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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

Fragile Cities Rising

Aerial view fo a favela. Photo: Domenico Marchi/Flickr

Favela Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Domenico Marchi/Flickr.

A new social category recently emerged on the security and development landscape–the fragile city. The preoccupation with “fragile” and “failed” cities–at least in military circles–echoes many of the very same anxieties associated with failed and fragile states. Such cities are said to experience ruptures in the social contracts binding governments and citizens and a declining ability to regulate and monopolize legitimate violence across their territories. In extreme cases, municipal governance systems and security apparatus collapse altogether.

The dizzying pace of urbanization in the twenty-first century is believed to exacerbate fragility in large and intermediate cities. The United Nations estimates that the world’s slum population will reach two billion by 2030, accounting for the majority of all future global population growth. A growing cadre of relief and development specialists is also aware how some cities–Ciudad Juárez, Medellín, Karachi, and Tegucigalpa–are synonymous with a new kind of fragility with severe humanitarian implications. While not necessarily affected by armed conflict, these and other urban centers are seized by levels of violence on par with war-torn Abidjan, Benghazi, Damascus, or Mogadishu. » More

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