Risk Distance: The Loss of Strength Gradient and Colombia's Geography of Impunity
University of Kansas
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The dissertation proposes a theoretical category of distance, risk distance, as a prompt for understanding outcomes in internal armed struggles. Geographers are familiar with cost distance -- conceiving distance according to the time or material resources needed to move people and things. Risk distance is closer conceptually to what strategists might recognize as the distance to the `culminating point', which is a theoretical point in space and time beyond which an armed force would run an imprudent risk to its survival (if it were to continue to pursue, attack, or remain in the same position, etc.). Combat leaders seek to lengthen the distances to their culminating points and shorten those of their opponents. Cost and risk distances are generally related inversely: risk distances can shorten as cost distances increase. In Colombia's internal conflict, a variety of geographic phenomena (rugged upslopes, international borders, urban slums, jungles) share effect on risk distance -- favoring a fugitive entity by disproportionately shortening the risk distances of its pursuers. Risk distance also applies to civilian activity. If the Euclidean distance from a rural community to a hospital maternity ward were 70 kilometers, the cost distance might be six hours and four thousand pesos. The rough ride or danger of attack along the way could lead expecting parents to perceive the risk distance as only thirty kilometers down the road or two hours of travel time. The distance to the feared point of too much risk makes their attempt to go to that hospital untenable. In Colombia, violent armed groups escape to areas beyond their rivals' reach, seeking routes (typically long-established smuggling routes) that help shorten the pursuers' risk distances. These routes and sanctuaries, created within armed rivalry, are often spatially coincident with rural population centers that also appear remote, that is, beyond many quotidian risk distances. This spatial coincidence (of conditions involving certain prosaic and violent rivalry risk distances) contributes to causing some rural communities to fall victim to or collaborate in organized violence; but the differential in rivals' risk distances is by itself more significant to the prolongation or outcome of internal conflict.
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