20 October 2020

Urbanisation is one of the most prevalent global trends of the 21st century. Already today an estimated 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas. According to the 2016 United Nations World Cities report, two-thirds of the global population will live in cities by 2050 (Konaev and Spencer, 2018). By 2030, there will be 41 megacities (cities with more than 10 million inhabitants), mainly in poorly developed or developing countries. The increasing trend of urbanisation is most tangible in developing countries which often do not have the resources to develop the infrastructure and services necessary to match this increase. As a result, socio-economic inequalities will rise, as will the risks of instability and conflict with city centres and residential neighbourhoods becoming battlefields (ICRC, May 2017). Already today, more than half of the world’s violent armed conflicts are taking place in cities, affecting some 50 million people (ICRC, June 2017).  

The continuing instability on NATO’s southern and south-eastern flanks and the trend towards urbanisation make it likely that the urban environment will be a relevant factor in many future conflicts involving NATO forces. Therefore, the ability to conduct urban operations will be indispensable. In the recent past, cities such as Mosul, Aleppo, Sana'a, or Donetsk have been subjected to sieges, air and artillery strikes, and violent street fighting. NATO forces have already been involved in urban combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other places and provided support to partner countries in urban combat operations. Moreover, major cities in Europe and Africa have been targets of terrorist groups. These developments have raised awareness in Allied capitals for the need to prepare NATO forces for urban combat.  

The situation is likely to continue as population growth, climate change and competition over natural resources, and sectarian and religious tensions will alter the international security environment, and certainly challenge NATO Allies. In recognition of this general trend and their experience, NATO Allies, and NATO as an organisation, have begun to focus attention and resources on urban warfare and on building capabilities to facilitate urban missions.  

This report provides a short, general overview of the threats that NATO forces are likely to face in urban warfare and how technology can help NATO Allies meet these challenges. As such, the report focuses on technological trends that will, or already do, have an impact on urban combat operations. The focus of the rapporteur is on implications for NATO Allies and NATO as an organisation, on the promises that emerging technologies will provide as well as the challenges these technologies are likely to pose for NATO forces. [...]

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