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

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Country roads and common sense

I'll just note down a couple of points in a somewhat random order about the "roads bring security" argument for fun. Joshua Foust has paid more attention to this issue lately, discussing it rather well, so I don't need to go over this. Follow this link and at the end of that post you'll find links to the previous ones on this issue by Josh.
  • Quote from the echo machines: "Roads work as a magnet of economic development." Well, if I am Capital and I meet the attraction of Road, I don't want IED or Kidnapping or even Potshots to get in my way. That might spoil the attraction. In other words, Road alone is not enough. As Capital, I want Security as well... But by the way, who's talking here of Capital really? It's not really investment that's going to these areas. For now the best possibility is that the local PRT will carry out projects there. The military will spend CERP money and carry out CIMIC projects, while government agencies may actually do something about real capacity-building and development. This shouldn't be mistaken with "investment" - it's as important not to confuse the two as it is important not to confuse NGO revenue-generating projects with sustainable livelihood.
  • Echo machines: "The number of IEDs decreases where paved roads are built." First show the data that there are less IEDs along paved than along unpaved roads. If you show such association, then do show that there's no association with a decreased frequency of security incidents in general in the given area. You have to do that because you have to filter out alternative causation: be able to rule out, what's otherwise quite likely actually, that roads ended up built in environments that were already more secure, and that it's general COIN work that decreased the number of IEDs seen in reality.
  • Imagine that a road is built in an area that a battlegroup isn't holding onto. What, you just built a road the insurgents will use more often than you? You're crazy! The insurgents will be able to project their influence better among the villages than before!
  • Previous point somewhat reconsidered. More moderate effect there. Roads, I read this argument from a commenter somewhere (and I can't find it, though I'd like to reference it), canalise traffic. More traffic will pass along a given physical path. More traffic because a road may attract traffic - journeys along the road that haven't taken place before because of the lack of good conditions effecting calculations about the given journey (with "alternative route" or "no journey at all" options preferrable then). And also more traffic because the physical path becomes fixed. When I first raised this argument, Josh himself rejected it pointing to eastern Afghanistan's roads along "killbox" valley floors where you have to drive a vehicle along a very fixed path anyway. That's fair enough. There I was wrong to generalise from what I was thinking of. And what I was thinking of was southern Afghanistan with its in some places flatter, dusty landscape (the Registan desert itself for example!). There vehicles can travel on criss-cross paths in the place of which a paved road will actually make traffic converge onto a more stable path. Now that's vulnerability for that traffic if insurgents plant IEDs along the road - they'll more likely hit something. But the insurgents will also run into trouble more often (like, into Reaper UAVs firing off missiles at them), if they ride their motorbikes and pick-up trucks more along a fixed path, instead of hitting harder, remote ground.
  • A final point. The whole debate is a little superficial. Let's imagine that roads actually don't lead to security. Is that a reason against building roads? Hardly. The only way this could be reconsidered is if it could be shown somehow that roads destroy security. But for that you have to build a lot of roads deliberately in areas you're not holding onto. For the Taliban.
Just in: Ghost of Alexander says, "Destroy all Afghan roads!"

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