Fallujah Follies: Can Development Stop Extremism?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/01/2010 12:03:00 AM
It is somewhat rare that you encounter an article by an economist (Eli Berman), a commander of the International Security Assistance Force’s Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team in Afghanistan (Joseph Felter), and a political scientist (Jacob Shapiro) in the pages of Foreign Affairs. Yet, that is precisely what i have for your perusal today.

Although the main idea is not quite novel, the framing of the issues involved is quite interesting. Among other things, the authors posit that counterterrorism involves replacing social services provided by insurgents seeking support with those furnished by less radical service providers. What follows in the summary:
The United States' current approach to counterinsurgency centers on protecting the population, with a special emphasis on political and economic development. But does that development-based strategy work? In a study using data on reconstruction spending and violence in Iraq, the provision of certain government services does lead to a reduction in violence.
And here's the concluding section:
Given the lethality of terrorist organizations that provide government-like services, a counterterrorism approach analogous to the hearts-and-minds strategy to counterinsurgency is in order: improved governance. When it comes to counterterrorism, however, the suggestion is more specialized. By providing the same services as a terrorist group’s parent organization, a government can effectively undermine the organizational capacity of the local terrorist threat. The Egyptian government successfully took that approach to counter the threat posed by the violent wing of the Muslim Brethren (a precursor to al Qaeda) in the 1950s.

Understanding the effect of development in conflict zones is a new challenge for economists and political scientists and is of immediate relevance to domestic and international security. As U.S. forces draw down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it will become more difficult to study the effect of development programs on al Qaeda, the Taliban, and others. Those groups, of course, will not find it harder to destabilize local governments and conduct acts of international terrorism. The time to build our knowledge base to prepare for future conflicts is now.