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The George Washington University

Bucerius Dissertation Completion Scholarship

The Soldier’s Dilemma: Military Compliance with Orders to Suppress Domestic Unrest


Why do some soldiers follow regime orders to repress mass demonstrations, and yet others defect? The answer depends on soldiers’ interests and constraints, which influence their decision to defect and, ultimately, the prospects that unrest devolves into civil war. A key variable conditioning which interests and constraints are operative is rank—a soldier’s position in the military hierarchy. This dissertation offers clear expectations for the conditions under which high-level commanders and lowerlevel subordinates defect, and marshals fine-grained data to explain defection patterns in Jordan (1970), Iraq (1991), and Syria (2011). The results enable international policymakers to understand the mechanics of regime change, which has implications for conflict intervention, foreign basing, and allied military training. 

Dorothy Ohl is a Ph.D. Candidate at The George Washington University and her dissertation research has been supported by the Boren Fellowship, Project on Middle East Political Science, and GWU Institute for Middle East Studies. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dorothy worked in Washington, D.C. on issues of democratic and economic reform in the Middle East, where she lived for more than two years. Dorothy has studied Arabic at the American University in Cairo and the Qasid Institute in Jordan, and she completed research on a Fulbright Fellowship to Oman after graduating with a BA from Boston College in 2009.

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