By Drew Erdmann

As the week’s discussion of urbanization closes, it is helpful to return to our starting point:  we are now living through something unprecendented in human history. For the first time most people live in cities and towns. And the pace and reach of urbanization will continue every day, every week, every month for the next two decades and beyond.

This urbanization is helping to reshape our physical and strategic landscape. The world’s economic “center of gravity” has moved more rapidly in the past decade than at any time in the past two thousand years, . Every strategist and student should again contemplate this map and its significance:nic-blog-mgi-shifting-economic-center-of-gravity2

This sort of historic change remains hard grasp, even when conveyed in such powerful graphic communications. Something more tangible is needed. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then perhaps two will be doubly powerful.

Consider Shenzhen, China, the city immediately to the north of Hong Kong and one of China’s first Special Economic Zones.  Here is a photograph of Shenzhen circa. 1990:

shenzhen-in-the-early-1990s1

Now consider this photograph of Shenzhen’s skyline taken in the past few years:

shenzen-today

Imagine the scale and pace of the change experienced in Shenzhen to move it from fields to metropolis in a matter of a few decades. Then multiply it a hundred of times over. That is what is happening around the world.

This week’s posts all highlighted the incredible stress such change will place on our economies, infrastructure, climate and environment, social relations, mores and values, institutions of government, and even our identities.  As Robert Kaplan’s influential 1994 article the ”The Coming Anarchy” argued, such stress can drive fragmentation, conflict, and decline. But at the time historian Paul Kennedy rightly cautioned against “doomsterism.” We should heed his caution today: while the profound challenges in cities like Lagos or East Saint Louis cannot be denied, there are success stories (consider again those photographs of Shenzhen’s development).

Looking toward 2030, our world will be shaped by the complex interplay of the dynamics fueled by urbanization. There will be winners and losers – between countries as well as within countries and cities themselves. Some will adapt, innovate, and blossom; others will stagnate, degrade, and wither.  Success will often be determined by how well leaders understand and act on the city as a system, as David Kilcullen argues. This will be an era defined in part by inequality and how well it is managed. We can envision ways to build more positive, innovative urban futures, as described by Brandon Fullerand Andres Cadena et al.  Yet, we can also imagine much more challenging outcomes (see other contributions on national security part 1 and part 2, and governance).  Some nation states might fragment under the strains of urbanization, while other national governments may simply decline in relevance as cities increasingly dominate the economic, social, and political lives of their citizens.  Might we be heading “back to the future” to the time before nation states when city states and other political structures reigned?  Whatever the outcome, the majority of humanity’s future will be found in cities.

Taken together, this week’s posts make clear that urbanization’s dynamics and interpedencies will pose new challenges for every country and city in the next two decades. Politicians, soldiers, diplomats, business people, urban planners, workers, and educators will all need to navigate new city streets, literally and figuratively. Capturing these navigational complexities and consequences should be a major theme running throughout the Global Trends 2030 report.

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A final word of personal thanks to all the contributors to the NIC Global Trends 2030 blog’s discussion of urbanization. These contributors offered original insights and analyses. And they offered these diverse perspectives from wherever they call home in this globalized era –  not only the United States, but also Australia, Brazil, China, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. I appreciate how they responded with good cheer and great material to the request to contribute to the NIC’s dialogue aimed at improving the Global Trends 2030 report.  Thanks again!

Drew Erdmann is a Principal in McKinsey & Company’s Washington, DC office. He previously served with the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the National Security Council staff. The views expressed herein represent his personal views and do not necessarily reflect the perspectives of any organization with which he is affiliated. 

Military Operations as Urban Planning

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 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 David J. Kilcullen

The City as a System

This era’s unprecedented urbanization is concentrated in the least developed areas of Asia, Latin America and Africa.  The data shows that coastal cities are about to be swamped by a human tide that will force them to absorb—in less than 40 years—almost the entire increase in population absorbed by the whole planet, in all of recorded human history up to 1960. And virtually all this urbanization will happen in the world’s least developed areas, by definition the poorest equipped to handle it—a recipe for conflict, crises in health, education and governance, and food, energy and water scarcity.

