There is something familiar yet new about David Kilcullen's Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla. By looking at four trends: population growth, urbanization, coastal life, and interconnectedness, Kilcullen paints a rather convincing picture of the future of warfare. Instead of large-scale state on state warfare, Kilcullen predicts that warfare will take place where population is likely to be centered in urban areas along the coast.
Technology will play a role because technology makes people more interconnected, particularly in crowded coastal areas like the ones Kilcullen describes. I'm not sure that we have not heard many of these predictions before, but what sets this book apart is the depth Kilcullen takes his argument.
He uses several case studies from Iraq and Afghanistan, the various rebellions throughout the Middle East and Africa, and Jamaica among others to illustrate why the problems experienced by rulers and armies in these locations don't lend themselves to conventional solutions, but rather are a product of the new conditions of warfare that he sees increasing in the future.
I was impressed with the argument itself, but if we accept Kilcullen's argument that all four of the above mentioned factors play a role in future of war, what do we do about it?
At first blush, one might think that we need to strengthen government capacities in these troubled areas, but given that development in the most charitable appraisal has had mixed results that doesn't seem like a great solution. Further, these projects take money, which may be in a short supply in the era of austerity and increasingly partisan politics.
In conclusion, Kilcullen's ideas seem more than plausible, but how we deal with them is a question that this book seems to leave open-ended for further debate.
There are a half-dozen actors responsible for the U.S. exit from Iraq. Barack Obama, Generals Petraeus and Odierno, Emma Sky, the voting public, and David Kilcullen. The go-to guy for counterinsurgency, Colonel-professor Kilcullen's new book analyzes a number of recent combat actions and draws some conclusions about the future.
Any number of authors have now covered TF Ranger in Mogadishu, and each brings new insight; Kilcullen describes Somali swarm tatics that are now widely applicable in the wired Arab Spring. The LeT attack on Mumbai, and the various uprisings in the Middle East over the past couple of years, Afghanistan, and Jamaica all get attention. Mr. Kilcullen is making the point that complex, crowded, coastal megacities are predominating, and will be the focus of conflict in the coming decades. Hence the title 'Out of the Mountains' describes the irrelevance of remote Afghan valleys and the importance of Mumbai, Karachi, Dhaka, or Rio.
Mr. Kilcullen also lays out his theory of competitive control, and though he never explicitly states it, shows that the Taliban should never have been removed from power in Afghanistan, as it at least provided a measure of stability. Competitive control encompasses the strongest and stickiest memes, so that organizations like Hezbollah that provide health care, reconstruction, education, and so forth, prevail by providing armed security and social services, much like functioning governments.
Mr. Kilcullen's work is standard in military colleges and think tanks, it is drawn from experience both on the ground and at higher orders of command, and makes for compelling reading.
This is a book on how our military should plan for future wars. David Kilcullen has a unique mindset, as he is a trained anthropologist who has served as a counter-insurgency expert to Condoleeza Rice and David Petraeus.
This book blends the kinds of ideas we have heard from Donald Rumsfeld with the thoughts of traditional writers in urban studies such as Mike Davis or Saskia Sassen-Koob. He looks at war as a battle for control in cities. To Kilcullen, fighting is an activity that is a part of the regular life of cities. But an important distinction, and one that is a basic assumption for this book, is that warring groups are not limited to nation-states. You have to recognize that there can be many factions within a city.
He draws his analysis from several cities: the civil war in Somalia, the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai, the 2010 revolution in Tunisia, the intifada in Benghazi, and gang warfare in the slums of Jamaica.
Kilcullen's premise is that four transforming forces - urbanization, migration of people to coastal cities, population growth itself, and then the increasing interconnectedness made possible by electronic media - have changed how wars will be fought in the future.
"The future conflict climate, as we have seen, will be coastal, networked, and overwhelmingly urban - so that we need to orient ourselves toward conflict in connected cities...Dominant theories of international relations take the nation-state as their basic building block. We need to bring our analysis down to the city and sub-city level, understanding communities and cities a 'system under stress' in their own right, treating cities as biological or natural systems....A related insight is the need to conceive of a city as a flow and process, rather just place; with violence shaping and creating the landscape and not just happening in it."
As with almost everything else in the world, the explosion in media changes the future nature of war. One example is the 2008 Mumbai attack. This small group of terrorists in Mumbai controlled their operation from a bank of computers in Pakistan. They followed twitter updates made in Mumbai by newspapers and regular citizens to learn real-time details: where the police were arriving, where traffic was blocked, and where their partner cells were having success. With that, those planners sent texts to the soldiers on the ground. Those media, as well as facebook and youtube, were vital throughout the Arab Spring.
