Ungoverned Megacities

The head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, has made an unusually public statement for a man and indeed an agency that usually remains invisible.

[...] Mumbai, Mexico City and Jakarta, saying they had become partially ungovernable. He noted the rise of private security firms to protect wealthier residents in sealed communities or to support the army, as in Iraq. “The increasing privatisation of core state responsibilities in the military and security areas carries with it the danger – even in Western states – of the erosion of the state’s monopoly on the use of force,” Uhrlau said.

[...] “Some states are now only partially able to carry out their original core responsibilities – protecting their people from violence,” Uhrlau said. This could lead to the destabilisation of entire regions and promote international terrorism, he warned. Afghanistan provided a good example of how a “failed state” had provided a base for the al-Qaeda network, Uhrlau said. Europe had its own problems, particularly in the Balkans, where the causes of conflict were “far from overcome.”

Sounds like someone bought him a copy of Brave New War. I’ve discussed ungoverned spaces before here at Coming Anarchy, and said they are defined as “a physical or non-physical area where there is an absence of state capacity or political will to exercise control.” While the post focuses on failed and failing states, cities are no less relevant. Indeed, ungoverned spaces exist in every ghetto around the globe whether in Los Angeles, Paris or Lagos. As militaries focus more on urban combat, it is indeed time for our intelligence agencies to focus more on urban intel collection and that means focusing more on HUMINT and less on fancy new toys.

About Chirol

Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol (1852 - 1929) was a journalist, prolific author, world historian, and British diplomat. He began his career as a foreign correspondent and later became editor of the London Times. After two decades as a journalist he joined Her Majesty's Foreign Ministry as a diplomat and was subsequently knighted for his distinguished service as a foreign affairs advisor. Additionally, he wrote a dozen books on foreign affairs including The Far Eastern Question (1896), Serbia and the Serbs (1914), The End of the Ottoman Empire (1920) and The Egyptian Problem (1921). He is generally credited with popularizing "Middle East" in reference to the Arabian Peninsula with his book The Middle Eastern Question (1903). "Chirol" is a US citizen and graduate student studying Defense and Strategic Studies and government contractor. As with the historical Chirol, he has traveled to over two dozen countries and lived abroad for many years. Chirol speaks English and German fluently with basic knowledge of manyl of others.
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5 Responses to Ungoverned Megacities

  1. Dan tdaxp says:

    I’ve said it before, but especially considering the source it should be said again: the monopoly of the use of force is a European concept. It’s not an American one. A State Monopoly in violence is explicitly forbidden by the 2nd Amendment, just as a State Monopoly on press, assembly, or church is forbidden by the 1st.

  2. jim says:

    I’d argue that this is just the normal pendulum swing of chaos and order in the an urban environment.

    On the one hand, we have the forces of chaos like rising populations, ethnic and religious diversity, and narco-gangs. On the other hand we have the forces of order like surveillance technology and managerial organization.

    In giant cities like Mexico City the pendulum has swung towards chaos, but it seems plausible this will just push the State to employ more high-tech means of enforcing order.

    The surveillance society is being rolled out in the richest cities first: London, NYC, Chicago, etc. But the technology and techiques will come down in price and availability. Within 20 years Mexico City will likely have 24-7 surveillance. A problem neighborhood will have networked, digital cameras sprinkled liberally throughout, with software capable of tracking people and cars — and backtracing the movements of any people or vehicles involved in a disturbance.

    A slide towards disorder produces a reaction from the State back toward order. How many states from a 100 years ago would qualify as “failed states” today? The amount of control we expect a modern state to enforce is so much greater than before.

  3. tony says:

    As a long term resident of New Orleans, I can attest to the development of patterns of segregation of the wealthier citizens and what happens in the event of an emergency. When Hurricane Katrina hit, private security remained in place and in some instances was supplemented by airlifting security personel by helicopter into the wealthiest areas of the city. The vast (very vast) poor population were drowning, hungry, thirsty, looting, stealing, etc. But they were not doing these things in the very wealthy areas, because these areas were being blockaded and patrolled by highly organized, significantly armed, private security forces. In a way, this was understandable and even predictable, as in New Orleans, and probably in many north American cities, there is a shrinking middle class, and those in the upper classes, in order to maintain their lifestyles, barricade and segregate themselves literally and figuratively. This pattern will continue to spread as the middle class shrinks. The evidence of this pattern as it applies to the proliferation of private security forces becomes overt in the event of any widespread emergency.

  4. In the most general sense, I agree with Dan. The State does not have a monopoly on violence in America only in the sense that the sovereign people, through the Constitution and the several state governments — retain the monopoly, and delegate certain legal powers to the State — meaning the government.

    That said, the Constitutional structure and laws of the United States, and of the several states, do order and regulate the acceptable use of violence, e.g. the right to bear arms; as well as home defense of life or property with violence are in varying degrees legal, but it is not legal to use the same arms or the same violence to create police no-go zones, or to engage in acts defined as criminal by the law. In this sense, the State retains a monopoly on the use of force, as well as the legal power to say (within Constitutional norms) — what the lawful use of force is.

    Constitutional hair-splitting aside, the head of the Bundesnachrichtendienst is onto something.

  5. Filium Lucae says:

    In argentina I remember that my friend took me to the bus station so that I could go on a trip. he parked the car in a non parking lot area, aka, the side of the road. A man, a bum or homeless looking man, came up to the car and said “estoy con vos”(I am with you) which meant he would guard the car in exchance for some change. Security firms will go up, but so will free lance. people get hungry and the only thing left to do is protect what someone has in order to eat. What is funny is that the situation has completely fallen apart in third world countries where the police force essentially works for bribes, and there lacks the organizational structure to move these people into official positions.
    The question is, what will happen with a bunch of autonomous security agencies/entities within a city if their interests begin to conflict.
    A citizen has a right to protection, and any nation will attack another nation that infringes on their own citizen’s safety, what about a client?