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Why Rebels Stop Fighting. Organizational Decline and Desertion from Colombia’s Insurgency

Monday February 17, 2020, at 13:30
Room 24.120 (First floor). Mercè Rodoreda 24 building
Research seminar

Enzo Nussio (CSS ETH Zürich)

Paper by Enzo Nussio and Juan E. Ugarriza

Generations of scholars have tried to solve the puzzle of why people join rebel groups. Why rebels stop fighting has received much less attention. To stop members from leaving, insurgent groups build high barriers around their organizations, including ideological socialization, in-group solidarity and harsh sanctions. While previous research on desertion has focused on individual motivations to overcome these barriers, we argue that desertion happens more commonly during times of organizational decline, in line with Hirschman’s influential theory on exit. In the case of insurgent groups, organizational decline can derive from loss of military capacity, civilian support, and financial revenues. To test this argument, we use unique data on all reported cases of desertion from the FARC and other non-state armed groups in Colombia (more than 30.000) ranging from 2002 to 2019, provided by the Ministry of Defense. In line with our argument, we find robust evidence that FARC rebels stop fighting more often when their organization enters in decline. These insights complement a rich literature about individual motivations for desertion from armed groups and show that organizational decline can push doubting rebels over the edge.

Enzo Nussio is a senior researcher at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) working on the causes and consequences of violence. He holds a doctorate in International Affairs and Governance from the University of St.Gallen and a Master of Arts in History from the University of Basel. Prior to his work at the CSS, he spent several years in Colombia, where he worked as a post-​doc for the Universidad de los Andes and as a lecturer for the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá. He conducted further post-​doctoral research at the Institute of Latin American Studies at Stockholm University. He is affiliated with various research organizations, including the Folke Bernadotte Academy and swisspeace.

His academic research is concentrated in three broad research areas, with the overall goal of preventing violence. First, he has extensively studied peace and violence in Colombia, including the reintegration of ex-​combatants, reconciliation, transitional justice, statebuilding, post-​war violence and urban crime. Second, he has analyzed the consequences of terrorist attacks on public opinion and emotion, mainly focusing on Western Europe. Third, he has worked on lynching violence across Latin America, as part of a project funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation. In addition, he is involved in the “Smart Peace” project, a major peacebuilding project funded by the UK Department for International Development and led by Conciliation Resources.