During the years between world wars one and two, strategists like J.F.C. Fuller contemplated the role of cities in light of his work on the emerging theory of maneuver warfare (3GW). They speculated that cities, particularly large ones in a strategic locations, could be used to dampen or stop the rapid advance of maneuver forces seeding chaos in their rear areas. This analysis proved out, particularly in the steppes of Russia, as cities proved their ability to first slow and then bleed maneuver forces dry. Within the context of emerging theories of system disruption, that are emerging as this war slowly ramps-up, cities play an entirely different role. As the events in Baghdad are proving daily, cities can be engineered to radiate instability rather than dampen it. This is accomplished through acts that leverage three attributes of modern cities. These include:
- Extreme mobility and interconnectedness (for example, high rates of automobile and cell phone ownership).
- Complete reliance on high volume infrastructure networks.
- Complex and heterogeneous social networks that are held together under pressure.
Blitzing the systemThe key to unlocking the disruptive potential of cities within this new form of warfare, is to attack key points (systempunkts) within target infrastructure and social networks to force a change in the city's dynamic. Infrastructure attacks, particularly on power/fuel/water, negate the ability of the government to deliver political goods (for example, in October Baghdad only received 2.4 hours of electricity a day). This halts economic activity and forces the population to rely upon primary loyalties for daily survival (families, neighborhoods, religious organizations, gangs, etc.). It also damages the ability of the government to deliver political goods, which are the key to legitimacy. As a result, primary loyalties rise and nationalism falls. Next, attacks on the social fabric along fault lines (religious, ethnic, class, etc.), are then used to force these primary loyalty groups to arm themselves for security. Finally, as these manufactured groups naturally come into conflict (for access to resource, protection, or revenge), the city's intrinsic interconnectedness allows it to assume its own emergent dynamic, replete with feedback loops that accelerate conflict.
What this meansThe extreme leverage afforded by this method means that Che's dream of a foco insurgency is finally possible. A small group can, if the targets are properly chosen, force a state into failure and keep it there. The key is to limit attacks on the government forces to only those necessary to fracture their moral cohesion, and focus the majority of effort on those activities that accelerate social and economic fragmentation. Unfortunately, once a global guerrilla effort ensconces itself in a major city, all hope of ejecting it within any relevant time period becomes moot. We are sure to see more of this activity in the future. Key insights include:
- City collapse offers extreme economic rewards in the form of smuggling and black markets. The more it is deprived, the greater the reward. This creates a positive feedback loop as groups involved in the disruption gain from these activities. For example, insurgent and militia involvement in gasoline smuggling and black market power generation in Baghdad.
- The collapse of a central city prevents any hope of countrywide economic recovery. Further, the chaos the city generates radiates outward through refugee flows. As this occurs, the social conflicts are exported, and other cities begin to fall into chaos like dominos.
- The sheer complexity and size of modern mega-cities with populations in the millions defies remedy. Once destabilized, these cities will either continue in chaos until either they depopulate or the exhaust themselves. Of course, further impetus (attacks on systempunkts) towards instability can recharge the mechanism as needed.