048_G17 Arena

Global_17

Arena Books Why terrorists outdo state armies in the efficient pursuit of their ruthless goals Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla David Kilcullen, Hurst, London, 2013, 288pp, ISBN 978-1849043243 In September 2013, Somalia’s al-Shabaab militant group carried out a successful attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. It was an impeccable piece of modern, urban terrorism: transnational, protracted, highly visible, complex and extremely bloody. The mall was locked down for three days and 72 people were killed by only four perpetrators, all of whom are thought to have escaped. What was novel was not so much the attack itself – after all, it was firearm-based terrorism in Sarajevo that precipitated World War I – but the environment, and this is the focus of David Kilcullen’s excellent Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerrilla. Kilcullen is a former Australian military officer, best known for his writings on counter-insurgency. Out of the Mountains is a wide-ranging, thought-provoking book that draws on and synthesises concepts and arguments from geography, ecology, political science, sociology and military strategy. Unsurprisingly for a book of this scope, not all of Kilcullen’s big ideas quite work. But what emerges is a framework that can help us understand how global development and human conflict will co-evolve in the coming decades. The core of Kilcullen’s arguments is that the world is seeing four ‘mega- trends’: population growth, urbanisation, littoralisation (a tendency for things to cluster on coastlines) and networked connectivity. Virtually all the world’s population growth will occur in coastal cities in low-income, unstable countries that are nevertheless highly embedded in global networks. The world’s cities will absorb more people than were born in recorded history until 1960, and all but two of the world’s ten largest cities are on a coastline or coastal delta. Past conflicts were dominated by remote, rural areas: “mountains, forests, jungles, villages and farms”. Think of the past 12 years of war in Afghanistan. Future conflict, on the whole, will be in crowded, urban areas. The Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 2008, which Kilcullen explores at length, fit into this framework – the attackers, from Lashkare Taiba, represented a non-state group (albeit one backed by Islamabad). They came by sea, exploited the poor maritime controls of the sprawling coastal city and took advantage of technology (including Twitter and satellite television reports) to receive real-time instructions from Pakistan based handlers. As Kilcullen observes: “Mumbai represents the state of the art in urban littoral terrorism.” He inventively compares their meticulously prepared attack to the hastily planned and botched US raid on Mogadishu in 1994, arguing that whereas Lashkar-e-Taiba understood and used Mumbai’s natural “rhythms”, the US special forces – admittedly for a very different purpose – worked against those of Mogadishu and were therefore frustrated. Connectivity is crucial here. It is what enabled the Mumbai attackers to fine-tune their assault with such deadly success, disparate Arab activists to co-ordinate their protests in 2011 (Kilcullen has an excellent chapter on Tunisia and Egypt) and US pilots sitting in Virginia to control drones flying missions over Pakistan’s tribal areas. Traditional battle lines melt away, legal frameworks are ambiguous (are US-based drone operators fair targets in a war?) and power diffuses beyond governments. Perhaps the best example is NATO’s 2011 war in Libya, where the alliance was helped by internet activists, like Anonymous and Twitter users, to co-ordinate aid and even target missiles – creating what Kilcullen calls the “informational hinterland”. Who are the people operating in these future cities? Kilcullen tries to develop a theory – “competitive control” – that can accommodate developed states, Somali terrorists, American gangs, Caribbean drug cartels, Afghan insurgents and everyone in between. Anyone who can provide stable, predictable rules for dispute resolution can tie the local population into their system of control. Think of the Taliban, whose rise to power in mid- 1990s Afghanistan was underpinned by their ability to provide harsh, brutal but dependable law enforcement where the warlords generated only chaos. Kilcullen draws from this the lesson that traditional principles of counter-insurgency – such as “winning hearts and minds” – are far less important than enforcing rules. If these theories seem broad, and perhaps confusing, that is because they are. Any book that tries to squeeze Jamaican drug traffickers and Tunisian football hooligans into the same framework is going to run into trouble. But this eclecticism and ambition is also the great strength of Out of the Mountains. It will spawn ideas, and pull our attention to the emerging megacities of the world and their assorted urban guerrillas. Shashank Joshi, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute 48 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global


Global_17
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