How can motivational change and divergence inside a rebel group be explained and what does this imply for our understanding of civil wars? In contemporary research, these questions have received limited attention. In many studies, motives are either overlooked, inferred from a single type of motive indicator or assumed to be narrow, static over time and homogenous throughout the organization. But this leaves researchers largely unable to explain phenomena such as large-scale defections, intra-rebel factionalism and principal-agent problems inside insurgencies.
Departing from this criticism, the study analyzes motivational change and divergence inside FARC-EP in 2002-2010, a period of decline during which more than 15 500 guerilla members defected from the guerilla. Four FARC fronts (the 16th, 21st, 47th and 48th) were selected for structured, focused comparison over time, based on the expectation that differing functions of these units should also result in motivational change within and divergence between them. The case-studies build on unique data, including 26 in-depth interviews and 694 survey-responses from these fronts, triangulated against a wide set of primary and secondary sources, including defection statistics.
The study finds significant indications of motivational divergence between the four fronts, but only partially along the dimensions originally expected. Functions such as financing, recruitment and propaganda show limited evidence of influencing motives in the expected direction, whereas the intensive combat experienced by the 47th front is clearly associated with more security-motivated enrollment and forced recruitment. Together, increased counterinsurgency operations, internal paranoia and harsh punishments influenced combatants’ security perception, which was one of the strongest motives for defections from FARC, in spite of risks not having been widely considered at the time of enrollment. Beyond this, the role of mid-level commanders is found to be of fundamental importance for understanding motivational change and divergence. In the 16th front, change in the leadership resulted in unprecedented levels of defection and in the 21st, widespread corruption was justified by alleged leadership graft. Mid-level commanders influence motives through leadership by example, tactical skills and monitoring and enforcement of disciplinary codes. In conclusion, the study shows combatant motives to be susceptible to change and divergence even inside a hierarchically organized and disciplined insurgent group such as FARC.