Rapid urbanization creates economic, social and governance challenges while simultaneously straining city infrastructure, making the most vulnerable cities less able to meet these challenges. The implications for future conflict are profound, with more people fighting over scarcer resources in crowded, under-serviced and under-governed urban areas.

Consider, for example, the interaction between climate change and coastal urbanization. Rural environmental degradation prompts migration to coastal cities, putting more people in low-lying regions, where the slightest sea level rise can cause major disruption. Indeed, the Asian Development Bank estimated in 2011 that drought, desertification and soil salinity, exacerbated by climate change, will prompt millions of rural people across the Asia-Pacific region to migrate to cities over coming decades:

Geography, compounded by high levels of poverty and population density has rendered Asia and the Pacific especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.  The region is home to more than 4 billion people and some of the fastest growing cities in the world. By 2020, 13 of the world’s 25 megacities, most of them situated in coastal areas, will be in Asia and the Pacific. Climate change will likely exacerbate existing pressures on key resources associated with growth, urbanization and industrialization.[i]

The food security effects are equally severe, as pollution from coastal urbanization imperils fish stocks, and peri-urban areas surround city cores whose infrastructure is scaled for populations far smaller than they now support. This newly settled peri-urban land was once used for farms, market gardens and orchards, but as cities expand into this space, the distance between the city core and its food sources increases significantly. Food must now be produced further away and transported over ever-greater distances, increasing transportation and refrigeration costs, raising fuel usage and carbon emissions, exacerbating traffic problems, and creating “food deserts” in urban areas. Likewise, many cities are running out of water, a problem that will only increase as populations swell, and as urbanization covers rainfall catchment areas, pushing cities further from their water sources.

The growing size and complexity of cities also strains the infrastructure of governance—police, district administrators, courts, hospitals, schools, and maintenance services. In particular, government presence can be extremely limited in peri-urban areas, allowing the emergence safe havens for criminal networks or non-state armed groups, or creating a vacuum filled by local youth, who do not lack for grievances arising from their new urban circumstances or from their home villages. Even in developed cities like Paris and London, rioting, youth unrest and crime in peri-urban districts reached significant levels on several occasions over the past decade—and in underdeveloped regions the problem is even worse.[ii]

It is useful to think of urban migration from the rural hinterland—driven by rural environmental degradation, energy poverty or conflict—as the supply side of a population-flow system whose demand side includes the problems of urban overstretch, crime, scarcity and conflict just mentioned. The city is a system which, in turn, nests within a larger national and global system, with coastal cities functioning as an exchange mechanism that connects rural hinterlands with urban populations, and with international networks. We can represent this graphically, along with the key trends we have been discussing, as follows: NIC Blog – Kilcullen – City as a system

In this model, the coastal city is the center of a larger system, with rural factors in the city’s hinterland—including environmental degradation, poor rural infrastructure, and rural conflict—prompting rapid urbanization. This creates ad hoc peri-urban settlements where slums and shantytowns displace land formerly used to provide food and other services to the city, and cover the rainfall catchment area for the city’s water supply. The city’s growth puts its infrastructure under stress, so that both the old urban core and the new peri-urban areas experience weak governance, crime, urban poverty, unemployment and conflict. Shortages of food, fuel, electricity and water exacerbate these problems. In turn, the city’s connectedness allows its population to tap into licit and illicit activities offshore, and to connect with global networks, including diaspora populations, an interaction that affects both local and international conflict dynamics.

The data suggest that this is the environment in which future conflict will occur. To recap, this is not a futuristic prediction, but rather a projection of trends that are evident now, and an assessment of their effects on cities as they exist today. There will certainly be outliers—wars in desert and mountain terrain, and state-on-state “conventional” war—but this analysis does suggest the system parameters within which future conflict is likely to occur, and the majority such conflict seems likely to be urban, networked and littoral.

