Will Peace with the FARC End Violence in Colombia?

"I return to the United Nations today, on the International Day of Peace, to announce with all the strength of my voice and my heart, that the war in Colombia has ended"

Exclaimed President Juan Manuel Santos to the General Assembly in New York this week. A peace accord was signed on August 26, 2016 in Havana, Cuba, between the leaders of Colombia and the FARC, Colombia's foremost opposition group, and faces a referendum on October 2nd. It is a monumental step toward a stable and durable peace after 52 years of civil war has left 220,000 Colombians dead and over 5 million displaced.

For me, who has followed the conflict for nearly fifteen years and spent 18 months in both militia and guerrilla-occupied territories of Colombia, I am cautiously optimistic and abundantly hopeful. However, nearly half of all countries emerging from civil war relapse into violence within five years. This has happened before in Colombia. Will it happen again? In my book, Organized Violence After Civil War, I show when, why and how armed groups remilitarize or demilitarize after signing peace agreements. The key recommendation that surfaces from my research is that policymakers cannot treat all factions of the FARC the same; rather, they need to consider the geographies of their recruitment: whether they recruited where they operated militarily or instead drew their fighters from outside where they deployed. This unlocks the puzzles of which factions are likely to remain cohesive and which will dissolve; where power vacuums are likely to emerge; which regions are ripe for state-building; and where groups will return to arms. If policymakers pay attention to this important ingredient of the peace process, they will fulfill the hope that "this is the last day of war."

Excerpt from Organized Violence After Civil War:

What happens to powerful non-state armies after they sign peace accords, disarm, and demobilize? Why do some former belligerents reactivate their organizational structures and return to perpetrating violence, whereas others transition away from violence and enable peace to consolidate? These are the questions that motivate my book....

Roughly half of the warring factions remilitarized over the next five years: they reenlisted their fighters and revived their command-and-control apparatuses to carry out coercion in the form of massacres, displacement, extortion, and widespread abuses of the civilian population. In other words, they returned to being armed groups and shattered the emerging peace in their regions. Armed with assault weaponry and dressed in camouflage, their members confronted other illegal non-state armies and state security forces and engaged in sophisticated criminality.

The other half of the militia structures, however, demilitarized. While in the short run, they retained the ability to coerce and to remilitarize, equipped with "silenced guns," they did not revert to using violence. In the five years following the signing of accords - the postwar period with which this book is concerned - many of these groups reinvented themselves as sociopolitical entities or nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with significant leverage over civilian affairs. They sought political office, exercised social control, administered local justice, regulated economic activities, and behaved as proto-states. In the long term, they fully demilitarized. What explains the variation across these armed groups? Why did some transition back to organized violence while others did not? ...

Across the world, after entering peace agreements, insurgents, rebels, paramilitaries, and militias dissolve, or endure and redeploy, for violence or for peaceful politics. A better understanding of the organizational processes that generate remilitarization or demilitarization can help shape policy to disrupt chronic patterns of violence, render peace settlements sustainable, effectively transition former combatants back into civilian life, and enhance the prospects for advances in human rights, reconciliation, democratic governance, reconstruction, and state-building in territories under the control of non-state armed groups. Peace depends on warring factions not returning to violence; thus the trajectories of these factions matter deeply for the quality of people's lives in post-conflict environments....

I draw on empirical materials from the extraordinary comparative laboratory of contemporary Colombia.

My study employs a complementary mix of qualitative and quantitative approaches. In addition to large-n statistical tests, I employ extensive primary qualitative data collected during a year and a half of fieldwork in Colombia over the period 2006-13. I analyze eleven original surveys of ex-combatants, their families, psychologists, and civilian community members, conducted by myself and others over the course of ten years, to trace the inner workings, network structures, and information asymmetries of the armed groups. Organization-level information on all paramilitary factions and remilitarized units, and georeferenced data on 29,000 violent events between 1964 and 2013, allow me to measure precisely where organized violence recurred. I trace the mechanisms underpinning the warring groups' evolution and their postwar trajectories with in-depth primary accounts derived from more than 300 interviews I conducted with ex-combatants, victims, military personnel, civilians, politicians, and experts on the armed conflict. The scope and detail of the data enable significant empirical rigor, facilitating testing of every step along the causal chain of my geography of recruitment theory of remilitarization....

This book illuminates the power of mapping group members' connections in geographical space. It illustrates how physical proximity and social ties maintain organizational cohesion, information, and power during transitions. It narrates how the geographical distribution of groups, built upon varying recruit bases, helps determine the balance of power and the effectiveness of bargaining in the aftermath of peace accords. It marries an understanding of the dynamics within armed groups with an understanding of the strategic interactions between them. In so doing, it brings together prominent insights from classic and recent works on civil and interstate conflict. It offers a new, empirically validated theory for why some coercive actors silence their guns after agreeing to peace, while others remilitarize and return to organized violence. Although we may not find perfect peace, we do find glimmers of hope amidst the recurring stories of atrocity. I have sought to extract maximum explanatory leverage from these glimmers, hoping that the forces that reduce levels of remilitarization, if magnified, may help generate sustainable demilitarization.

Excerpt from Organized Violence After Civil War: The Geography of Recruitment in Latin America, 2016, © Sarah Zukerman Daly 2016, published by Cambridge University Press, reproduced with permission.