To win hearts and minds, focus on small projects, study finds

October 4, 2011

U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have focused less on killing insurgents and more on gaining the cooperation of the local population. But does this population-centered approach to counterinsurgency actually work?

A study published today (October 4, 2011) in the finds evidence that it does.

The study, by Eli Berman (University of California, San Diego) and Jacob Shapiro (Princeton) and Col. Joseph Felter (Stanford), focused on the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Iraq. CERP empowers junior officers to spend reconstruction dollars on small, local projects like digging wells or paving rural roads.

The theory driving CERP is that when government provides basic services, the population will turn towards the government and away from insurgents. With less popular support, insurgents will find it harder to operate, as they are vulnerable if the local population chooses to report on their activities. While this theory is a cornerstone of the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy currently practiced in Afghanistan, there has been no systematic showing that aid by foreign forces actually helps quell violence.

To test the theory, Berman and his colleagues analyzed the effect of nearly $3 billion in CERP spending in Iraq. Using geospatial data, they looked at whether changes in CERP spending in a given area were correlated with changes in rates of violence over a six-month period.

"We found that CERP projects, especially the smaller ones, are effective in reducing violent attacks on Coalition forces," Berman said. "The research provides strong evidence in favor of the population-centric approach to counterinsurgency currently practiced by the U.S. military, which necessarily involves economic and political development."

Despite the success of CERP, however, the program represents only a fraction of reconstruction spending in Iraq. Berman and his colleagues also tracked additional $26 billion in spending that focused on larger, less community-oriented projects. The researchers did not find evidence that those larger projects reduced violence locally. Berman surmises that this is because such projects were administered by authorities that had less direct contact with the population, and thus less understanding of the needs of each community.

"Our research suggests that development money best reduces violence when projects are small and selected by consulting community members," Berman said. "Communities respond when you think small and local."

Explore further: High rates of unemployment does not decrease insurgent attacks against government, allied forces

More information: Eli Berman, Jacob N. Shapiro, and Joseph H. Felter, "Can Hearts and Minds Be Bought? The Economics of Counterinsurgency in Iraq." Journal of Political Economy 119:4.

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not rated yet Oct 04, 2011
"U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan". Really? You invade a country, you kill people, you destroy its infrastructure and you are somehow surprised to see instability. Causality, that powerful scientific principle, says "if you like stability, don't invade ". Invasion is the cause and instability is the effect.
not rated yet Oct 04, 2011
To win hearts and minds, focus on small projects, study finds
It's politics of mediocrity and conformity, despite of I'm sure, it definitely works at limited scope. But here are not only small problems, but general questions too, which cannot be solved with patient solution of subtle problems. Sometimes such approach even works in counterproductive way and it deepens the problems instead of solving them. In general, the more general question you solve, the more weak and remote feedback you can get.
not rated yet Oct 04, 2011
"U.S. efforts to bring stability to Iraq and Afghanistan"
The politics of neocolonialism cannot work, if you have nothing to conquest anymore. U.S. should focus to cold fusion research instead. The replacement of oil with something else would solve many "problems" of the contemporary world automatically.
1 / 5 (1) Oct 12, 2011
epsi00 is right. Yeah. We should not have invaded Europe in 1944. We should not have brought down the Communists in Russia.
The assumption is that instability is bad. It is normal. It persists only when there are not two competing forces. Where there is only one such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pot Pol, Castro, Chavez, Kaddafi, Mussolini, Khomeini, Tito, etc. then there is no opposition because they have killed it off or imprisoned it to create slaves. Naturally, there will be instability until competing forces gain ascendancy. Like Europe in 1945 and 46, Communism was on the rise because of hardships. Truman and Marshall brought Europe time to stabilize the situation. Democracy now flourishes. The same could have been done in Asia and Africa with good leadership.
Another cause of instability is variation tampering. When you treat a common cause of process variation as if it were a random special cause then you will get instability. Deming proved that. Wishful thinking policies must be

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