My book review of Sarah Zukerman Daly’s book ‘Organized violence after civil war’ has been published by Politics, Religion & Ideology. DOI:

Organized violence after civil war—the geography of recruitment in Latin America, by Sarah Zukerman Daly, Cambridge, University of Cambridge Press, 315 pp., £ 20.99 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-107-56683-5, (hardback) ISBN 978-1-107-12758-6

In her book, Organized Violence after Civil War, Sarah Zukerman Daly sheds light on the geographical aspects of postwar thinking in a way, previously neglected in the academic literature. During her long-term research, she focused on the five years following the peace accords in Colombia. This in-depth, both quantitative and qualitative research, results in a rich and informative book about the dynamics of remobilizations and demobilizations of armed groups. The central question of the book is not only why some armed groups return to violence after a war while others do not, but also incorporates the influence of where they do, or do not return to violence. As nearly half of all countries emerging from civil conflict return to war within a few years, Daly’s research adds incredible value to discussions about war to peace transitions. The author argues that the variations within these geographies are the causes for some armed groups to dissolve, and others to endure. Although individual paths are also important in this context, they cannot be understood without taking into account the networks and organizational outcomes. Daly suggests that social networks are among the most important determinants of whether individual ex-combatants successfully reintegrate into civilian life or instead return to violence.

The first chapter of the book A Farewell to Arms? provides a short introduction on the Colombian conflict, yet mainly focuses on the outlined research design. Moreover, the main argument of the book is introduced ‘the effects of a single distinct factor—the geography of the armed organization’s recruitment […] determine whether the organization goes back to or turns away from the use of collective violence’ (p. 3).

In chapter two Theory of the Postwar Trajectories of Armed Organizations, the author further elaborates on the argument by incorporating the theoretical outline used for the study. This for the most part theoretical chapter focuses on the hypotheses suggested and outlines the geography of recruitment theory of remilitarization, which is central in the book. The theory is divided into two significant steps. The first step focuses on the effects of geographic patterns of recruitment of postwar organizational capacity. The second step highlights the effects of regional configurations of armed groups on remilitarization. By focusing on how armed groups evolve after the conflict, how they demobilize and remobilize Daly takes existing scholarship a step further, beyond many limitations she encounters in current literature.

Violence and Peace in Colombia presents a vivid image of the history of violence in the country and describes the emergence and growth of both paramilitary organizations and left-wing guerrilla groups. In this section, Daly explores the emergence of these groups, chronologically building up to the peace negotiations and finally dissolve of some armed groups. Particularly for the paramilitary groups, the peace negotiations ended up being a disappointment. Many commanders were shocked to learn about the unanticipated twists and turns of the peace process, which left them defeated. Eventually, the final peace accords disarmed and demobilized the organizations while ex-combatants were reintegrated into civil life, completely ignoring previous organizational structures.

The fourth and fifth chapter Geography of Recruitment and Postwar Organization Capacity and Strategic Interactions between Armed Groups and Remilitarization elaborate on the historical outline by presenting the analyses of mainly quantitative data. Chapter four explores the first step of Daly’s theory: the geography of recruitment and its effect on organizational capacity and mainly focuses on the inner workings of armed groups. By looking at both local and non-local groups and the inner workings of these networks, Daly supports her theory that they varied in their networks. This hence translated into their power and cohesion being either preserved or eroded in the aftermath of peace accords.

In chapter six: The Path to Demilitarization: Configurations of Local Militias in Antioquia and seven: Remilitarization, Strong and Weak: Local and Non-local Militias in Catatumbo and Urabá/Córdoba, Daly describes three case studies, bringing to life her so far rather theoretical argument. Although chapter four and five provide sufficient quantitative data ‘providing evidence on all of the paramilitary organizations and all of the regions in Colombia to quantitatively substantiate the geography of recruitment theory of remilitarization,’ Daly states that a narrative account of individual experiences is necessary to confirm the workings of these processes. While chapter six concentrates on a group that demilitarized after the war, the Bloque Cacique Nutibara (BCN), chapter seven explores two groups that remilitarized: Bloque Catatumbo and Bloque Elmer Cárdenas. The latter strongly and the first weakly.

The creation of BCN was a result of the four wars in Antioquia in the 1980s and 1990s as most of its fighters were veterans of these wars and the group was entirely built upon the well-developed industry of violence. BCN was almost entirely made up of fighters who very recruited locally in their neighborhoods in Medellín, the location where they also fought. After the peace accords, former combatants were reeducated and reintegrated into society, back to the exact same places which previously accounted as their battle zones. Most of the structures remained in place, however as Daly calls it ‘with silenced guns.’ Although the organization had demilitarized, it remained in a state of which it could easily remobilize. Their power now was described as ‘more subtle; there are no hooded patrols armed with assault weaponry. It is an invisible control, with threats and camouflaged guns … and an iron fist’ (p. 157). Hence, violence persisted yet on a reduced scale.

In contrast to BCN, combatants of the Bloque Catatumbo were mainly recruited nonlocally. After the Bloque Catatumbo demobilized in 2004, most of the former combatants and top commanders left the region. This created disorder and uncertainties ‘the groups have lost their orientation and are in chaos. They are like marbles bumping around’ (p. 183). As a response to these events, the Catatumbo rump squads remilitarized defensively, yet burned out in 2006 due to the weak man, and material power. Some groups of the Bloque Elmer Cárdenas remilitarized strongly. One of these groups were the Urabeños. As of 2015, ‘the Urabeños remained among the most powerful illegal non-state armies in Colombia’ (p. 215). Both chapters emphasize the lived realities and indicate that the real world proves much more complex than variables can describe, as their explanatory power is weak, hence underlining the strength of the book.

In the final chapter Beyond Colombia: Transitions from War to Peace in Comparative Perspective, Daly critically engages with her own work by outlining how her theory can, and cannot, be used on a global scale. While many scholars studying recruitment and postwar trajectories focus on why combatants participate, Daly argues that only a few studies, without quantitative knowledge, have asked where they rejoin. Although global data collection on postwar trajectories is missing and challenging to acquire, ideally Daly would like to use this model for other civil conflicts too. However, unfortunately, in practicality, it seems impossible to gain such fine-grained data of this scope due to time, and resource limitations.

Nevertheless, she argues that there are possibilities for exploring the generalizability of her theory. Firstly, Daly illustrates this statement by exploring its applicability for La Violencia— Colombia’s mid-twentieth-century civil war. However, Daly ambitiously suggests that the recruitment theory can also shed light on postwar trajectories across borders. One example is the case of Nicaragua, specifically the Anti-Sandinistas Popular Militia (MILPAS). This was an armed organization, which strongly relied on a particular local populace. The group was highly local, as more than 80% were highland peasants. After the peace agreements, members of the MILPAS faction returned to their places of origin and remained geographically proximate after demobilizing. The former fighters remained strongly networked and intact. In the same fashion, Daly works through cases in Guatemala, Peru, Uganda, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, and Angola supporting her argument and pointing at further research opportunities.

In conclusion, although I find the book’s main argument repetitive at times, Daly has been able to shed new light on how peace to war transitions are studied. Through her work, she has added new dynamics of geographies to the discussions on why some groups return to war, while others do not. Hence, her book has incredible value both for policymakers and scholars in the field of war to peace transitions. Her structured combination of both quantitative and qualitative data gives the book the needed strength to support future policies and further research. Although Daly admits that demilitarization is not necessarily the perfect outcome ‘as the muted guns could easily be loaded and fired again’ (p. 170), having the possibility to predict how armed groups can be influenced to demobilize, is both promising and highly relevant in the current political context, nationally and internationally.