Let’s open this posting with this video:
Rather sobering, isn’t it?
This dystopian video entitled “Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity” was obtained by “The Intercept” under a Freedom of Information Act request. The video was used as part of training at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University and was made for an internal military audience to assist in outlining the challenges of operating in urban areas with populations greater than 10 million people (i.e. megacities). According to World Data, there are currently 18 megacities, however, if we look at the example of Tokyo in Japan (which comes in at number 19), the population of its metropolitan area is closer to 35 million than it is to the actual population of Tokyo which is just over 9.5 million as shown on this listing:
It is apparent that the U.S. military is very concerned about waging war in major urban areas. The example of what happened to the U.S. military in Baghdad (population 8.765 million) is a prime example of how conventional military forces get bogged down in densely populated areas. For 15 years, the U.S. military occupied the Green Zone, a 10 square kilometre area in downtown Baghdad, surrounded by concrete, blast-proof walls and razor wire as shown on this satellite photograph:
While the video in this posting is, to put it mildly, sobering, the U.S. military seems to have a fixation with urban warfare. In June 2014, the Chief of Staff of the Army, Strategic Studies released a publication entitled “Megacities and the United States Army – Preparing for a Complex and Uncertain Future” as shown here:
The publication opens with this:
“Cities with populations of ten million or more are given a special designation: megacity. There are currently over twenty megacities in the world, and by 2025 there will be close to forty.1 The trends are clear. Megacities are growing, they are becoming more connected, and the ability of host nation governments to effectively deal with their explosive growth and maintain security is, in many cases, diminishing…
Megacities are growing so fast that it is becoming increasingly difficult for host nation governments to keep up with infrastructure and resource requirements. Drivers of instability are already present and in many places are growing by the day.”
According to the authors, while the United States will most likely be asked to step in and operate in one of the world’s megacities, it is ill-prepared to do so:
“Megacities are a unique environment that the U.S. Army does not fully understand…
It is inevitable that at some point the United States Army will be asked to operate in a megacity and currently the Army is ill-prepared to do so…
The publication notes that megaurbanization will become an increasing problem in the near future:
“World-wide, a historic transition is underway. Over half of all people currently live in cities, and the rate of migration is accelerating. By 2030, cities will account for 60% of the world’s population and 70% of the worlds GDP. Each day, an estimated 180,000 people across the globe migrate to cities. 3 In the next century, the urban environment will be the locus where drivers of instability will converge. By the year 2030, 60% of urban dwellers will be under the age of 18.
The cities that grow the fastest will be the most challenged. Urban areas are expected to grow by 1.4 billion in the next two decades, with that growth occurring almost entirely in developing world. As resources become constrained, illicit networks could potentially fill the gap left by over-extended and under-capitalized governments.
The Army’s largest and most recent example of urban operations is small in comparison to the challenges ahead. In Baghdad, the Army fought for almost a decade in an urban environment with a population of 6.5 million people. By 2030, there will be 37 cities across the world that are 200-400% larger than Baghdad.”
And, we all know how long it has taken the U.S. military to extricate itself from the Baghdad nightmare, don’t we?
Here is a graphic showing the geographic extent of the megacity problem:
The publication notes that historical methods of isolating cities no longer applies to megacities since the massive scale of megacities makes it impossible for traditional military forces to physically surround and isolate urban areas that contain tens of millions of people spread over an area of hundreds of square miles. Additionally, the arrival of nearly ubiquitous cell phone and internet coverage makes it impossible to virtually isolate megacity environments as quoted here:
“Attempting to isolate one, as recommended by current doctrine, will be difficult and likely lead to unforeseen consequences. Instantaneous information transfer, robust international surface and air shipping, and mass migration (legal and illegal) connect the cities around the world in ways undreamed of only a decade ago. Robust and redundant external connectedness makes isolating a modern city nearly impossible. Indeed, recent attempts at shutting down social media in Turkey, Egypt and Libya illustrate how resilient modern communications systems are becoming.”
1.) Population Growth and Migration – One of the hallmarks of megacities is rapid hetero and homogeneous population growth that outstrips city governance capability. Many emerging megacities are ill-prepared to accommodate the kind of explosive growth they are experiencing.
2.) Separation and Gentrification – Radical income disparity, and racial, ethnic and sub cultural separation are major drivers of instability in megacities. As these divisions become more pronounced they create delicate tensions, which if allowed to fester, may build over time, mobilize segments of the population, and erupt as triggers of instability.
3.) Environmental Vulnerability and Resource Competition – Unanticipated weather events and natural disasters can be powerful catalysts which can devastate city systems, interrupt- ing governance and service delivery. While natural cataclysms occur across the globe, and have through- out human history, these events will affect larger populations, densely packed into urban centers in ways and on a scale never before seen. Environmental disasters and resource scarcity (real or perceived) can produce relative resource disparity, competition, and instability which can rapidly exceed the capability of local authorities to address.
4.) Hostile Actors: If internal or foreign actors conducted offensive operations which exceeded a city’s capacity to contain or defend against them, external intervention could be required to return the city to its previous state. This would be especially true if the city is in an allied country or the threat is preparing to extend its hostilities to the U.S. homeland or its citizens abroad.
Let’s close with an analysis of three cities in the study with Lagos and Dhaka being examples of what can (and will) go wrong and New York City being an example of how megacities should evolve:
Here is a final quote from the video:
“This is the world of our future. It is one we are not prepared to effectively operate within and it is unavoidable. The threat is clear. Our direction remains to be defined. The future is urban.”
And, the next war will likely be fought in an urban environment by a military that is likely to cause massive civilian casualties, just as it did in the case of Baghdad which is still resulting in civilian deaths nearly 16 years after the beginning of hostilities.
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