natet operations in urban environments where the military works hand-in-hand with “urban planners, emergency services and policing.”

In “Urbanization, Security and Resiliency,” Nancy Brune of the Center for a New American Security argues that urban infrastructure planning, investments, and management should matter to national security experts.

When combined with yesterday’s contributions, these posts on urbanization and national security offer a series of provocative insights and suggestions that all strategists should consider.

ByВ Janine Davidson

The trends outlinedВ in this blogВ and in theВ McKinsey reportВ should not go un-noticed by military leaders and planners.В  Given that war is and has always been a fundamentally human endeavor, the fact that the vast majority of humanity will be living in complex mega-cities means that fighting, for better or worse, will be in urban environments, most of which will be located on coastlines.

Urbanization, especially when combined with other emerging trends such as climate change (asВ Will Rogers points out), resource scarcity (especially water), poverty, and radicalization will pose great challenges to governments.В  Thinking of theВ city as a system, as proposed by David Kilcullen, is useful for city planners, city managers and military planners.В  City planners and managers should be focused on promoting resilience, as the ability to withstand shocks, flex, absorb, and regenerate will be the trademarks of successful cities of the future.

Still, cities will face extreme shocks and crises, no matter how resilient they may seem.  And, as the U.S. military’s long forgotten 1996 Joint Operating Concept for Military Support to Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR) pointed out, “Once such difficult conditions emerge, the drivers of instability and conflict tend to reinforce one another, creating a degenerating cycle in which conditions continue to deteriorate, and the feelings of insecurity and the grievances of the local population intensify.”  The authors of that JOC conceptualized the stability operations environment as a complex system under stress and recognized that the longer a system was exposed to chronic stresses such as crime, gang violence, or insurgency, or the greater the magnitude of the shock from a natural disaster or war, the more the system risked collapse.  Preventing or reversing this potential spiral was the defining task of SSTR.  The JOC authors struggled with how to approach this phenomenon using a systems approach and left much unanswered, but their “system under stress” model is a useful frame on which to build as we attempt to cope with the inevitable challenges of urbanization and contemplate what military operations in such environments might be like.

Prevention and Resilience

Across the U.S.G. there is an emerging emphasis on prevention and resilience.  On the civilian side, this is reflected in new U.S. development programs such as the Global Climate Change Initiative, the Global Health Initiative and Global Food Security.  In his 2012 “Annual Letter,” USAID Administrator, Rajiv Shah, emphasized the need to shift the focus from “relief to resilience – from responding after emergencies to preparing communities in advance.” Feed the Future, for example, calls for a shift from emergency food relief to helping build local capacity that can promote food security and help prevent famines.  Likewise, the Obama administration built on President Bush’s most successful second-term USAID initiative, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), by developing a plan for the next five years that transitions from an emergency focus, enhances partnerships with other AIDS programs, builds local government capacity and focuses on sustainability, prevention, and resilience.

Similarly, as DoD’s recent Budget Priorities document suggests, the U.S. military seeks to “reduce the demand for significant U.S. force commitments to stability operations,” by strengthening the ability of local and regional security forces to respond to their own crises.  In a perfect world, such security enhancement efforts would be integrated with development efforts and those of other countries, non-government aid organizations, and the private sector for a more holistic approach to helping societies prepare for the stresses associated with rapid urbanization, resource scarcity, and climate change.  But of course we do not live in that world; and while outside assistance from the U.S. and others may help, the fact is that many of our global cities will face extreme crises due to natural, man-made, or a combination of these shocks.  And when this happens, inevitably, the U.S. military will be called in to assist.

