Why Armies Break: Explaining Mass Desertion in Conventional War

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Publication Year: 
2014
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541KB
Additional Authors: 
Jason Lyall
Citation Information: 
Working Paper, Department of Politics, Yale University
Abstract: 

What explains mass desertion from armies fighting conventional wars? To date, our theories of military effectiveness have largely ignored the question of why soldiers abandon the fight. I argue that wartime desertion is tied to the prewar nature of the collective identity that a regime uses to legitimate its rule: the more exclusionary toward internal populations, the greater the odds a military will "break" on the battlefield. I test this argument using a new dataset of 825 combatants in 250 conventional (civil) wars since 1800. A mixed method framework combines cross-national regression, a two-control group comparison via matching, and the use of matching to select a representative paired comparison for causal process-tracing with primary documents. Taken together, evidence suggests that mass desertion is associated with identity type; little support is found for regime type, material preponderance, or other accounts of mass desertion.