The Future of Warfare Will Be Urban, Coastal, and Irregular - New America Foundation.
On Wednesday, September 18, the New America Foundation hosted Dr. David Kilcullen, founding President and CEO of Caerus Associates and a former Lt. Col. in the Australian Army, to discuss his most recent book, Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla. Peter Bergen sat down with him to discuss the main points of the book and the changing landscape of conflict.
Dr. Kilcullen noted that since around 1846 until today, the U.S. military has very rarely become involved in state-on-state conflicts. Instead, the United States has engaged with non-state armed group adversaries, a trend completely independent of presidential political preference and one that is growing globally. In the past 60 to 70 years, wars between states have been declining while conflicts between non-state groups have remained consistent. Dr. Kilcullen said that although his book does not address why the United States continues to engage in conflicts with non-state groups in complex situations, it does look at the environment in which these operations take place to predict how future strategy will need to evolve to fit a new, irregular warfare landscape. In his book, Dr. Kilcullen analyzes conflicts in cities such as Benghazi, Libya; Kingston, Jamaica; and Mumbai, India to predict how changes in environment will affect the face of warfare.
According to Dr. Kilcullen, there are four environmental “mega- trends” that will be critical in planning future operational strategies. First, the continuing increase in the world’s population in the next generation will change the global landscape. Dr. Kilcullen noted that most studies that record this data predict that the world’s population will accelerate until it reaches around 9.5 billion around the year 2050, meaning that another 3 billion people will arrive before then. Second, the urbanization of that population means that these people will not be evenly distributed over the globe. Based on his research, Dr. Kilcullen believes that around two-thirds of the world’s population will reside in cities, and notably, that population will be aggregated in the developing world. Third, the littoralization (the movement of people from rural, inland areas to the coast) of those densely populated cities will be critical in terms of conflict patterns. Today, around 80 percent of the world’s population lives within 50 miles of the coast and Dr. Kilcullen predicts that this number will only increase. Fourth, and perhaps most significant, the connectivity of the world’s population is rapidly changing, enabling greater access to information and a higher ability to organize among non-state groups.
In applying these four environmental mega-trends to conflict patterns, in an effort to predict future situations, Dr. Kilcullen found that upcoming conflicts will likely be against better organized non-state armed groups in coastal, urban theaters that will not respond to a pure military strategy like the current counterinsurgency framework. Instead, he predicts that the only way to effectively deal with conflict in these areas is to combine local insight with outside objectivity and cross-discipline expertise. He suggests that instead of continuing to operate in a mere military realm, future strategies should draw from the fields of urban planning, mediation, grassroots organizing, alternative energy technology, and conflict resolution. A more balanced, co-designed approach will allow counterinsurgency strategies and peace and security operations to adapt and cope with the evolving landscape of conflict in the future.