The mistake that could be made, he argues, is to believe that Afghanistan and Iraq will be the models for future conflicts. Modelling matters because it determines the long-range investments made by governments with their military expenditures. But recent wars - Afghanistan was a rural war (Iraq's fighting was mostly in cities) fought without navies among communities with little in the way of modern media - provide the wrong viewpoint.
Moreover, as the likely pursuant of war in foreign cities in the future, the United States should realize that it will be judged by how it conducts those efforts. War can kill a city, even if it makes it secure. For example, he believes that making Baghdad safe had the unfortunate effect of ruining the efficiency of it as a place.
This was for me one of the most thought-provoking books that I have read on the topic of war. I have read a lot of great work (Ghost Wars, The Forever War, Night Draws Near, The Looming Tower, The Good Soldiers) on the wars of the last decade, but I cannot think of one that takes so much from such a variety of disciplines to develop a systematic viewpoint on how the near future will differ from the recent past.
Unlike the majority of other reviewers, I did not fall in love with this book. It's good and worth a read, but nothing spectacular. I'm not sure it is even an important book (interesting, yes; important, not so sure).
For starters, I don't think there's anything truly new in the book (something the author pretty much admits to in the first few pages). Mr. Kilcullen's spends (in my uncorrected, advance copy) 265 pages (not including an appendix and notes) telling the reader that future conflict will - more often than not - take place in urban areas (by 2050, more than 3/4 of the world's population will reside in an urban setting), that most urban areas are situated within 12 miles of a coastline (hence, littoral), and that these urban/littoral setting will be ultra-connected. In short, future conflict will take place in a "Blade Runner" environment and thus is something that works to the (dis)advantage of both sides. Mr. Kilcullen also reminds us that the world is not binary (i.e., us vs them), but multi-agenda'd. Finally, Mr. Kilcullen states that in future conflicts the line between lawful conflict and criminal activity will be blurred and our comfortable Westphalian view of the "nation-state in conflict" will be displaced by a reality where the enemy is a non-state entity. I'm not finding anything new here (except for the 20th century, seems this is how the world has always been [again, something the authors admits to in the first few pages]). Not to be cheeky, but :yawn:.
While the book is informative, accessible, and well-written it is not what one should expect from an academic publishing house (in this case, Oxford University Press). If you would be disappointed to see The Economist covering news like USA Today, then I think you will understand my point: we expect The Economist to challenge "everything" (the reader, the current zeitgeist, etc.), so we should expect academic publisher house offerings to do the same (or if they can't, at least add to the body of knowledge). Bottom line, this book doesn't challenge. If you are up-to-date with the literature in this field I suspect the reaction just might be, "so what?"
Had the book come from a non-academic publishing house I might be writing a different review. But it didn't and as a result, no matter how hard I tried I just could not get into the book and justify the time I was spending reading it.
Summary: 3 stars (interesting, but didn't see anything new here. Readers should expect better from an academic publishing house offering).
(NOTE: this advance copy was provided at no cost for review purposes.)
Suffice to say I have some background in the history of guerilla warfare, I was very pleased to be able to read David Kilcullen's "Out of the Mountains: The Coming Age of the Urban Guerilla". It is well packed with great theories of what types of situations we world humans will see in the future.
Mr. Kilcullen divides his book into four parts that he calls mega-trends. He means to imply that these four trends will shape and define the coming problems (not necessarily conflicts, if they are handled probably). He states they are:
Population Growth - the continuing rise in the planet's total population.
Urbanization - the tendency for people to live in larger and larger cities.
Littoralization - the propensity for these cities to cluster on coastlines.
Connectedness - the increasing connectivity among people, wherever they live.
The book weaves real events from Afghanistan, Mogadishu, Indian, Jamaica, Lebanon, Libya, and other places to explain his theories. He never states that his is the only way or plan, but he does suggest that it is a possible theory. He writes: "That's all it is: just a straight-line projection of current trends, based on data currently available, that suggest where conflict on the planet may be heading, given its current course. " There will be shocks, black swans, and other events that may change the trends. David Kilcullen wants to start real discussion so going forward everyone does things as smartly as they can to diffuse potential bad events before they happen. That's all. If you are interested in thinking and doing some serious reflection of these concepts, this book is for you. Hope this helps.