Implications

This analysis of the future conflict environment suggests that the recent U.S. shift away from protracted stabilization and counterinsurgency operations, toward conventional conflict, conflict prevention and military-to-military assistance, is somewhat unrealistic. American policy-makers, not for the first time, have expressed a strong preference for avoiding messy conflicts like those of the past decade. Nonetheless, as we have seen, policy-makers’ preferences seem to have little effect on the frequency of overseas interventions, a historical pattern which suggests that the United States is likely to undertake one major stabilization or counterinsurgency operation (on the scale of Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam) every generation, and smaller operations every (on the scale of Bosnia or Kosovo) every five to ten years, for the foreseeable future.

While this pattern is likely to endure, the environment in which such interventions occur is shifting. The three megatrends of urbanization, littoralization and connectedness suggest that conflict is increasingly likely to occur in coastal cities, in underdeveloped regions of the Middle East, Africa, Latin America andAsia, and in highly networked, connected settings. Adversaries are likely to be non-state armed groups (whether criminal or military) or to adopt asymmetric methods, and even the most conventional hypothetical war scenarios turn out, when closely examined, to involve very significant “irregular” aspects.

Whether irregular or state-based, adversaries in the future conflict environment will exhibit hybrid characteristics (combining state and non-state, domestic and international, military and criminal and licit and illicit elements) and these adversaries will be able to nest within the complexity of urban environments, as well as within legitimate national and international systems.

The implications for the military are reasonably obvious, if difficult to act upon in the current fiscal environment. Capabilities such as Marine amphibious units and naval supply ships, as well as facilities for expeditionary logistics in urbanized coastal environments are fairly obvious requirements, as are rotary-wing or tilt-rotor aircraft, precise and discriminating weapons systems, and the ability to rapidly aggregate or disaggregate forces to operate in a distributed, small-unit mode while still being able to concentrate quickly to mass their effect against a major target. Combat and construction engineers, civil affairs units, intelligence systems capable of making sense of the clutter of urban areas, and constabulary (gendarmerie)-type and coast guard capabilities are also likely to be important. The ability operate for a long period in a city without drawing heavily on that city’s water, fuel, electricity or food supply will be important also.

The implications for civilian agencies of government are equally obvious—the ability to expand social services, city administration, and rule of law into peri-urban areas are clearly important, as are investments in infrastructure to guarantee supplies of fuel, electricity, food and water. Less obvious, but equally important, are investments in governance and infrastructure in rural areas, as well as efforts to mitigate the effects of rural environmental degradation that cause unchecked and rapid urban migration. Given the prevalence and increasing capability level of threat networks, policing capabilities will need to embody a creative combination of community policing, constabulary work, criminal investigation and special branch (or police intelligence) work, potentially in close collaboration with the military. And local city managers, district-level officials and ministry representatives may need capabilities that allow them to operate in higher-threat, opposed governance environments.

The implications for businesses, civil society and the public go well beyond either of these rather narrowly scoped considerations. In the first place, the environmental shifts outlined above represent far more than a future theory of conflict—indeed, they are a “theory of everything” in the sense that the three key megatrends identified here (urbanization, littoralization and connectedness) will affect every aspect of life on the planet in the next few decades, and will not solely affect conflict. Caerus Associates’ systems design approach for developing urban resiliency and mapping conflict[iii] and the IBM Smarter Cities project[iv] are two examples of businesses and civil society organizations taking a holistic approach to the city as a system, and thereby seeking to anticipate and address the full range of future issues that cities will confront.

More broadly, the city-as-a-system approach described earlier can be applied as a methodology to identify how complex problems that may appear unrelated—rural soil salinity, urban crime, piracy and diaspora-sponsored terrorism, for example—interact with each other in the context of a given city or threat network. Taking this approach may allow planners to identify emergent patterns within the complex adaptive system of a relevant city, make sense of the system logic, and thus begin to design tailored interventions. These would begin in a consciously experimental way, seeking to identify and reveal the complex interactions between different parts of systems, and among systems nested in larger systems, but would rapidly increase in effectiveness, as each experimental intervention would generate new data that would enhance the effectiveness of the next.

