Top positive review
If you're interested in growing urban instability - read this
Reviewed in the United States on May 5, 2019
Mr. Kilcullen starts with an instance of mountain guerrilla warfare in which he is a participant. He contrasts this typical guerrilla warfare arising in remote and lightly populated areas with what he believes is the future of guerrilla warfare in heavily populated cities adjacent to large bodies of water (littoral areas). He reviews battles fought by insurgents in Mumbai, Mogadishu (the Black Hawk Down fight) and Tivoli Gardens, Jamaica. Mumbai and Mogadishu I had head of, but Tivoli Gardens in Jamaica was a new fight.
From these battles and others, the author develops a theory of competitive control. As he does so, he extends the book's reach, in my opinion, beyond guerrilla warfare into general control issues when instability arises. Think of the Yellow Jackets who have been protesting in France for half a year. He looks at the Taliban and others to argue that violence without more does not produce social stability. Competitive control requires a spectrum of force, from sheer violence to influence, to create the sort of social stability that allows a political entity to function effectively. I found his arguments persuasive. I had reviewed another book, The Counterinsurgency Challenge by Christopher D. Kolenda and Gen. Stanley McChrystal which had come to a similar conclusion that "winning hearts and minds" was not a fully satisfactory strategy. I encourage you to read the book to get a full grasp of his theory of competitive control. It may turn out to be a very useful tool.
As the book reviews the Arab Spring, he made some observations that I found surprising. First, in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, the initial shock troops opposing these regimes' police forces were initially the Ultras, groups of rabid soccer fans who routinely got into fights with each other at soccer (outside the U.S., it's called football) games and, in so doing, got into fights with the police sent to break up their disturbances. So, for these groups, fighting with the police was not a new experience. When the regime sent its police to put down social disturbances, the Ultras were not cowed, quit fighting with each other and started fighting the police and other regime security forces. Other disaffected groups saw the Ultras fighting and decided to join in.
The regimes then made another mistake with, what I found to be, a surprising unintended consequence. The rioters and others disenchanted with the regimes in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt were using their cell and smart phones to coordinate their activities. This isn't surprising. So, the regimes basically tried to turn off the internet and cell service in their respective countries. A lot of people who weren't rioting or protesting couldn't use their phones. This radicalized them against the regimes. The author notes that there are 2 billion more phones on the earth than there are people with access to potable water. The use of a phone may be a more basic human right than access to water or freedom of political speech. The inability to use their phones to talk or text their friends, family or business associates radicalized many who had not previously been radicalized. I encourage you to look at these events and see what conclusions you draw.
Future social dislocation will occur in crowded, digitally connected and coastal cities. How to deal with these social disruptions will not be simple. The digital aspects of this in particular will require careful consideration. Urban instability will, in my opinion, be a growing phenomenon arising from political and social disruption, criminal activities and, in some cases, guerrilla activities. If these topics interest you, I believe that you will find the book to be worth your time.