What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Monday, April 9, 2007

The 'oil spot approach' - What's the 'oil' spilling over here?

The MStFB Spillover Monitor Report Series No. 6

The New York Times writes, titled Dutch Soldiers Stress Restraint in Afghanistan:
"QALA-E-SURKH, Afghanistan — The Dutch infantrymen stood on a ridge near the Baluchi Valley, an area in south-central Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban and tribes opposed to the central government. / Whenever they push farther, the soldiers said, they swiftly come under fire from rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. “The whole valley is pretty much hostile,” said one, a machine gunner. / But rather than advancing for reconnaissance or to attack, the Dutch soldiers pulled back to a safer village. “We’re not here to fight the Taliban,” said the Dutch commander, Col. Hans van Griensven, at a recent staff meeting. “We’re here to make the Taliban irrelevant.”"
I'm inserting this long quote here to now share with you the new expression I learned today, in connection with it. What the Dutch soldiers are doing is called the 'oil spot approach' by some, apparently. It's a strategy of attempting to create bright patches in the barren landscape of Talib insurgency. Carrying out rebuilding projects at locations that one can secure without running into resistance and hoping that the improvements there will be attractive enough to convince those communities living nearby to buy into the same thing. 'Infectious development' we could call it, but this time it's named 'oil spot' - in reference to development spreading out like oil does when spilled on a white shirt. How poetic. There's even an anti-American touch to the idea with the contrast made clear: clever people don't fight insurgencies but make them irrelevant, while stupid people stubbornly fight them.
As to the reality behind it, Dutch soldiers, some of whom actually do say they would be ready to fight, given that's what they got their training for, maintain it's not a strategy they are told to follow because politicians at home don't want casualties among them.
However, one unfortunately cannot overlook certain conclusions that may be logically drawn here. 1) Talibs learned by now that the Dutch soldiers can be turned back from any direction they might be headed on a patrol, by opening up on them, while not even bothering to aim very accurately. 2) Dutch soldiers could be dissuaded by the same means from carrying out development projects virtually anywhere. 3) If then they are still 'allowed' to carry out projects in some places, that's so at the Talibs' decision. 4) Considering that Talibs would normally like to take advantage of chances to take and hold territory and here there appears to be one, there must be some advantage for them in not doing so. 5) Very likely that is a chance for them to have Uruzgan province as a safe haven where they can regroup within Afghanistan for attacks in other provinces, by letting the Dutch have a share of Uruzgan.
That seems quite logical and apparently the Americans are telling exactly this same thing to the Dutch: 'if the Taliban are not kept under military pressure in Uruzgan, they will use the province as a haven and project their insurgency into neighboring provinces'.
Theory-wise, since this again is a piece I have put together for the Spillover Monitor Report Series, what's of interest to me, is the Dutch approach in effect producing negative spill-over effects. We could treat the whole of Afghanistan's territory as one unit of analysis, and then this wouldn't be concerning our topic, but if we more sensibly divide up Afghanistan to a number of units handled very differently by military coalitions led by different countries, it is actually a spillover between different units.
The oil spot may be spreading in fact, but development is not the oil in this awkward poem.

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