Aleppo. Mosul. Sana’a. Mogadishu. Gaza. These war-ravaged cities are but a few examples of  a growing trend in global conflict, where more and more of the world’s most violent conflicts are being fought in densely populated urban areas, at a tremendously high cost to the civilians living there. Despite their aversion to urban warfare, American and NATO military strategists increasingly acknowledge that the future of war is in cities. Concurrently, humanitarian agencies such as International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are adjusting their response to relief operations in urban centers in real time. This rise in urban violence and the resurgence of warfare in cities comes from three key factors: the global trend toward urbanization, increasingly volatile domestic political conditions in developing countries, and changes in the character of armed conflict.

In February 2018, the federal government of Brazil put the military in charge of all public security responsibilities in Rio de Janeiro—a decision that marked the first time the president has ordered the military to take control of a city since the country’s dictatorship fell in 1985. Throughout the past year, cases of violent deaths in Rio alone increased by 7.5%, rising from 6,262 in 2016 to 6,731 in 2017. This spike occurred despite the influx of over 10,000 additional soldiers and police forces sent to improve security in the city. This example is just one of many of the rising incidents of political violence and armed group activity leading to state forces being deployed for a broad range of urban operations, from counterinsurgency to high-intensity conflict.

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Dr. Margarita Konaev is post-doctoral fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies in The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where her research focuses on international security, armed conflict, non-state actors, and urban warfare.  Previously, she was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perry World House, and a pre-doctoral fellow at the Notre Dame International Security Center. She looks forward to connecting via Twitter @RitaKonaev.
Maj. John Spencer is the deputy director of the Modern War Institute at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. A former Ranger Instructor, he has held the ranks of private to sergeant first class and lieutenant to major while serving in ranger, airborne, light, and mechanized infantry units during his 24 years as an infantryman. He looks forward to connecting via Twitter @SpencerGuard.


Image credit: Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Stephen Hickok, US Navy