The CSS Blog Network

The Era of Urban Warfare is Already Here

Image courtesy of the US Army/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) on 21 March 2018.

Aleppo. Mosul. Sana’a. Mogadishu. Gaza. These war-ravaged cities are but a few examples of  a growing trend in global conflict, where more and more of the world’s most violent conflicts are being fought in densely populated urban areas, at a tremendously high cost to the civilians living there. Despite their aversion to urban warfare, American and NATO military strategists increasingly acknowledge that the future of war is in cities. Concurrently, humanitarian agencies such as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are adjusting their response to relief operations in urban centers in real time. This rise in urban violence and the resurgence of warfare in cities comes from three key factors: the global trend toward urbanization, increasingly volatile domestic political conditions in developing countries, and changes in the character of armed conflict.

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Bringing Big Data to War in Mega-Cities

DARPA Big Data

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 January 2016.

As the U.S. Army prepares for the future, it has become increasingly aware that operations are more and more likely to take place in large cities. The number and size of cities continues to grow, and they are quickly becoming the dominant form of human habitation. Belligerent actors, aware of the West’s growing anxieties about collateral damage, have good reason to place forces in or around cities. Further, advanced sensing and weapons systems employed by modern militaries make hiding in remote areas of the world less and less attractive to non-state enemies of advanced powers.

America’s enemies see the advantages of the seemingly impenetrable clutter that dominates the modern city. The Army’s current approach to learning about this environment is to seek the diamonds scattered amidst this clutter. What we are missing, though, is that the clutter itself is the jewel. Enormous amounts of readily available data can reveal more about a city, its population, and the nefarious actors residing there than we could have imagined before. To truly understand this environment the Army must fundamentally change its approach to understanding the environment: It must adopt a holistic approach enabled by big data analytics.

The Army, however, seems hesitant to embrace 21st-century data analysis, instead relying largely on the same micro-level methods it has used for decades.
This must change if the Army wishes to maintain the ability to “see first” and “understand first” in the modern urban arena.

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Cities Emerging Soft Power: 5 Key Advantages for Improved Global Governance

Tradition vs. modernity in China. Image: 月明 端木/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) on 27 May 2015.

With the majority of the world’s population already urban, people have voted cities as the place to live. This emerging trend is an outcome of the spread of globalization, which generates economies of scale by clustering economic activities -fueled by technological change, international trade, finance and foreign direct investment- in cities.

Urban congregations are nests that attract opportunities -based on accumulation of resources- and act as recipients of hazardous global challenges -climate change, security, immigration or poverty- alike. However, the unstoppable power of cities is underrepresented at a global scale, where cities still have a limited voice in the architecture of international big decision-making. Against this backdrop, what are the influence and implications of cities as a key actor for global governance? What can they bring to the world? Cities’ differentiated proposition adds a more efficient model -than nation-states- in dealing with matters of relevant global concern that hinge upon the following five advantages. » More

Urban Battlegrounds: Dystopian Futures or Complex Realities?

A man in a dark Karachi alley. Image: Ebtesam Ahmed/Flickr

From Kobane and Raqqa to the streets of Mexico City and beyond, cities are increasingly being perceived as urban battlegrounds – places where the world’s next wars will be fought between traditional armies and non-state actors. In this respect, there’s nothing coincidental about the fact that these ‘battlegrounds’ are primarily located in the ‘developing’ world. It’s here where most of the world’s urbanization is taking place. For many, rapid urbanization means living in informal settlements. It also means increased exposure to high rates of crime, violence and limited opportunities for human advancement. » More

“The Response Ulrich Beck Would Have Liked to Hear”

Artistic depiction of New York City. Image: Werner Kunz/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs (CIDOB) in the 297th Edition of Opinión on 20 January, 2015.

The death of Ulrich Beck leaves us bereft of that always lucid, special perspective found in each of his articles or in the new publication that arrived on just the day that, for the umpteenth time, we were doubting our own theories or missing someone to lend a hand and help us understand the world. For Beck, as a sociologist, what happened in the world was what happened between people and groups, making “globalised patchwork generations” of their hopes and dreams, their fears, disappointments and frustrations. » More

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