Lessons for the Future

While military planners must not get stuck in the past continually “fighting the last war,” they must also recognize where lessons can be learned.  To prepare for the complex urban environments of the future, we might start by analyzing and “red teaming” a couple of the more challenging recent cases to consider what lessons future enemies have been gleaning and how such lessons might be applied in the complex urban fights of the future.  The following cases present a cross-sectional array of lessons, for both our enemies and ourselves:

1. The Shock of Mumbai:В  In November, 2008, a well-trained and well-armed Pakistani terrorists group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, launched a sophisticated raid on the most populous city in the world, the coastal mega-city of Mumbai, India.В  After commandeering fishing vessels in the middle of night, 10 commando-terrorists landed on two separate points in the heart of the city and began to systematically execute civilians in eleven pre-determined highly populated target locations.В  They had used Google earth to plan the attacks on each target, and their actions were coordinated via a Pakistan-based command center using cell phones and VOIP.В  Their leaders leveraged television news and social media, such as Twitter, to monitor the actions in real time.В  The attack continued for three days as the local police struggled to respond through the complex maze of their own city streets and the babble of reports coming in.В  Special Indian counter-terrorism and para-military forces, including the National Security Guards, the Rapid Action Force, and Marine Commandos were needed to engage the terrorists as local police forces were simply out-gunned.

The Mumbai attackers leveraged the very complexity of the city as well as its coastal location to launch a highly sophisticated and terrifying attack that was simply beyond the capability and capacity of the local law enforcement to prevent or to respond.В  Until the lines were cut, the terrorists were able to track the movements of security forces on television news while barricaded with hostages in one of the hotels.В  Foreign forces, had they been called in to assist, might have brought more sophisticated weaponry or online casino communications equipment, but would have had to cope with limited maneuverability among hordes of traffic and people on unfamiliar streets, and may have arrived too late to the game anyway.

2. Mexico Under Stress:  Where the Mumbai raids reflect the shock that can be applied to a complex urban system by a very small group of terrorists, the war against the drug cartels across Mexico demonstrates how the chronic violence of organized crime can stress a system nearly to a breaking point.  For violent criminals in places like Mexico a mixture of urban and rural environments can be leveraged to conduct operations.  But what is perhaps more important to grasp is how such illicit non-state and transnational actors are able to actively exploit the cultural and institutional pre-dispositions of traditional governments that prefer to bifurcate “crime” from “war,” and thus law enforcement tasks from those of the military.

In Mexico, one might conclude that the police have been “defeated” through infiltration of the ranks, corruption, and intimidation.  The answer has been for the Mexican government to call in its military to bring stability, law, and order to the cities most overwhelmed by violence and crime.  Of course, the militaries are not well trained in such para-military or police-like work, are usually unfamiliar with the local environments, and thus have had little success in reversing this degenerative spiral.  Should other governments be invited to intervene, they would face a similar conundrum on whether to send police or military units to assist.

The lesson for the “bad guys” of the future is to find ways to operate in this gap between crime and war.  Similarly, pirates off the coast of Somalia understand clearly that due to the international regimes regarding crime and war, they will neither be targeted like an enemy naval vessel and blown out of the water nor prosecuted in any particular court with authority over their crimes.  War-like criminals, transnational gangs, and traffickers of the future will ride their violent activities to the edge of this perfect gap until governments determine how to close it.

3. Katrina, Haiti, Japan and the Spiral to Chaos:В  Hurricane Katrina that hit the U.S. coastal city of New Orleans in August 2005 demonstrated that the developed world is not immune to systemic urban breakdown.В  As local police and first responders left their own posts to protect and aid their own families, the most vulnerable citizens were without protection, food, and water.В  Once it became clear that the police were no longer present, common criminals began to loot and gangs began to form.

In Haiti, the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit in 2010 similarly overwhelmed local authorities.В  In addition to rescuing and caring for refugees, the need to prevent or stop the spread of disease in a city of 3.5 million was a challenge.В  In future, responding to epidemics will present even greater challenges to weak mega-cities hit by similar natural disasters.В  Even military troops may not have the capacity to treat or quarantine the populations that may be required.

