Behind the WTO Riots: The US Prepares for War in the Cities
Gar Smith

In March 1999, the US Marine Corps staged a practice invasion of the San Francisco Bay Area with a fleet of five battleships, gigantic LCAC hovercraft, dozens of helicopters, hundreds of combat-equipped Marines and 6,000 sailors.

For four days, the smoke and explosions of simulated combat rattled the tranquility of the "invasion" site--an abandoned naval hospital in the Oakland Hills. The exercise, complete with the firing of 32,000 rounds of blanks, took place within sight of a local high school and within earshot of the Oakland Zoo.

It was estimated that the Corps' invading trucks, tanks, ships and landing craft turned 18,063.3 gallons of fuel into 1.21 tons of air pollution. (Pollution from aircraft was not included.) The nitrous oxides produced were estimated to be 3.4 times greater than the Bay Area Air Quality Management District's "significant threshold."

The exercise--code-named "Urban Warrior"--was publicly promoted as a "humanitarian" effort intended to assist "victims of a natural disaster." Then-Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Charles C. Krulak explained the "humanitarian" scenario as follows: "Marines will be transported to the [staging area], where they will provide humanitarian assistance to 'victims' of an assumed natural disaster. 'Rebel' elements opposed to the operation will then arrive. The situation will deteriorate into conflict . . . ."

The question arose: Why would anyone--even "rebels"--be opposed to "humanitarian assistance" in the wake of a natural disaster?

A review of hundreds of pages of Urban Warrior files reveals that the actual goal of the operation is quite different: Urban Warrior is designed to "penetrate" into urban settings, to seize powerplants, TV and radio stations, to capture food and water supplies, and to control cities.

A chillingly candid USMC document entitled "Why Urban Warrior?" explains the problem for which urban warfare is seen to provide the solution: "Over the last 50 years, a variety of factors--ranging from modernization to environmental and agricultural disasters--have forced millions of people into the world's cities. Current models estimate that approximately 70 percent of the world's population will live in cities by 2020."

The major cities of the 2lst century will contain "all the classic ingredients for conflict. There will be social, cultural, religious and tribal strife between different groups. Many areas will have scarce resources, including the most basic ones like food and shelter. As populations grow and resources shrink even further, the chances for conflict will naturally grow with it."

In an article in the January 1998 Armed Forces Journal, Col. James A. Lasswell, Head of Experimental Operations for the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL), argued that since "urban combat will be a feature of the 21st century . . . . A workable concept . . . must be devised for Marines to fight and win on the crowded, confusing urban battlefields of the 2lst century."

Lasswell listed another factor that will turn 2lst century cities into powder kegs: "There will be widespread economic problems and cultural, ethnic, and tribal tensions, many caused by wave after wave of immigration."

The USMC claims that these exercises are intended to insert Marines into distant trouble spots like Somalia, but the photographs in Urban Warrior's strategic documents (which have since been removed from the MCWL website) show cities much closer to home Seattle, Miami, San Diego, New York City and San Francisco. The MCWL's plans clearly are designed for application to major world population centers.

Urban Warrior is designed to capture and hold modern cities with dense high-rise structures, which the USMC prefers to call "urban canyons." Marines are being trained to scale high-rise buildings via ropes, to travel inside buildings on elevator cables, and to advance beneath city streets through sewer lines and mass-transit tunnels.

Marines are being trained to use "new suspension and projection technologies to rapidly move across the streets composing the urban canyons well above the floor but below the rims." These operations will require "Marines who are trained as lead climbers for mountain operations . . . . The capability must be developed to traverse from one structure to another at any elevation. In short, if a commander wishes to traverse from the 12th floor of one building to the 15th floor of another, he should have the capability to do so."

Hovering Dragon Drones (the real-life version of Darth Maul's Star Wars spy-bots) can send TV images of the enemy via satellite-link to Marine gunners as far as 150 miles away. With the tap of a keyboard, these virtual gunners can safely drop ordnance on the heads of unfriendly forces.

Dragon Drones can detect "the presence of individuals through the walls of buildings." Special arms have been developed to permit the USMC to blast surgical holes through steel-reinforced concrete to destroy the inhabitants of a specific room hidden inside a high-rise.

Dragon Fire mortars can be left in secured areas and fired by remote control from battleships floating 12 miles offshore. Other remote-controlled "fire and forget" weapons can be hidden inside buildings.

The following quotes are from the UW Conceptual Experimental Framework (a document that has since been removed from the MCWL website).

"Urban penetration operations will introduce forces to seize and control key facilities . . . . Supporting operations designed to collapse essential functions will accompany or proceed the main effort . . . . Additionally, chemical-biological management operations may be mounted in response to the use of weapons of mass destruction in urban areas . . . . [T]he only question seems to be when-- not if--we will need to employ . . . chemical-biological response capabilities on the urban littoral.

