Explaining insurgent recruitment: need, creed, greed… or is it breed?
One of the most heated debates among students of civil over the last decade has been whether insurgencies are moved by ideological or material motives. Extending the public choice research programme to the study of insurgencies, Paul Collier famously argued that insurgencies were nothing more than large scale criminal organisations— and their alleged motives, revolutionary or otherwise, just ex-post rationalisations of their predatory behaviour.
Given their involvement in the drug trade, Colombia’s contemporary armed groups (both insurgents and paramilitaries) seemed to prove Collier’s case. However, Gutierrez (2004) already had challenged this view and a paper just published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution goes in the same direction: Ugarriza (El Rosario) and Craig (NYU) surveyed 637 former Colombian demobilised combatants, of which 49 were FARC guerrillas, 41 per cent AUC paramilitaries and the rest belonged to other insurgencies. They found a consistent pattern where FARC insurgents displayed preference for socialist and Bolivarian ideas (the authors define Bolivarianism as a mixture of ‘Pan-American nationalism, antibourgeois revolution and anti-imperialism’). Perhaps most interesting, the ‘political leaning of family [was] the most powerful predictor of group tendency’. More specifically: the ‘odds of being a guerrilla increase almost eleven-fold when the combatant was raised in a leftist environment’. Ugarriza and Craig thus conclude that ‘arguments that claim the nonexistence of ideological elements in contemporary armed conflicts such as the Colombian one are misleading’.
Summing up, it seems that not only creed, need, or greed may motivate young men to enrol in rebel movements or private militias—breed, the worldview and the attitudes they get from our parents are siblings are just as important.
G Vargas, 27 June 2013