For a fleeting moment during the final decade of the twentieth century, the general trajectory of conflict across the world seemed clear. With the Cold War over, the number of interstate wars was in free-fall and the dominant form of violence was internal, within fragmenting states no longer propped up by their superpower sponsors. The age of ‘total war’ between states had thus been largely superseded by a wave of civil conflicts, often characterised as ‘new wars’, fought for the most part in rural hinterlands and widely considered as limited in scope and scale.
Over a decade into the new millennium, however, the trajectory now looks far from straightforward. Like international wars, civil wars too have been steadily declining in number. Yet from Colombia to Cairo, Brazil to Baghdad and Kenya to Kandahar, each month brings new manifestations of what Arjun Appadurai (in)famously termed the ‘implosion of global and national politics into the urban world’. Although riots, gang crime, and terrorist attacks have afflicted cities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, the increasing ubiquity of such events – even if not ‘wars’ in any conventional sense – suggest that the hallmark of the contemporary period is one of rising ‘urban conflict’ rather than ‘peace’.