Finally, the 2011 combination of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster in Japan reflects clearly both the vulnerability of our complex mega cities and the value of resilience.В  In Japan, earthquake-proof buildings limited the type of full-scale destruction we might anticipate if such a triple-disaster were to hit a less resilient, highly populated, urban center.В  Still, despite a laudable level of resilience, Japan still needed humanitarian disaster relief from others.В  Meanwhile, the nuclear part of the disaster has made populations around the world reluctant to adopt nuclear solutions in the future.В  This presents challenges to urban planners who must address the need for more and more energy to power mega cities.

Future Military Planning

A couple of themes emerge from these cases for military planners to consider.

The first is that militaries will continue to be called on when civilian agencies are overwhelmed.В  In each of the cases above, the challenges were beyond the capacity and capability of local law enforcement or first responders.В  As the cases of Japan and Katrina show, this will likely be true even in the more developed and modern cities.

Second, we need to get very serious about “interagency” planning between police and military forces.  The traditional lines between these two may exist for good historical reasons, but they are becoming a liability.  Terrorists, insurgents, pirates, well-armed transnational traffickers and criminals have learned to operate with near impunity in this gap.  When criminals are better armed than police, we need to rethink how we conceptualize these two realms.  In Mumbai, only the special para-military types of units were able to compete with the terrorists.

Third, military planning must consider both the advantages and disadvantages technology provides.  American forces rely heavily on cyber and space-based technologies for communication, navigation, and targeting.   On the low end, the military must train and plan to fight “unplugged” – that is, in environments where such systems are down or compromised.  On the higher end, for environments when the lights stay on, leveraging social media for up to date information or clever crowd-sourced geo-mapping must be part of the military’s repertoire.  Importantly, military planning must account for either scenario in the same plan.

Fourth, if the military is to train the way it will fight, it will need to conduct more of its exercises and training in real cities, and do so side by side with law enforcement.  Small “MOUT” (military operations in urban terrain) sites at military training centers have gotten more sophisticated, but they do not expose troops to the real complexity and “fog” they will face attempting to navigate or control crowded, over-populated streets in mega-cities.

One of the biggest challenges will be scale. While the surges in Afghanistan and Iraq may demonstrate the value of greater numbers of boots on the ground for complex insurgencies and stability operations, the inability of mega-cities under stress to absorb, house, and feed these troops will require military units to be as small and as self-sustaining as possible.В  The military should experiment with off-shore staging, building on the hospital-ship model from previous disasters, and also think through how to have greater impact with smaller numbers.

Finally, as Japan and Katrina show, for massive shocks caused by Mother Nature, local-level response, even in some of the more resilient cities, will not be enough. Regional and global relief regimes will need to be leveraged and coordinated with the private sector and relief organizations.В  As the jammed airfields in Haiti revealed, coordination of the myriad humanitarian relief groups will become increasingly problematic unless we develop pre-determined rules of the road.

Some national security and military leaders may think that now that we are winding down in Afghanistan and Iraq, we will be able to actively avoid anything resembling those population-centric missions in future.  But it is a simple fact of military planning – especially in a democracy – that the military does not get to chose where it gets sent, what wars it will fight, what enemies it will face and in which environments.  An increasingly urbanized world means the military will find itself in cities, among crowded populations, and fighting savvy enemies who have been paying close attention, learning, and adapting.  The cases presented here are only a sample of the lessons the military must continue to mine in order to prepare itself for this new fight.

Janine Davidson is Assistant Professor at George Mason University’s Graduate School of Pubic Policy. From 2009-2012, she served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans where she oversaw the development of guidance for military campaign and contingency plans and the review and assessment of plans.  She previously served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and with theUnited States Air Force, where she was an aircraft commander and senior pilot for the C-130 and the C-17 cargo aircraft.

By Michael Evans

There is little question in my mind that the demographic trends creating rapid urbanization will, over time, influence the conduct of joint warfare. By 2030 up to seventy per cent of the world’s population is likely to inhabit an urban area marking a strategic shift from landscape to cityscape. Moreover, many of the new urban centres will be in Asia and Africa. Even if one disagrees with Parag Khanna’s observation that we are approaching a global inflection point in which ‘the age of nations is over. The new urban era has begun’, we are, nonetheless, in the midst of a profound geopolitical shift in which urban areas will figure prominently in future Western joint military planning.

