Holger Albrecht, “Going on the Run: What Drives Military Desertion in Civil War?” Journal Article

Holger Albrecht (University of Alabama), Kevin Koehler

Security Studies Vol. 27, No. 2 (2018), pp. 179-203


Under which circumstances do soldiers and officers desert in a violent domestic conflict? This article studies individual military insubordination in the Syrian civil war, drawing on interviews with deserters from the Syrian army now based in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. A plausibility probe of existing explanations reveals that desertion opportunities originating in conflict events and the presence of safe-havens fail to explain individual deserters’ decision making. Accounting for socio-psychological factors—moral grievances and fear—generates more promising results for an inquiry into the conditions under which military personnel desert. While moral concerns with continued military service contribute to accumulating grievances among military members engaged in the civil war, fear—that is, soldiers’ concerns for their own safety—is a more effective triggering cause of desertion. The article presents a theory-generating case study on the causes of military insubordination and disintegration during violent conflict.