The thought of urban warfare is a particularly disquieting one, especially when it involves a dystopian vision of crowded megacities that compete for dwindling resources across a warming earth.
Military planners and fiction writers are thinking deeply about the future of urban warfare and are postulating what it might look like. Their efforts are driven by some key trends that are expected to shape urban environments in the future, including:
- More people are set to live in urban environments than ever before. Today one half of the world’s population is urban; in 2050 two thirds will be
- Megacities – those with a population of 10 million people or more – will hold 2.5 billion residents in 2050
Climate change is expected to have destabilizing effects on some megacities
Darkform Urban Landscapes
Our future may be a harmonious one in which curious sophists live in urban landscapes without want or worry. However, recent events suggest the possibility if a darker future, one influenced by:
- Systemic security challenges
- Political instability
- Economic inequity
- Climate change
We’ll case these “darkform” urban landscapes. In their most basic forms they include 4 types:
- Extremist Cities: Urban areas taken over by militant ideologues who use the areas as defense and distribution points. While in control, the extremists re-engineer systems and redesign the urban environment to match their vision.
Recent Examples: Mosul and Ramadi, taken by ISIS, and to a limited degree Donetsk.
- Refugee Cities: Urban areas or megacities populated by large numbers of refugees fleeing global warming, extremists or resource scarcity.
Recent Examples: North African and Libyan refugees fleeing to the EU Zone
- Walled Cities: Urban inequity zones populated by the elite in heavily protected security zones that are isolated from the masses.
Recent Examples: Rio, Baghdad’s “Green Zone”
- Cutthroat Cities: Urban areas forced to compete for scarce resources that are in decline, such as water.
Recent Examples: California competition for water resources
Hybrid urban warfare landscapes may also emerge which are simply a combination of multiple darkforms. For example:
- Extremists taking over urban zones might cut off water supplies or other resources to create cutthroat cities, or even create new refugee cities
- Cutthroat cities competing for resources might develop resource inequities that result in the creation hybrid cutthroat walled cities
Scalable and Hard To Fight With Technology
Perhaps most disconcerting are potential scaling scenarios in which darkform landscapes might rapidly advance across wide geographic areas. Rapid scaling across wide areas could be enabled by severe climate change, the spread of extremist ideologies, increases in destabilizing income inequity, or unexpected security failures and regime changes.
In some respects these types of darkform domino effects are already happening in the Middle East.
Technology, often seen as a panacea to human woes, will likely have only limited value when applied to darkform urban environments. Historically, the complexity and chaos of urban warfare landscapes often render advanced technology ineffective.