In sobering video, Pentagon warns of megacities and their security challenges


In sobering video, Pentagon warns of megacities and their security challenges

An instructor role-playing as a rioter charges through the baseline of U.S. Army Soldiers from the 130th Military Police Company, Tennessee Army National Guard during training at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, Ind., Aug. 25, 2007. The Soldiers are training for an upcoming deployment to Kosovo. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jerome Bishop / Flickr)

Dubbed Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity, this video (obtained by The Intercept) foresees a dark urban future that will challenge the U.S. military’s ability to target adversaries. The video also makes clear that these urban environments will be the new battlegrounds for global stability and security.

According to The Intercept, the video was created by the U.S. Army for military audiences. While it’s common knowledge the world is urbanizing, Megacities explores the tactical and strategic implications of enormous metropolises. Predicting that “living habitats will extend from the high rise to the ground-level cottage to subterranean labyrinths each defined by its own social code and rule of law,” the video’s vision for the future seems inspired by Judge Dredd (or insert your dystopic urban fiction here). “The urban environment will be the locus where the drivers of instability will converge,” the narrator intones.

The Pentagon also implies that the shared expertise, or at least interlinked understanding, that urban and military planners share won’t apply to these environments: “Megacities are complex systems where people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy both our understanding of city planning and urban doctrine.” The Pentagon’s conception for the megacity relies on a few assumptions: These are ethnically and religiously heterogeneous places, where rapid urbanization and modernization causes a cultural shock and poverty and poor infrastructure runs rampant. Also rocked by climate change, these megacities have failed by most quantifiable measures. “The cities that grow the fastest will be the most challenged as resources become constrained and illicit networks fill the gaps left by overextended undercapitalized governments,” says the narrator.

These failed cities harbor and nurture “non-national state, unaligned individuals and organizations,” a shadowy and vague opponent. The Pentagon foresees these cities as global threats, with these non-state actors profiting from international cybercrime while benefiting from plenty of places to hide or evade pursuit. Unable to avoid urban combat or evacuate massive civilian population before attacking, the military can’t resort to the conventional approaches used from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan. New tactics must allow the military to “rapidly return the city to the people” but also “operate within these ecosystems with minimal disruption in flow.” What exactly this means isn’t clear, though the video clearly states that in the future “urban operations become the core requirement for the future land force.”