Fight or Flight in Civil War? Evidence from Rebel-Controlled Syria
27 Pages Posted: 12 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 11, 2014
Faced with prospects of a civil war escalating on their doorstep, ordinary people must decide whether to take up arms and join the fight, to stay in place and seek shelter in confines of the conflict zone, or to flee their homes in search of safer locations. Using original survey and experimental data from the ongoing conflict in Syria, we try to understand how people facing conflict make critical life-and-death decisions. Drawing on a range of hypotheses from the existing literature, we find compelling evidence that in-group ties and grievance motivations explain fight vs. flight decision-making at the individual level. Using well-balanced samples of over 300 Free Syrian Army and Islamist fighters, civilian non-combatants, and externally displaced refugees from actively contested regions of Syria, we observe that people with strong in-group bonds and out-group aversions are more likely to stay and fight. In contrast, refugees are far less revenge-seeking and more willing to negotiate for peace. Overall, our research suggests that heterogeneous preferences and motivations within subpopulations of civil war participants can create serious coordination problems with practical implications for conflict duration and outcomes.
Keywords: Syria, Civil War, Rebellion
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation