A wide-ranging, astute and squirm-inducing evaluation of the future of military operations.
For a decade, American “soldiers, diplomats, and aid workers have had their heads in the Afghan mountains,” chasing guerrilla warriors in some of the world’s most forbidding terrain. Everyone from President Barack Obama on down swears never to repeat that experience. We will get our wish, promises Kilcullen (Counterinsurgency, 2010, etc.), who was an adviser to generals David H. Petraeus and Stanley A. McChrystal. The author foresees a continuing decline of conventional wars but more violence involving nonstate armed groups, whether we call it “war,” “insurgency,” “civil disorder” or simply “crime.” These flourish where government is weak. Traditionally, that meant rural areas, but population growth, urbanization and technological connectivity will concentrate future violence in great ungovernable megacities, mostly in poor nations. Following hair-raising accounts of high-tech terrorism (the 2008 Mumbai massacre), low-tech urban ferality (America’s 1993 debacle in Mogadishu) and cities as gang enclaves outside of government control (the 2010 invasion of Kingston, Jamaica, by the Jamaican army), the author explains what is happening. When massive urban migration overwhelms the government’s ability to provide law enforcement and city services, substitutes appear. These may be urban gangs, drug cartels, organized crime, local warlords or, if political conditions demand, insurgents. People support them since they provide predictability and a sense of safety. Ideology is less important. Governments or military forces that aim to control these cities must provide security before any other benefit, and violence is inevitable.
When the United States takes up its next small, nasty, counterinsurgency/stabilization operation, it’s likely to be in a city. Kilcullen delivers a lucid, important study that American leaders should read but probably won’t.