The difficulty the US and its allies will confront is that, while some global megacities may become hubs of stability, many others in the underdeveloped world are likely to become distributed slum ecosystems for a volatile migrant underclass marked by unemployed youth that will be easy recruitment material for revolutionary militias or any number of transnational insurgent groups or hybrid warfare opponents. It does not require a great leap in imagination to realise that the dystopian features of urbanization will favour the forces of transnational disorder. The rise of ‘metropolitical warfare’ is not a Blade Runner fantasy but a looming reality in the decades ahead – General Krulak’s ‘Stepchild of Somalia and Chechnya’ with a vengeance.

As a result, it will be incumbent in full-spectrum military operations to casino online develop a form of urban operational art that exploits robotics and digitisation and appropriate low-tech capabilities. Cities are classic complex adaptive systems, a blend of interactive human and material forces, unpredictable and difficult to control.

Our conceptual problem in Western strategy is that we often equate city warfare with the horrifying battles of Stalingrad and Manila from a World War II paradigm – or else we default to MOUT (Military Operations in Urban Terrain). This is an outmoded approach and must be replaced by a MOUP (Military Operations as Urban Planning) approach in which military professionals leverage knowledge from urban planners, emergency services and policing – in short an inter-agency approach.

After ten years of counterinsurgency, there is, of course, little appetite for urban military operations. Unfortunately, urban development in the ‘global South’ will continue and it will intersect with insurgency, terrorism and hybrid warfare. Most urban development is predicted to be decentralized and may over time become focused on sprawling ‘city webs’, dense enclaves with no clear urban-rural divide and this will favour any number of armed groups who may, in turn develop a rural-urban interface. Cities such as Karachi in Pakistan are a good example of this development and potentially pose a severe challenge to state-order.

An urban lens in strategy and security policy must then be developed in the US and the West – and this must go beyond military professionals and embrace the policy community and defense intellectuals. The city as a battlespace is not a place where we would choose to fight, but it may become necessary in some future contingencies.

It was Lewis Mumford in his book 1961 book The City in History who warned us that evey city contains within it the ‘lethal genes’ of war. Fifty years on Mumford looks more prescient than ever.

Dr. Michael Evans is a Fellow at the Australian Defence College in Canberra, Australia.

By Nancy E. Brune

In 2008, for the first time, the world’s urban population exceeded its rural population. According to theUnited Nations estimates, urbanization will grow from about 50 percent of the world’s population today to about 60 percent by 2030. More importantly, urbanization – and its accompanying pressures – will not be evenly distributed. As illustrated in Figure 1, the urban population as the percentage of the total population has grown around the world over the last three decades; however, the urban population as a percentage of total population has risen more quickly in Latin America & the Caribbean the Middle East & North Africa, and East Asia and the Pacific.

NIC Blog – Urbanization, Security and Resiliency – Figure 1

More than 90 percent of projected urban growth will continue to occur in developing nations, fueled by increasing population and rural to urban migration.

Researchers note that, traditionally, the largest drivers of urbanization are primarily natural disasters (and increasingly ecological degradation).В  War and conflict have also caused populations to flee into urban areas. Climate change and the increasing desertification of once-arable lands have also fueled rural to urban movements in recent years, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Certainly, urbanization may be the result of conflict. But it is also the case that urbanization may be associated with poor security conditions in countries. The (rapid) movement of people from rural areas to more urban (or even peri-urban) cities may exacerbate underlying ethnic and religious tensions, place pressures on weak infrastructure that is already being pushed beyond capacity, increase distributional pressures, and demand governance and better planning from governments too weak to sustain themselves.

To illustrate this claim, the author looks at the urbanization trends in theВ Failed States 2012 list. Interestingly, of the Top 20 Failed States, 15 of them had urban population growth rates that exceeded the global mean. (For those stats jocks, please note that the authors of the Failed States Index do not include any information on urbanization). Table 1 includes data on the countries (with their Failed States ranking) that experienced urban population growth rates that exceeded the global mean and experienced significant increases in their urban population as a percentage of the total population.