First, I should say that war books are not my typical type of reading; not history, not strategy, not future. I make an exception now and then for something that sounds interesting or to provide information so I'm not a total numbskull. Now, having said that, this book has the tendency to read like a duty report when describing past battles...ex military will appreciate the detail but for the rest of us, it can get a bit dull at times.
Aside from that very minor criticism, which after all is also a clear positive to many would-be readers, this book is nothing short of excellent. Like many people, I realize that warfare has changed in recent decades but have little understanding of what that means for America. Clearly the type of urban warfare which nations like Israel have battled for decades has not been the norm domestically yet our military is more likely to encounter these types of situations than those associated with full scale battles of WWII etc...however, to think it will remain something associated with remote parts of the world is to live in a land of wishful thinking over facts.
The author presents a compelling and insightful look into how a small island like Jamaica has been transformed from local gangs into global organized crime entities; how places without government still function...sort of, how government and gangs are both at odds yet also work together in many areas of the world, how political favoritism drives the health and well-being of entire segments of the population...and how much of the world is now influenced by this type of system. It's an eye opening expose not only of the age of urban war but of an increasingly complex system which is far different than the Norman Rockwell version of America many of use grew up with.
David Kitcullen has given us an important book that all should read and heed. The author comes from both a military and an academic background and the combination works. This is not a difficult read. Even those basically uninformed on world affaits will gain a lot of knowledge and information here. This can't be considered an optimistic book. It'a realistic in its predictions. While this is a book that every citizen should read and ponder, it's also for the student, especially the college student although it would make one heck of an impressive book review for a high school history class. There are times that it gets slightly dry, but that's balanced by more passionate passages. Highly recommended to all readers.
on January 1, 2014
David Kilcullen has given us ""Out of the Mountains: The Coming of Age of the Urban Guerilla." Mr. Kilcullen himself states that this not the final word on the raging argument, both in and out of the military, on insurgency, counterinsurgency, guerrilla, asymmetrical warfare, irregular warfare, defense, nation building, humanitarian efforts. This a well developed book length essay on the effects of four trends - rapidly increasing mega-population, accelerating urbanization, littoralization (population growth centering on the coasts), and increasing connectedness. Each of these is well treated and developed through examples from recent history from Mumbai, to Tunisia, to Libya, to Liberia, to Egypt, to Syria, to Kingston, to Mogadishu, to Nigeria, to Afghanistan, to Rio, down both coasts of Africa, to Honduras, to Costa Rica.
Mr. Kilcullen also develops some principles of future policies he feels may "bend the rod." He cites examples from the Women's groups in Liberia that led to the ouster of President Charles Taylor. And makes the good point that just a "white man with a clipboard" is not going to be accepted or successful. That white man must work with the locals and with accepted agencies, governments, criminal elements and NGO's to map progress to a flux that is what the mega-cities are - not "stability" as identified by those stuck in the national paradigm. The main book is more aimed at understanding the four trends listed above. The appendix is more aimed at the military and how it will have to change to met the upcoming threats.
Mr. Kilcullen discusses at some length the "fish trap" of competitive control." He cites example after example of how those wanting to govern and control a population must be able to bring predictability and fairness to stability to the members of the population. He states that often, especially in the "feral city" such control comes not from the government, but from criminal forces, gangs, insurgencies etc, who can establish such and maintain it.
Mr. Kilcullen discusses at some length how "connectedness" through cell phones and the internet has come to be regarded as a basic right. He states that in Somalia, over 80% of the population -many more than have access to clean water - have internet connections and cell phones. In Egypt, according to Mr. Kilcullen, the masses finally poured out of their houses when the government shut off the internet.
Much is made of the chaos in the massive slums that have grown up and are rapidly expanding around most of the major cities of the third world. In Mumbai, the Le T of Pakistan spent a full year mapping and evaluating the flux and flow of Mumbai before sending in their teams of terrorists as opposed to the quick look the US Rangers made before invading Mogadishu. But Mr. Kilcullen contrasts this with the order and apparent stableness of Mogadishu in 2012 when he visited there. The shops were open. The coffee houses were open with customers. People were flowing up and down the street like normal. The same is said of Kingston, Jamaica, and San Pedro Sula in Honduras. The day to day activity was normal, but not controlled by the government, but by criminal gangs and warlords who prospered from the stability. Along with this is discussed how the diaspora from these areas is sending money back, notably as protection money for their families left behind.
This book is well written, concisely makes it points, and is fascinating in the recent history provided. For anyone attempting to understand the current world situation, this is a good book to read.
