Combatant Socialization and Norms of Restraint: Examining Officer Training at the U.S. Military Academy and Army ROTC

Journal of Peace Research (2021).

51 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2021 Last revised: 23 Sep 2021

See all articles by Andrew M. Bell

Andrew M. Bell

Indiana University- Bloomington; University College London

Date Written: January 18, 2021


Can armed groups socialize combatants to norms of restraint — in essence, train soldiers to adopt norms of civilian immunity on the battlefield? How can social scientists accurately measure such socialization? Despite being the central focus of organizational and ideational theories of conflict, studies to date have not engaged in systematic, survey-based examination of this central socialization mechanism theorized to influence military conduct.

This study advances scholarly understanding by providing one of the first comparative, survey-based examinations of combatant socialization to norms of restraint, using surveys and interviews with U.S. Army cadets at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA), Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), and active duty Army combatants. Additionally, to better understand “restraint” from combatants’ perspective, this study introduces the concept of the “combatant’s trilemma” under which combatants conceptualize the civilian protection as part of a costly trade-off with the values of military advantage and force protection.

Survey results hold both positive and negative implications: socialization to norms of restraint can shift combatants’ preferences for battlefield conduct. However, intensive norm socialization may be required shift combatant preferences from force protection to civilian protection norms. Study findings hold significant implications for the study of conflict and for policies to disseminate civilian protection norms in armed groups worldwide.

Keywords: Norms, Political Violence, Civilian Victimization, Military, US Military, Law, International Humanitarian Law, Ethics

Suggested Citation

Bell, Andrew M., Combatant Socialization and Norms of Restraint: Examining Officer Training at the U.S. Military Academy and Army ROTC (January 18, 2021). Journal of Peace Research (2021)., Available at SSRN: or

Andrew M. Bell (Contact Author)

Indiana University- Bloomington ( email )

Bloomington, IN
United States
9192369583 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://

University College London ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

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