Monday, August 13, 2007

John Robb Summary

Great Article by John Robb on The Coming Urban Terror.

He discusses how in the early/mid 20th century, cities worked as defensive positions against tanks (think Stalingrad).

But cities now, given infrastructure, are prone to what he calls systemspunkt. Attacks of critical nodes, infrastructure, transit, and local police.

But in the current evolution of warfare, cities are no longer defensive anchors against armored thrusts ranging through the countryside. They have become the main targets of offensive action themselves. Just as the huge militaries of the early twentieth century were vulnerable to supply and communications disruption, cities are now so heavily dependent on a constant flow of services from various centralized systems that even the simplest attacks on those systems can cause massive disruption.
Proof in Baghdad's decreasing energy output and lack of clean water. Iraq he says is the new Spanish Civil War, the preview (as was the Civil War for WWII) of coming deadly attractions.

Militias and gangs self-finance through the black market and internet communication.

The real worry is the following (not "suitcase nukes"):
No, the real long-term danger from small groups is the use of biotechnology to build weapons of mass destruction. In contrast with nuclear technology, biotech’s knowledge and tools are already widely dispersed—and their power is increasing exponentially.
Imagine this scenario:
It is almost certain that we will see repeated, perhaps incessant, attempts to deploy bioweapons with new strains of viruses or bacteria. Picture a Russian biohacker who, a decade from now, designs a new, deadly form of the common flu virus and sells it on the Internet, just as computer viruses and worms get sold today. The terrorist group that buys the design sends it to a recently hired lab tech in Pakistan, who performs the required modifications with widely available tools. The product then ships by mail to London, to the awaiting “suicide vectors”—men who infect themselves and then board airplanes headed to world destinations, infecting passengers on the planes and in crowded terminals. The infection spreads quickly, going global in days—long before anyone detects it.
Suicide vectors not bombers.

His solution set:

In almost all cases, cities can defend themselves from their new enemies through effective decentralization. To counter systems disruption, decentralized services—the capability of smaller areas within cities to provide backup services, at least on a temporary basis—could radically diminish the harmful consequences of disconnection from the larger global grid. In New York, this would mean storage or limited production capability of backup electricity, water, and fuel, with easy connections to the delivery grid—at the borough level or even smaller. These backups would then provide a means of restoring central services rapidly after a failure.

Similarly, cities may combat networked gangs by decentralizing their own security. Cities have long maintained centralized police forces, but gangs can often overwhelm them. Many governments are responding with militarized police: China is building a million-man paramilitary force, for example; and even in the United States, the use of SWAT teams has increased from 3,000 deployments a year in the 1980s to 50,000 a year in 2006. But militarized police may too easily become an army of occupation, and, if corrupt, as they are in Brazil, they may become enemies of the state along with the gangs.

I think his views are much more likely in global south mega-cities than first world. But they are as dangerous and frightening nonetheless.


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