Holger Albrecht (University of Alabama), Kevin Koehler (American University in Cairo), and Dorothy Ohl (George Washington University)
Comparative Politics (Vol. 48, No. 8, pp. 439-457 ; Published July 2016)
Scholarship on intrastate conflict and civil-military relations has largely ignored individual desertions during civil war. We show that high-risk behavior, such as desertion, is best thought of as coordinated action between individual decision-makers and their strong network ties. Soldiers hold preexisting opinions on whether high-risk action is worthwhile, but it is their networks that persuade them to act. Specifically, it is the content of strong network ties (rather than their mere existence) and the ability to interpret information (rather than the presence of information), which helps explain individual action under extreme risk. Our thick empirical narrative is based on substantial fieldwork on the Syrian conflict and contributes to debates on military cohesion, intrastate conflict trajectories, and the power of networks in catalyzing high-risk behavior.