Folks, I must agree with fellow Vine reviewer Michael Hallisey. There is nothing new here at all.
Indeed, the author does admit in the first few pages of the book that he provides readers with nothing new, leading one to wonder why he bothered at all to write the volume.
But I will go a bit further with my criticism, as well.
So what if future conflict will take place in urban areas. It already does and has done for a long long while. When is the last time we heard about a war in open trenches in the farmlands of Europe, or the poppy fields of Afghanistan, for that matter? The latter war is in Kabul, and the mountains of Waziristan, a region very much like a city, in a manner of speaking. And it has been for decades.
And yes, there are more than one agenda. But there are a lot fewer agendas than David Kilcullen would like to have us believe. The introduction is mostly about war in Afghanistan, in fact, and let's be honest. Most war zones today are in Islamic nations or regions.
So how many agendas are we talking about, really?
No offense, but "it's about jihad, stupid." And Chapter one deals mostly with jihad. Chapter two deals with jihad. Chapter three deals largely with jihad. And so on. So where is the word anywhere in this book? Why isn't that word on every page, please tell me?
If anything, this book exemplifies the biggest problem in most discussions of warfare today, namely the absence of the word "jihad," which has been all but banned. That policy started under the Bush administration and advanced considerably (if you can call it that) under the current war-prone White House occupants. That problem pervades this book. But then I would not expect anything less from Oxford, which after all is all academic and consequently masterful at the whitewash of things Islamic.
-- Alyssa A. Lappen
This is far more than a book on tactics in the chaotic world we're in: it's an analysis of strife and the social, urban and environmental trends that feed it and shape it. The world is increasingly urbanized, and those urban areas are often -- usually -- coastal ("littoral", a word he uses often), dysfunctional, complex, connected electronically and filled with internal rivalries and flashpoints. It's the kind of dystopia that authors like Martin van Creveld (The Transformation of War) and Robert Kaplan (The Coming Anarchy) warned of, 20 years ago. David Kilcullen now shows us how it acts.
The title is slightly misleading, as it's not simply about guerilla warfare but about modern conflict, which will be, as he shows, mostly urban, but involving populations, accessible technology and social organization like nothing before, and far removed from what Mao or Che Guevara knew.
Kilcullen shows how urban society can produce combatants and govern neighborhoods: gangs and groups like Shabab in Somalia are the most obvious, as he shows, but football fan clubs ("Ultras") are also candidates, as are hacker groups and social networks. Indeed, his concept of competitive control is clever, as governments, local gangs and social networks might have organization, a normative system of rewards and punishments, and communications that overlap in urban neighborhoods and even personnel. These groups may claim turf and adherents but might have tenuous legitimacy or power, something an outside force -- say, a US Marine expeditionary force -- might not understand.
His tactical examples from recent history are apt. He shows how, for instance, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) established dominion in Sunni neighborhoods, enforced its will, waged war on government and Shiite entities, but was eclipsed after 2006 due to a combination of a foreign troop surge and its own unpopularity among its hosts. He shows how the Taliban in Afghanistan has adapted its control systems and governance to maintain a presence even during the occupation. He shows how Shabab militias can adapt light vehicles and crew-served weapons to a simple, but effective, form of mounted warfare. He shows the interaction and conflict of competing power centers, as in the battle between the Shower Posse gang of Kingston and the Jamaican government: two hostile authorities with definite (and shifting) areas of control in the country's own capital. He even mentions an episode in San Francisco, where the Bay Area Rapid Transit authority sought to turn off wireless to forestall a demonstration, and learned that people, once connected, will resent any attempt to cut it off.
He shows us how modern connectivity -- the Web, cell phones, social networks, satellite technology, and phenomena like Skype or Google Earth -- now reaches every part of this new environment. It can mobilize demonstrators as in the Arab Spring and get help from relatives abroad, he shows, but it can also train unskilled soldiers and armorers in tactics and fabrication, as in Libya, or utilize iPhone, Skype and mapping software to direct its new firepower, and get their message out to domestic and world audiences. He does, in short, explain the Arab Spring's events and functionality.
He does show successful cases where local people overcame this chaos, but little of it involved military force or outsider control, but, rather, down-to-earth social interaction and a concerted, collective effort.
This is a book that Western defense ministries and service academies had better read.
Indispensible for anybody seeking to understand conflict, and not just military, in this time. Anybody in urban planning, military science, economics, sociology, technology applications, and, just maybe, regional or national politics, would do well to study it.