Some conflicts may not end: the stability of protracted violence in Colombia



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This dissertation explains why intrastate conflicts may persist beyond the point where agreements are expected. I argue that the prolongation of certain conflicts may be tied to the character of the groups involved in them, and ultimately to the source of their finances. All groups seek primarily to preserve themselves and to fulfill the aspirations of their members. In intrastate conflicts, groups exhibit one of two characters depending on their orientations: calculative or emotional. Calculative groups are primarily profit-oriented; emotional groups are driven primarily by the desire to demand redress of the grievances of the community to which they belong. Calculative groups may hinder the pursuit of any feasible agreement. There may be no agreements that would allow such groups to preserve themselves, and their members to continue to receive tangible benefits. Fighting remains necessary for groups to maintain control over what I call “profitable” and “strategic” territories, which are used for the extraction and commercialization of resources that have a high value in the international market (primarily because of their illegal nature). However, in the absence of viable formal agreements, informal and local agreements are sought, instead. These aim at minimizing the costs associated with fighting (between opponents), while increasing the violence against challenging members of the organization, and against civilians as a proxy, as a way to neutralize possible opposition, as a form of coercion, and as a means to financial gains. The corollary to the argument is that, if the costs of fighting are low and the benefits remain high for all the groups involved in the fighting, an “institutionalized” systemic incentive to preserve the status quo arises. Because every group and its members are at least content with the status quo, there are no strong incentives to reach any formal compromise. In sum, the solution to the puzzle of conflict duration is quite counterintuitive; certain conflicts, though prolonged, may not be costly for those that are involved in them. Contrary to common sense, violence and fighting in these cases are the norm rather than the aberration. I test this argument in the Colombian environment.