Strategist Kilcullen: Warfare Is Changing In 3 Ways

In these last days of the year, Morning Edition is having conversations that look ahead. Co-host Steve Inskeep talks to David Kilcullen, who spent 22 years in the Australian army and advised U.S. Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq, about how warfare is different than it used to be.

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DON GONYEA, HOST:

In these last days of the year, we're airing conversations about the future. Today, we turn to David Kilcullen, who imagines future wars in his book, "Out of the Mountains." Kilcullen served in the Australian Army then went on to advise U.S. General David Patraeus in Iraq. Kilcullen told my colleague Steve Inskeep that warfare is chanting in three ways. First, it's becoming more urban. Second, technology is changing warfare; he notes how quickly news spread of Moammar Gadhafi's death in Libya in 2011.

DAVID KILCULLEN: Gadhafi gets killed at about seven o'clock in the morning. Forty minutes later, Al Jazeera gets the cell phone video, 90 minutes later it's with every major news organization on the planet - the same day his organization collapses. Right? That's pretty much unheard of.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Does that mean war is moving faster? Or just that the response to war, the public and political reaction to war what...

KILCULLEN: Well, actually this ties to my third point which is that we're starting to see a real democratization of technology. So technology that used to be the preserve of nation-states and big, powerful countries is now available to individuals. We see, for example, in Syria, people using backyard factories to make multi-barrel rocket launchers. And then downloading from the Internet, the kinds of firing tables that are needed to calculate, you know, where you're going to fire the weapon.

And we're starting to see this kind of this kind of tech savvy population of urban environments that are very connected, having access to all kinds of military capability that just wasn't there even 10 years ago.

INSKEEP: Was the war in Iraq, in a country that was relatively urbanized, a trial run for some of these things?

KILCULLEN: To some extent. Iraq itself is not actually as urbanized as a lot of the countries that we are now seeing conflict in. But it so happens that the conflict in Iraq happened to be very heavily concentrated in the Baghdad city area. So when I deployed to Iraq for the second time - in February of 2007, as part of the surge - of the entire combat action of the war in Iraq, 50 percent of it was happening within Baghdad city limits.

INSKEEP: So if Baghdad is an example of the future, what are some things that you learned there witnessing that warfare?

KILCULLEN: I think that what we saw in Iraq was we got ourselves into a problem of our own making. And we saw the emergence of this giant sectarian conflict that was just tearing the country apart. We went in there at the beginning of the surge in 2007 in a very desperate state, to try to reduce the violence against civilians. So in the last quarter of 2006, about 3,000 Iraqi civilians were being killed every week. You know, crazy amount of civilian death.

INSKEEP: Which may be is part of the future that you're sketching out. We're talking about very populated cities where a lot of people get killed very quickly.

KILCULLEN: Right. Yeah, that's true. And it's very dense and a lot of people can die in short period of time. What we were able to do by September of that year was to reduce that level of violence to 95 percent down to only a few dozen people getting killed every week which is...

INSKEEP: How?

KILCULLEN: ...still tragic, but this is where I think the lessons are important because we did it by killing the city. We shut the city down. We brought in more than 100 kilometers of concrete T-wall. We put troops on every street corner. We got alongside people and try to make them feel safe. It was very, you know, sort of human intense and equipment intense. That option will not be open for us in the mega city. You won't be able to do that in Karachi or just obviously, hypothetical examples, Lagos or Dakar or any of the big cities. There are 20 million people...

INSKEEP: We're talking about 10 or 20 or 30 million people.

KILCULLEN: Yeah. You could lose the entire U.S. military that went to Iraq in one of the cities, and most people that lived there wouldn't even know. Counterinsurgency as practiced in Afghanistan and Iraq just won't be feasible in a large city on a coast line in the next 20 or 30 years.

As I look at all these future threats, I don't see a military solution to the vast majority of these challenges. There's very few environments where you would look at the problems and say, oh, yeah, obviously the solution is to send a lot of American troops in there. So I think we need to be looking fundamentally for nonmilitary solutions.

As I've looked at all the cities that are growing, one of the inescapable conclusions is you get conflict not where you have just basic income inequality. You get conflict where people are locked out of progress and they look at all these people having a good time and realize I'm never going to be part of that party and they decide to burn the house down. So a lot of it is about getting communities into collaborative approach to solving their own problems. And that's fundamentally the realm of, you know, social work and international assistance and diplomacy. It's not really a military function.

INSKEEP: Listening to you makes me think that you might believe the United States collectively, that we think about wars and conflicts the wrong way. We're a global power; we think about global threats. Used to think about communism, now we think about global Islam. We think about whole region, the Arab world.

KILCULLEN: Mm-hmm.

INSKEEP: Is war actually more about local power, money, control?

KILCULLEN: Very much so. I had the opportunity to go to Mogadishu in the middle of 2012, looking at what had been going on after 20 years of civil war in Somalia. There is one and one only industrial facility that has survived for 20 years through all of that time, and that's the Coca-Cola factory just outside Mogadishu. And the reason for this is everyone chews this stimulant called khat...

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

KILCULLEN: ...or this kind of sort of leafy green thing that you chew, and it's very bitter.

INSKEEP: Kind of a drug.

KILCULLEN: It's a mild stimulant. It hops you up pretty dramatically when you chew it. But it's very bitter and so people want something sweet and fizzy to go with that. So all of the groups that are fighting each other about everything else, they can all agree on, hey, want to keep the Coke factory open.

(LAUGHTER)

KILCULLEN: And to me that's a great example. Right now we have what I would call a lot of conflict entrepreneurs. They're prolonging conflicts not because they want to win some political goal or because they want to change the form of government of a particular area, but just because they make a lot of money, they get a lot of power from conflict and they want to preserve that conflict to keep going. So I think part of it is about shifting people away from being conflict entrepreneurs to being stakeholders in a peaceful environment.

Right? How do we take that Coca-Cola factory example and broaden that out so that we create a set of common interests in a society...

INSKEEP: Oh, so that people who may have disparate views in the city realize that more and more of the city - not just the Coca-Cola factory - are worth saving, worth preserving.

KILCULLEN: Right. I mean if you like Coke you're going to love having water and you're going to love having education for your kid. You know, to say, you know, there's actually a broader way of thinking about a common set of interests. But again, like we're way outside the realms of what would be classically defined as military here. And then military, I think, has a role in providing enough stability and peace that people feel safe enough to engage in these kinds of discussions. But beyond that it's really civilians have to take the next step.

INSKEEP: David Kilcullen is the author of "Out Of the Mountains." Thanks for coming by.

KILCULLEN: Thanks, Steve.

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