Security, Peace & Conflict Workshop: Jason Lyall (Dartmouth College)
Title: Fratricidal Coercion and Battlefield Performance in Modern War (co-authored with Yuri Zhukov)
Summary: Existing theories of combat motivation and military effectiveness largely dismiss the utility of coercing one's own soldiers to fight. Yet nearly 20 percent of all belligerents in modern wars fought since 1800 have employed specialized units (``blocking detachments'') authorized to kill faltering or retreating soldiers. What remains unclear is whether fratricidal coercion improves or undercuts battlefield performance. We examine this question by drawing on the personnel records of millions of Red Army soldiers in World War II. We estimate how the presence of NKVD Special Sections embedded within Soviet army divisions affected casualties and several elements of cohesion, including desertion, defection, surrender, and disappearance.
We find that several indicators of soldier discipline improved as the number of NKVD officers assigned to each unit increased. Fatalities, however, worsened, suggesting that armies purchase discipline at the cost of higher casualties. We then process trace the relationship between fratricidal coercion and soldier behavior by comparing matched pairs of Rifle Divisions drawn from the larger sample that fought in battles at Leningrad (1941) and Stalingrad (1942).