Accelerated rural development : A counter-insurgency program in Northeast Thailand
Block, Edward L. (Edward Leigh)
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The government of Thailand has long neglected its economically depressed Northeastern population, but such is no longer possible given the recent rise in propaganda activity and incidents of subversion and terrorism — which are largely attributed to the Communists. In 1965, as one means of meeting this insurgency threat, the Accelerated Rural Development Program (ARD) was instituted by the Thai government with substantial aid and advice from the United States. The primary objective of this type of program is to build a sound socio-economic foundation for the rural population of the Northeast in order to develop environmental conditions conducive to the countering of the insurgency and the maintenance of security. Although the concept of rural development is not new, its use as a political weapon in preventing the spread of insurgency and promoting domestic tranquility brings into the picture formidable complexities involving some untested assumptions. The validity of this approach can, at least in part, be evaluated through drawing upon pertinent anthropological and other social science research about Northeast Thailand as well as available information on rural development programs currently being implemented there. While general problems of rural development are examined, this thesis Is essentially a case study of accelerated rural development as an applied counter-insurgency weapon 1n Northeast Thailand. The focus 1s on clarifying assumptions and identifying problems and prospects, rather than offering solutions. However the study also seeks to demonstrate that development related variables such as rising expectations, when linked to the unique problems of security, both create the problems and contribute to possible answers as well. The major conclusion of the study is that economic and social development programs which are utilized principally as a vehicle for assuring the generation of popular attitudes and behavior favorable to security are not necessarily the most effective means for satisfying a dissident or potentially dissident peasantry. This conclusion was reached after examining such features of ARD as the lack of response to felt village needs, a tendency to place priorities only on those development projects of a direct security related value, and a lack of consideration for the villagers on the part of government representatives. It was also found that the ARD program may lead to an increase in village expectations, and this raises serious questions about the flexibility and capability of the Thai government to weave changing rural demands and attitudes into the national fabric. Nevertheless the Impact of the ARD program, in the long run, could prove favorable. The ARD roads, by reducing the Northeastern villagers' isolation from urban centers, could conceivably bring them closer to the social, cultural, economic, and political norms which apply for most of the rest of Thailand. In this manner, the goal of improving rural living standards and hence increasing peasant support for the national government may be achieved.