"Power plants, water plants, food storage and distribution centers . . . may provide leverage in establishing control over the urban environment. The ability to rapidly seize these facilities and establish control over them may be critical . . . .

"Noncombatants and refugees may be as formidable a factor as the urban infrastructure. Refugees are likely to clog roads, inland waterways, airfields and ports, as well as presenting commanders with humanitarian support issues.

"The lines . . . distinguishing combatant from 'noncombatant' will blur. Further complicating the situation will be the ever-present media, whose presence will mean that all future conflicts will be acted out before an international audience."

The Conceptual Experimental Framework recognizes certain environmental constraints. "Fossil fuels represent the largest single footprint and distribution challenge for seabased logistics. Likewise, dependence on fossil fuels limits tactical mobility."

Urban Warrior comes to a stunning conclusion: "Use of alternative non-fossil fuels will significantly reduce fuel and power requirements . . . . Wind and solar power is a quiet, low maintenance alternatives [sic] to fossil fuel generators. . . . Wind turbines are non-polluting and are driven entirely by nature's forces. Smaller wind turbines . . . can also be run together into a single power grid . . . to produce power for large applications."

In a similarly green vein, the UW planning documents observe that "Paper may very well be obsolete as the medium for conducting and recording the business side of military operations." Instead of paper, "Personnel management will be handled by a credit card which contains a reusable memory and a microprocessor chip [containing] . . . all information which can be associated with a person, from training information to medical information."

The planning documents stress the importance of "water and electrical distribution systems" and advocate "plans for the control or isolation of these systems without destruction, and plan for their following use by friendly forces."

The question is: Who are the "friendly forces"? The civilian population? The police? The National Guard? The Wise-Use Irregulars? The Armed Christian Militia?

The thinking behind the need for Urban Warrior reveals a dark truth that lies at the heart of the Global Marketplace: The population bomb is starting to go off and the Pentagon's solution is to send in the Marines.

"The rapid diffusion of technology, the growth of a multitude of transnational factors and the consequences of increasing globalization and economic interdependence have combined to create national security challenges remarkable for their complexity," Maj. Gen. Krulak writes. "By 2020, 85 percent of the world's inhabitants will be crowded into coastal cities--cities generally lacking the infrastructure required to support their burgeoning populations. Under these conditions, long-simmering ethnic, nationalist and economic tensions will explode and increase the potential of crises requiring US intervention."

Krulak does not explain under whose auspices the US will be required to intervene. If the foreign poor rebel against the rich, would the US be required to intervene?

Krulak has proposed a new kind of role for the US. Instead of peacekeeping missions, he advocates repression missions designed to contain "long-simmering ethnic, nationalist and economic tensions" anywhere in the world where our strategic national interests are threatened.

Of course, these forces will be present in major US coastal cities as well. It will not require a consensus at NATO or the UN to respond to a crisis in US cities. It will merely require a declaration of martial law.

A recent proposal to put a supreme military commander in charge of national emergency response in the event of a "terrorist threat" underscores just how close we are approaching the loss of civil society.

Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, Jr., the Commandant of the US Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, writing in the October 1998 issue of the Armed Forces Journal, cautioned the armed services to "Avoid the pitfalls of future urban warfare . . . . one of the most destructive forms of warfare."

Like Krulak, Scales also fears that 2lst Century wars will be triggered by the Rich-Poor Gap, which is being exacerbated by globalization. "The enormous problems of infrastructure and the demand for social services that threaten to swamp governing authorities in the urban centers of emerging states will most likely worsen," Scales writes. "Moreover, the proximity of the disenfranchised to the ruling elite provides the spark for further unrest and sporadic violence.

"The future urban center will contain a mixed population, ranging from the rich elite to the poor and disenfranchised. Day-to-day existence for most of the urban poor will be balanced tenuously on the edge of collapse. With social conditions ripe for exploitation, the smallest tilt of unfavorable circumstance might be enough to instigate starvation, disease, social foment, cultural unrest, or other forms of urban violence."

Urban war always brings calamity, Scales writes. "With many of the major global cities experiencing a host of infrastructure and overcrowding shortcomings, the likely damage from unconstrained urban warfare would require a total rebuilding effort. Such warfare could cause the total dismemberment of basic services and the deaths of thousands of innocent people, along with great collateral damage to homes, hospitals, and other structures, creating a new mass of refugees. Rampant disease and starvation would quickly overcome those lucky enough to survive bombs and missiles."

Gar Smith is editor-in-chief of the Earth Island Journal.

© Earth Island Journal, spring 2000 issue