Table 1. Urbanization data for Select Countries


Urban Population Growth (%)



Urban Population Growth (%)

Global Mean


Urban Population as % of Total


Urban Population as % of Total


Cote d’Ivoire (11)





Guinea (12)





Haiti (7)





Nigeria (14)





Somalia (1)





Sudan (3)





Yemen (8)





Source: Data from World Bank Development Indicators 2012

Many of these ‘failed states’ which experienced higher urban population growth rates and increases in the urban population have direct bearing on U.S. national security interests and have received some form of (humanitarian, economic and/or military) assistance from the United States in recent years.

For example, even before the aftermath of the disastrous 2010 earthquake, the United States has had deep relations with Haiti and has provided various types of assistance while encouraging democratic and economic reforms.  Nigeria, which is the fifth largest exporter of oil to the United States, is a critical regional partner. Of growing concern are the steady bombings (reportedly perpetrated by the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram) in northern Nigeria, a region which has witnessed desertification, ecological degradation and loss of economic livelihood – conditions which have fueled north-south migration in recent decades. A failed state for a number of years, Somalia (and its Transitional Federal Government) has received various forms of U.S. assistance over the years. The U.S. is particularly concerned with the al-Shabaab Islamic insurgents, which continue to battle the Transitional Federal Government and have now extended the battlefield into Kenya, as well as the home-grown Somali pirates which continue to operate off the coast with almost complete immunity. Moving northwest, Sudan’s largest funder is the United States who has provided more than $8 billion in assistance since 2005. And finally, Yemen continues to struggle with demographic pressures, rapid urbanization, and long standing regional and political differences. In recent days, the U.S. Department of Defense has resumed the supply of counter-terrorism weapons, ammunition and communication to help Yemen’s special forces project power beyond the capital to combat efforts by al-Qaeda to “destabilize the region and both indirectly and directly harm U.S. interests.”

Managing the Challenges of Urbanization

To be clear, urbanization does not result in conflict. But, urbanization, especiallyВ rapidВ urbanization, in the face of underlying ethnic tensions, weak government capacity or poor infrastructure, may result in a deteriorating general security environment.

The simple analysis which hints as an associative relationship between rapid and significant urbanization and state failure (or a generally insecure, unstable environment) suggests that governments, decision makers and planning officials need to pay greater attention to how to manage the continued urbanization which is projected through 2030.

Below are three recommendations for governments and planning officials as they think about how to manage the continued urbanization in the developing world where governments are struggling with ways to provide adequate resources for a growing urban population.

1.В Fund Infrastructure

Every year, approximatley 65 million people are added to the world’s urban population, equivalent to adding seven cities the size of Chicago annually. Urbanization may create challenges when the urban infrastructure does not exist to (adequately) support the addition of the influx of people.

Unfortunately, governments around the world – both developing and developed alike – are failing to exist sufficiently in infrastructure. A 2012 OECD report concluded that Latin America has “large infrastructure gaps.”  Africa also has significant infrastructure gaps – in power, roads, housing, etc.  As noted by the World Bank’s 2010 Africa’s Infrastructure Report, Africa’s power infrastructure delivers “only a fraction” of the services online casino provided in other parts of the developing world. For instance, “the 48 Sub-Saharan Africa countries (with 800 million people) generate roughly the same power as Spain (with 45 million people).” The report also estimates that it will require $18 billion a year to build and maintain an adequate transport network that provides adequate regional, national, rural, and urban road connectivity including all road, rail, port and air networks. These infrastructure gaps are not limited to the developing world. For instance, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated in 2005 that it would take $1.6 trillion simply to make U.S. infrastructure dependable and safe.

