Military strategist David Kilcullen was in New York City earlier this week to talk about the future of urban warfare at the World Policy Institute here in Manhattan. Gizmodo tagged along to learn more about "future conflicts and future cities," as Kilcullen describes it, and to see what really happens when urban environments fail—when cities fall apart or disintegrate into ungovernable canyons of semi-derelict buildings ruled by cartels, terrorist groups, and paramilitary gangs.
Kilcullen's overall thesis is a compelling one: remote desert battlegrounds and impenetrable mountain tribal areas are not, in fact, where we will encounter the violence of tomorrow. For Kilcullen—indeed, for many military theorists writing today—the war in Afghanistan was not the new normal, but a kind of geographic fluke, an anomaly in the otherwise clear trend for conflicts of an increasingly urban nature.
The very title of Kilcullen's book—Out of the Mountains—suggests this. War is coming down from the wild edges of the world, driving back toward our lights and buildings from the unstructured void of the desert, and arriving, at full force, in the hearts of our cities, in our markets and streets. There, conflict erupts amongst already weak or non-existent governments, in the shadow of brittle infrastructure, and what Mike Davis calls "the nightmare of endless warfare in the slums of the world" in his blurb for Kilcullen's work, becomes uncomfortably close to reality.
The recent siege in Nairobi and the Mumbai attacks, to name only two examples that came up in Kilcullen's discussion at the World Policy Institute this week, are evidence of the urbanization of violence and war, and harbingers of things to come.