Troop retention in civil wars: Desertion, denunciation, and military organization in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Release date: 2018-01

This article investigates the link between the organizational structure of nonstate armed groups and the ability of low-level combatants to desert without recapture. Throughout, I show that nonstate armed groups can adopt organizational structures that mimic those found in national armies and that are designed both to detect wannabe deserters and to facilitate the denunciation and recapture of those who manage to escape. The odds of a successful desertion are increased when territorial safe havens beyond the reach of these organizational structures are available. Three types of territorial safe haven are identified: (1) territory composed of rough terrain and/or free of nonstate armed groups and their informants; (2) United Nations (UN) bases and cantonment sites; and (3) other state and nonstate armed groups willing to accept deserters. These arguments are inductively developed from interviews with more than one hundred former members of nonstate armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).