NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

Urbanization is Inevitable – NATO Must Adapt to the Changing Environment

April 12, 2019

Urbanization is Inevitable – NATO Must Adapt to the Changing Environment

NATO operates in a rapidly changing international security environment.

In the bi-polar world NATO was focused on deterring the Soviet Union. NATO did that extremely well. After the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO focused on cooperative security. After 9/11, NATO was focused on expeditionary operations and crisis management; most notably in Afghanistan. Now, NATO faces overlapping challenges that bring complexity to our military preparedness. Actors may be involved in multiple crises or conflicts and the lines between peacetime and conflict are blurred. What remains consistent throughout is NATO’s task to deter any other entity’s ability to create or escalate a crisis. This is particularly important in an urban setting.

Whereas in the past human populations settled rich agricultural areas, current trends suggest that by 2050, 66% of world’s population will live in an urban environment. Megacities, in particular, with inhabitants of more than 10 million people, will increase from 20 today to 37 in 2025. It is projected that 40% of urban populations will live in slums by 2030. Inequality is a major urban challenge. Demand for food and water, resource scarcity, and the resultant consequences to populations can exasperate tensions among difference socio-economic and, perhaps, religious groups. Cities are also increasingly becoming prime targets of attack by various armed groups.

It is not a matter of “if” but rather “when” NATO will be involved in urban operations across the spectrum of conflict from humanitarian to stabilization missions and, where absolutely necessary, combat operations. Cities are the most likely environment for a serious adversary to challenge NATO. As a consequence, NATO needs to plan for the eventuality of increased urbanization and its potential consequences.

Future interventions in heavily concentrated urban areas will require the participation and cooperation of a wide range of security actors, including civilian authorities, police, and military personnel. And, correspondingly, NATO forces should be equipped to address emerging challenges in the urban environment through more education and training, strategic communications, and stability policing.

To be successful, entirely new ways of operating are required, such as influencing a population of significant size with a small mass of troops, i.e., leveraging the city as a force multiplier.

NATO involvement in Urbanization is a culmination of four years of studies, research, warfare development and analysis. It has been determined that overall success in urban environments will stem from its doctrine, organization, training, leadership, personnel, facilities, and interoperability to ability to adapt to the built-up environments. The NATO Urban Concept aims to influence NATO capability development over the next 15 years.

Fundamentally, the concept calls for a change in our way of thinking.

NATO Allied Command Transformation’s mission is to contribute to preserving the peace, security and territorial integrity of Alliance member states by leading the warfare development of military structures, forces, capabilities and doctrines.