This comment responds to the SWJ publication of “A Proposed Framework for Appreciating Megacities: A US Army Perspective.” I applaud the Strategic Studies Group for choosing the topic, and found the paper refreshing and significant. I noted some years ago a tendency in our war-gaming to simply pretend that these huge conurbations did not exist, so troubling were the geographic challenges they presented. That the Chief of Staff has thrown that strategic method out in favor of the Myamoto Musashi approach is great progress. We are going to have to fight in urban areas, so let’s figure it out. I found the concluding sentence of the abstract especially encouraging: “Making individual megacities (vice a generic megacity) the unit of analysis will lead to better DOTMLPF…and provide better options for the conduct of successful operations. With that in mind, I notice that Dhaka and Lagos seem to get pinged for special attention. The SWJ article appeared in my inbox only days after Dr. Charles Ehlschlaeger’s anthology from the Strategic Multi-Layer Assessment (SMA) and U.S. Army Engineer Research Development Center (ERDC), “Understanding Megacities with the Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Intelligence Paradigm.” The two (The Strategic Studies Group article and the ERDC White Paper) don’t seem aware of each other, or at least do cite each other or share references. They share ‘mega’ and, interestingly, the ERDC also pings Dhaka and Lagos. It seems like somebody somewhere has it in for those two places.
There are a few points I would like to bring to the attention of the group of authors for their consideration. One comes from a word search of the Strategic Studies Group document. The terms ‘built-environment’ and ‘land-use planning’ cannot be found in it. This is probably no big thing, but it might bespeak a gap in references or a failure to engage, and it might present an opportunity. The conversation in academe and the vocation of urban management has had these two terms near their core for some decades. The group’s paper seems unimpressed by that conversation. It just seems odd to me that in the group’s consideration of sources, something wouldn’t tend to compel use of (or at least a nod to, since the paper is about an analytical framework) the common urban studies terms. Another thing, and this is perhaps even more picayune, is an appearance that maybe the “megacities” notion is some sort of current think-tank shiny object. I see that the subject is megacities not cities, and the paper clearly expresses the idea that a megacity is something apart and different than the mere huge city or, say, a peripheral non-primate burb of just three million. OK, but (keeping in mind that most megacities are places where the United States military is just not going to go, and that the number of megacities where we might in fact go is maybe not enough to occupy all the digits on one hand) the current fascination with ‘mega’ might be detouring intellectual resources from the geographies that count -- these latter probably being a number of cities that are mid to large in size – like the Fallujah-size to Bagdad-size that the group mentions in passing.
Which brings us to a central offering of the article, the analytical framework the group summarizes as ‘context, scale, density, connectedness, and flow.’ That is thought-provoking and perhaps a valuable tool for understanding, but I doubt it is sustainable as a guide for organizing and operating. I think, for instance, that prompts like ‘distances,’ ‘ownership,’ ‘energy,’ ‘convocation,’ ‘collective identity,’ and ‘waste management,’ and a few others might be better categories of analysis, but that’ s just me. Regardless -- good read, congratulations Strategic Study Group.
P.S. From the BBC we get, “The population of Stalingrad - now Volgograd - fell from 850,000 to just 1,500 at the end of the war.” So I guess what armies do in a city can have an effect. BBC, “1943: Germans surrender at Stalingrad,”