Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 14

transform that advantage into a favorable lasting outcome. Conflictual coexistence hinges on the ability to be a continuous, amorphous, and regenerative nuisance to the opponent. Popular support is the source of that ability because it provides access to the protest potential of the population. Actually, violence in urban conflict remains crude and primitive. However, its effectiveness does not result from the casualties and damage it engenders but from the cost of the measures to contain it. Improvised explosive devices and ambushes are effective not because they kill the opponent’s soldiers but because they force that opponent to carry out patrols with a combat package of armored fighting vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicle surveillance, artillery, and close-air support rather than with a couple of soft-skinned police cars. On the other hand, instruments of urban contention, such as mass demonstrations, strikes, barricades, and terrorist attacks, remain adequate and hardly evolve at all. A French revolutionary leader of 1789 if somehow teleported from Paris to Cairo amidst the masses on Tahrir Square in 2011 would have recognized and understood everything that was going on there instantly. However, he or she would have been totally unfamiliar with the methods used to get those masses there in the first place. Field Manual 3-24, Counterinsurgency (2006), explained that “people support the source that meets their needs.”18 For rural people, that source may be their land, their own skills, the produce and fire wood in their barns, and the friends, relatives, and clan members they can rely on in times of hardship. Politics and administration hardly matter to their daily lives. None of this applies to present-day urban citizens. In megacities, basic necessities such as security, shelter, water, food, and energy depend on administrative structures such as first responders, utility providers, public works, and social assistance organizations. Urbanization creates an insatiable demand for administration. Electricity, running water, and telecommunications were nonexistent in 1800 but are considered essential in 2015. And, the skills of urban individuals are only meaningful within the context of employment and trade in the socioeconomic space shaped by city governance. Therefore, urban dwellers are very susceptible to signs of political and administrative improvement— however biased the source that delivers them. The urban mood is malleable. Organizations that bring the comforts of urban necessities such as running water, 12 electricity, or trash collection to shanty towns are almost certain to gain the support of people living there. Likewise, civil society activists who campaign against corruption stand a good chance of mobilizing the skilled urban youth that demand access to upward social mobility based on merit rather than favoritism. To take advantage of the urban susceptibility to political and administrative improvement, urban-based belligerents mobilize city dwellers by providing them with comfort, hope, and anger. Their ability to do so has increased exponentially in the last four decades because of two important developments: global fundraising and unlimited communication. Global fundraising allows urban-based belligerents to be an asset rather than a burden to the population. Several modern activist movements organize administrative structures for urban services and social assistance parallel to those of the government. They finance these structures by raising money abroad.19 The increasing numbers of migrants and the development of accessible international money transfer systems will only accelerate this trend. Unlimited communication is a recent but quickly progressing development. Inhibitors such as cost, range, bandwidth, and censorship used to limit the communication capabilities of nonstate actors. Up until the 1980s, rulers could restrict their people’s media diet to stateowned radio stations, television channels, and newspapers. Those times are over. The ever-increasing performance of privately owned information and communication systems has resulted in a situation wherein even the smallest organization can address an audience of millions. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 provides an early illustration of this evolution. Revolutionary rhetoric on audiocassettes played a critical role in the overthrow of the Shah.20 The Arab Spring and the color revolutions proved that activist organizations are able to mobilize millions of people, provided they come up with messages and images that resonate with the target audience’s hope and anger. In conjunction, violence remains an essential part of conflictual coexistence, but successful urban-based belligerents keep its use low and simple. Intense and sophisticated violence requires skilled fighters and real-time command and control. Both are difficult to come by and—as rare and valuable assets—are vulnerable to surveillance, target acquisition, and precision strikes. Moreover, high-intensity combat depopulates urban areas, as happened in Grozny. By contrast, low November-December 2015  MILITARY REVIEW