Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

Cities at War: Global Insecurity and Urban Resistance

Mary Kaldor, Saskia Sassen

Columbia University Press



While physical battles have conventionally been waged in large open spaces, today’s wars are neither conventional nor neatly geographically demarcated. As the case studies in Cities at War express, cities are increasingly important staging grounds for ethnic conflict, everyday insecurity, and the ideologically framed violence carried out by governments and non-state actors alike.

These case studies cover Bamako, Mali; Kabul, Afghanistan, Baghdad, Iraq; Ciudad Juárez/El Paso, Mexico/USA; Karachi, Pakistan; Goma, DRC; Bogotá, Colombia; and Novi Pazar, Serbia. They show how certain cities are affected not only directly by attacks, but also indirectly through factors including massive displacement of populations, an urban identity politics fomented by inequality and segregation, and a reshaping of public space necessitated by insecurity. Another common thread is the uneasy relationship between urban residents and the security and military forces that can sometimes exacerbate threats.

This is clear from the chapter on Afghanistan, which compares Kabul City with the rural area of Farza in 2014–2015. The prevalence of police bribery and the inability of Afghan and foreign military forces to stop violence meant that many residents relied on community mechanisms for protection. Yet these alone were also insufficient. Coordination between the community and the state, which author Florian Weigand found in Farza, provided a counterpoint to the ineffectual official forces in Kabul. In Weigand’s analysis, it would be more challenging to develop Farza-like coordination in the large, diverse, insurgent-targeted Kabul.

A contrast is also drawn in the chapter on the Texan and Mexican cities of Juárez and El Paso. While these border cities have a long history of mutual mobility, whether for economic or recreational opportunities, these flows have been challenged by cartel-linked violence on the Mexican side and xenophobic rhetoric around immigration in the US. But as author Mary Martin writes, sensationalized and politicized accounts neglected the root causes of poverty, unemployment, and weak governance. The violence in Ciudad Juárez between 2007 and 2012 was horrific and indisputable. But performative attempts to secure the border had little to do with actually reducing violence.

A different kind of international presence is described in the chapter on Goma, which has hosted a UN peacekeeping mission and many domestic and international NGOs. This “urban aidland” has not been immune to violence, as the M23 rebel takeover of Goma in 2012 dramatically showed. Yet the city has also been relatively stable because of the humanitarian presence (and the investments combatants have made in Goma’s infrastructure). This stability has drawn many migrants and resulted in new forms of economic and cultural exchange, showing how war creates some urban opportunities even as it shatters others.

Further reading:

Environment and Urbanization (2004), “Urban violence and insecurity”, Vol 16, No 2, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/eaua/16/2.

Environment and Urbanization (2014), “Conflict and violence in 21st century cities”, Vol 26, No 2, available at https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/eaua/26/2.

Search the Book notes database

Our Book notes database contains details and summaries of all the publications included in Book notes since 1993 - with details on how to obtain/download.

Use the search form above, or visit the Book notes landing page for more options and latest content.

For a searchable database for papers in Environment and Urbanization, go to http://eau.sagepub.com/