The future conflict environment is likely to be characterized by rapid population growth, increasing urbanization, accelerating littoralization, and greater connectedness. The future of conflict—like the future of most things on the planet—is likely to be urban, littoral and networked. Thinking of the city as a system seems to make the most sense as a way to understand this environment, and the irregular, hybrid and nested threats that we are likely to encounter within it. The implications for the military and for civilian government are fairly obvious, but in broader terms a city-as-system approach may also allow urban planners, city managers, businesses and communities themselves to understand their environment and develop tailored interventions to deal with it.

We are still likely to experience wars between nation-states, and conflict in remote areas such as mountains, jungles and deserts will still undoubtedly occur. But the trends are clear: more people than ever before in history will be competing for scarcer and scarcer resources, in poorly-governed areas that lack adequate infrastructure, and these areas will be more and more closely connected to the global system, so that conflict will have immediate wider implications. The future is hybrid and irregular conflict combining elements of crime, urban unrest, insurgency, terrorism and state-sponsored asymmetric warfare—more Mumbai, Mogadishu and Tivoli Gardens—and we had better start getting ready for it.

David J. Kilcullen is the Chief Executive Officer of Caerus Associates, and the author of The Accidental Guerrilla and CounterinsurgencyThis post is excerpted from a forthcoming article in the Fletcher Forum on World Affairs.


[i] See Asian Development Bank, Climate-Induced Migration in Asia and the Pacific, September 2011, online at http://beta.adb.org/features/climate-induced-migration-asia-and-pacific

[ii] Widespread rioting and civil unrest in outlying and peri-urban areas struckParis (and several other French cities) in 2005 and again in 2007 and 2010, while large-scale rioting and looting occurred in parts ofLondon in 2011.

By Charles Miller

 

Imagine this same exercise had been carried out by British strategists in 1930 and they had been asked what the majority of wars would look like in the coming thirty years. Many of them would have answered that they would be ‘North West Frontier’ type campaigns, or what we today would call COIN. And they would have been right. The majority of the wars the British Army fought between 1930 and 1960 were indeed COIN, but one of the two sole wars which were not COIN – World War Two – had an impact which was far greater than any of the rest, bankrupting the country, almost leading to the extinction of national independence and costing over half a million dead.

Conventional wars are a low probability, high impact event – a ‘Black Swan’ as Naseem Nicholas Taleb would have it. Contrary to the beliefs of some, they have always been rare relative to other types of conflict. Conventional war has been getting somewhat rarer over the last few decades, but there have been decades in the past, as measured by the Correlates of War project, in which they have been even rarer, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of all wars. Moreover, in terms of human and financial cost they dwarf non-conventional wars and so prudent decision making would suggest the United States should not neglect conventional war fighting capabilities in order to beef up its COIN capacities.

Proponents of the view that the future should be all about COIN make two arguments. First, they project the immediate past into the future and claim that because most recent wars have been COIN, most future wars will be too. This is not only a great way to end up fighting the last war rather than the next one, but it also could be an example of the ‘availability heuristic’ – a cognitive shortcut which leads us to overestimate the probability of a given event occurring in the future simply because we personally have experienced and can recall it. The second point is that the United States’ overwhelming conventional superiority means that enemy actors will have no choice but to resort to unconventional means to fight it.

This argument is very attractive, however it ignores two points. The first is that America’s conventional superiority may not be as overwhelming in future as it has been in the past, with the rise of other potential great powers. The second is that unconventional warfare is in fact quite difficult to pull off – it requires a very high degree of trust in one’s subordinates to allow them to discard their uniforms and blend into the civilian population where you can no longer monitor whether they are actually fighting or not. This degree of trust eluded Saddam Hussein and could very well also elude Assad or Kim Jong-Un also. In fact, there are surprisingly few examples in history of weaker states foreswearing conventional resistance altogether and opting to fight via unconventional methods immediately.

None of this should be taken as suggesting that a future large scale conventional war is likely, or that significant defense cuts are not necessary. It is simply to remind us all that it would have to be almost certainly extinct for us to stop devoting some part of our capacity to thinking about and preparing for it. We have not reached that point yet and may very well not in the near future.

Mr. Miller is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Duke University.