In politics, a defector is a person who gives up allegiance to one state in exchange for allegiance to another, in a way which is considered illegitimate by the first state. More broadly, it involves abandoning a person, cause or doctrine to which one is bound by some tie, as of allegiance or duty.
This term is also applied, often pejoratively, to anyone who switches loyalty to another religion, sports team, political party, or other rival faction. In that sense, the defector is often considered a traitor by their original side.
The physical act of defection is usually in a manner which violates the laws of the nation or political entity from which the person is seeking to depart. By contrast, mere changes in citizenship, or working with allied militia, usually do not violate any law.
For example, in the 1950s, East Germans were increasingly prohibited from traveling to the western Federal Republic of Germany where they were automatically regarded as citizens according to Exclusive mandate. The Berlin Wall and fortifications along the Inner German border were erected by the Communist East German Democratic Republic in 1961 to enforce the policy. When people tried to "defect" from the GDR they were to be shot on sight. Several hundred people were killed along the border in their Republikflucht attempt. Official crossings did exist, but permissions to leave temporarily or permanently were seldom granted. On the other hand, the GDR citizenship of some "inconvenient" East Germans was revoked, and they had to leave their home on short notice against their will. Others, like singer Wolf Biermann, were prohibited from returning to the GDR.
During the Cold War, the many people illegally emigrating from the Soviet Union or Eastern Bloc to the West were called defectors. Westerners defected to the Eastern Bloc as well, often to avoid prosecution as spies. Some of the more famous cases were British spy Kim Philby, who defected to Russia to avoid exposure as a KGB mole, and 22 Allied POWs (one Briton and twenty-one Americans) who declined repatriation after the Korean War, electing to remain in China.
When the individual leaves his country and provides information to a foreign intelligence service, they are a HUMINT source defector. In some cases, defectors remain in the country or with the political entity they were against, functioning as a defector in place. Intelligence services are always concerned when debriefing defectors with the possibility of a fake defection.
- Mikhail Baryshnikov, dancer, defected to Canada in 1974, while in Toronto, touring with the Kirov Ballet. He later moved to the United States.
- Walter Polovchak, minor, defected to the United States in 1980 at 12. He and his parents moved to the United States from Soviet Ukraine in 1980 but later that year his parents decided to move back to Ukraine. He did not wish to return with them and was the subject of a five-year struggle to stay permanently. He won the right to permanent sanctuary in 1985 upon turning 18.
- Grigory Semyonov, the leader of the White movement in Transbaikal, defected to Manchuria in China and then participated at the Bureau of Russian emigrants in the Manchurian Empire which was supervised by Imperial Japanese Army.
- Genrikh Lyushkov, the NKVD chief in the Russian Far East, defected to Manchukuo in 1938 under Great Purge and then cooperated with Imperial Japanese Army.
- No Kum-Sok (later Kenneth Rowe) is known for having been a lieutenant in the North Korean Air Force during the Korean War who defected to South Korea. On September 21, 1953, he flew his MiG-15 to the Kimpo Air Base in South Korea, claiming that he wanted to get away from the "red deceit" and is often associated with Operation Moolah.
- Heng Samrin, a top-brass military figure in Democratic Kampuchea defected to Vietnam during the Khmer Rouge purges of the Eastern Zone after considering the fate of So Phim, his superior in command.
- Riad al-Asaad, founder of the Free Syrian Army and the entire Tlass Family during the Syrian civil war
- Viktor Belenko, a Soviet Air Force lieutenant who sought political asylum in the United States in 1976.
- Benedict Arnold‚ a colonial general who during the American Revolutionary War defected to the British Army.
- Orlando Hernandez, a baseball pitcher, defected from Cuba on December 1997 to the United States.
- Igor Gouzenko, a Soviet cipher clerk who defected to Canada and released information regarding Soviet espionage activities in western society. Credited as one of the triggering factors for the beginning of the Cold War.
- Larry Allen Abshier, the first of six American soldiers to defect to North Korea between the years 1962-1982. He died in 1983 from a heart attack while residing in Pyongyang.
- Rudolf Nureyev, world renowned dancer, defected to France in 1961, while in Paris, touring with the Kirov Ballet.
- Sociological definitions of apostasy
- List of baseball players who defected from Cuba
- List of American and British defectors in the Korean War
- List of Cold War pilot defections
- List of Soviet and Eastern Bloc defectors
- North Korean defectors
- Eastern Bloc emigration and defection
- Martin and Mitchell defection
- Renegade (disambiguation)
- Free Syrian Army
- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/defection "de·fec·tion [dih-fek-shuhn] noun (1.) desertion from allegiance, loyalty, duty, or the like; apostasy: His defection to East Germany was regarded as treasonable. (2.) failure; lack; loss: He was overcome by a sudden defection of courage." Retrieved 22MARCH2011.
- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/defector "de·fec·tor [dih-fek-ter] –noun a person who defects from a cause, country, alliance, etc. Origin: 1655–65; < Latin dēfector renegade, rebel, equivalent to dēfec- (variant stem of dēficere to become disaffected, revolt, literally, to fail; see defect) + -tor -tor" Retrieved 22MARCH2011.
- http://www.thefreedictionary.com/defector "de·fect (dfkt, d-fkt) n. (1.) The lack of something necessary or desirable for completion or perfection; a deficiency: a visual defect. (2.) An imperfection that causes inadequacy or failure; a shortcoming. See Synonyms at blemish. intr.v. (d-fkt) de·fect·ed, de·fect·ing, de·fects (1.) To disown allegiance to one's country and take up residence in another: a Soviet citizen who defected to Israel. (2.) To abandon a position or association, often to join an opposing group: defected from the party over the issue of free trade. [Middle English, from Latin dfectus, failure, want, from past participle of dficere, to desert, be wanting : d-, de- + facere, to do; see dh- in Indo-European roots.]" Retrieved 22MARCH2011.
- "defector 1660s, agent noun in Latin form from defect, or else from L. defector "revolter," agent noun from deficere (see deficient)." Retrieved 22MARCH2011.
- "Factsheets: Story of the MiG-15." National Museum of the United States Air Force.
- Professor Ben Kiernan (2008). The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia Under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79. ISBN 978-0-300-14434-5.
- Bridcut, John. "The KGB's long war against Rudolf Nureyev". Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-03-03.