Governments around the world should prioritize basic infrastructure funding.  In addition to helping policymakers mitigate complicated challenges of urbanization, many economists agree that “public investments in infrastructure and economic growth are inextricably linked.” As noted in the Global Trends 2030 Report, we can anticipate that technology may be a game changer and may help urban planners deal with the complex challenges posed by urbanization. Among these potential game changing solutions are: precision agriculture, water desalination, greenhouse agriculture, and renewable energy (e.g. solar technology) technologies.

В 2.В Integrate Resource Planning and ManagementВ 

Rapid urbanization has left policy planners struggling with ways to provide water, energy, and food and housing, as demands increase and supplies decline. In most countries, successfully addressing these resource challenges (and thus stemming urban migration) is undermined by the existence of separate administrative structures and policies for water, energy, agriculture and planning. This results in sub-optimal policies, regulations and resource management practices. Slowing the migration trends by improved agricultural, water and energy development, and other improvements, in rural regions has been completely beyond the reach of integrated planning efforts. For instance, the lack of integrated planning has contributed to the growth of informal settlements (or slums). Inadequate zoning and housing have excluded many (poor and rural migrants) from being integrated with urban development.

However, independent of additional infrastructure investments, policymakers should think about how to work more efficiently.В  Specifically, governments should modernize public management systems to so as to integrate infrastructure planning and delivery of services across agencies and levels of government. International and regional financial institutions and international organizations could provide technical assistance and require integrated planning when financing any infrastructure project.

3.В Build Resiliency Into Urban Infrastructure Systems

Rapid urbanization poses several challenges to urban infrastructure system. Examples include increased demand for electricity on an outdated electric grid or new urban settlements in areas that are not served by roads, water or sanitation services. In addition, climate change and natural disasters will continue to complicate the urbanization pressures faced by governments, particularly those in the developing world. Whether improving current infrastructure systems or planning new infrastructure projects, governments must build resiliency into their urban infrastructure systems.  According to theU.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Infrastructure resilience is the ability to reduce the magnitude and/or duration of disruptive events. The effectiveness of a resilient infrastructure or enterprise depends upon its ability to anticipate, absorb, adapt to, and/or rapidly recover from a potentially disruptive event.” The elements of a resilient urban infrastructure system include:

Robustness: the ability to maintain critical operations and functions in the face of crisis. This can be reflected in physical building and infrastructure design (office buildings, power generation and distribution structures, bridges, dams, levees), or in system redundancy and substitution (transportation, power grid, communications networks).  Robustness is related to the system’s absorptive capacity.

Resourcefulness: the ability to skillfully prepare for, respond to and manage a crisis or disruption as it unfolds. This includes identifying courses of action, business continuity planning, training, supply chain management, prioritizing actions to control and mitigate damage, and effectively communicating decisions. Resourcefulness is related to the system’s adaptive capacity and the notion of flexibility.

Rapid recovery: the ability to return to and/or reconstitute normal operations as quickly and efficiently as possible after a disruption. Components include carefully drafted contingency plans, competent emergency operations, and the means to get the right people and resources to the right place.

Introducing resilience into the urban infrastructure so that it can adapt to rapid urbanization (and other climate related challenges) will require urban policy planners to think about urban infrastructure as a system. Viewing urban infrastructure as a system and organizing the agencies and operations as such will allow urban planners to identify ways to build redundancy and flexibility into the larger system, thereby enabling it to respond to urbanization challenges.

While this piece concludes by discussing the importance of introducing resiliency into urban infrastructure systems, there is a larger point to be made. The authors of the draft Global Trends 2030 report entitled “Alternative Worlds” discuss several megatrends – including demographic challenges (e.g. aging populations and urbanization), the diffusion of power across countries, and the prominence of the individual in society (elevated through technology, education, improved access to health care, etc.).  Some nations may not adapt so well to these megatrends and the alternative worlds they will shape.  Others may leverage the potential opportunities. The degree of resiliency in a nation’s ‘systems’ – including infrastructure, economic structures, public institutions and social organization  — may in fact determine how will it can adapt to these alternative worlds.

Dr. Nancy E. BruneВ is a Non Resident Senior Fellow at theВ Center for a New American Security.