The future of conflict?

David Kilcullen has proven to be, in my opinion, one of the most thoughtful authors on counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism and 21st century conflict.  His primer on COIN and his tome on guerrillas and COIN are definitely books that any serious student of the topic should read.

With this new volume, he is now, as the title states, moving out of the mountains and into the cities and urban areas of the world to examine how conflict, war, insurgencies, crime---you name it, will evolve and challenge the "international order" of this new century.

He basically makes the case that as more of humanity becomes urban, connected, and lives on the littorals, that is where conflict is going to occur.  This might seem a big "DUH", but it's not a very comfortable fact to assimilate, and certainly not one that a conventional minded military wants to deal with.  Urban combat is something the military forces instinctively recoil from as it is messy, casualty-intensive, and in this day and age, fraught with potential for YouTube disasters.

Nonetheless, Kilcullen lays out a pretty irrefutable argument that conflicts occur where people are, and cities are going to be the the primary battlefield of the 21st century.   In addition, he lays out a very well constructed argument that as the mass migration of people into these urban areas overwhelms basic social services and government, cities and their outlying slums are going to become almost "feral", a term I actually first read in this Naval War College Essay from 2003.  But Kilcullen really picks up this theme and using social and urban science (two things that normally make me cringe), uses some compelling case studies to flesh out his thesis with real world examples.  Also drawing on his experience in Iraq during the Surge, he lays out many of the pitfalls that conventional police and military forces will face when dealing with these new security threats.

Kilcullen does an excellent analysis of how criminal gangs, terrorists or insurgents could operate and control terrain and populations in the feral cities and then lays out some of the real challenges that national governments, the international community and the US military may face if forced to conduct military or policing operations in these cities.  The 1993 Black Hawk Down incident is offered as an excellent case study of how even an elite military can get bogged down in one of these cities where everyone has an AK-47 or an RPG.

If you can wade through a lot of the social science and discussions of cities as living organisms, this is a MUST read for military officers, policy makers, and anyone interested in how conflict in the 21st century is likely to play out.