Archive | October, 2013

ICYMI: The Dissident’s Toolkit

30 Oct

[UPDATE: A reader noted that the Sun Tzu quote at the end of the article may be apocryphal, citing a claim made on WikiQuotes. I did look through my translation of The Art of War looking for the quote and did not find it, although it may appear in other versions. If this is true, my apologies for the error.]


In case you missed it, I had a short piece in Foreign Policy last week about the importance of tactical choice in understanding why some nonviolent campaigns succeed while others fail. Here’s the gist:

Of course, demonstrations — and people power movements in general — tend to fail as often as they succeed. But when we look at outright failures — such as Tiananmen Square, the 1956 Hungarian uprising, or the 2007 Saffron Revolution in Burma — a few patterns become evident. The failed campaigns never spread to include vast proportions of the population, and failed to shift between highly risky tactics and safer ones. But they also failed to establish a long-term strategy to make the campaigns sustainable, which was especially important given the brutality of state repression. The average duration of a nonviolent campaign was between two-and-a-half and three years, but few of these campaigns had a long-term strategy, besides the wishful hope that tactical victories might make the regime comply with their demands.

Campaigns of civil resistance are underway in many countries around the world, from Bahrain to Maldives, from Turkey to Bulgaria. In all of these cases, movement planners must carefully analyze the political effects that tactics like demonstrations have. If these tactics fail to increase sympathy for the campaign at home or abroad, diversify the base of participants, and encourage defections among regime elites, then they are not helping the movement’s chances of succeeding. But rather than abandoning the struggle because demonstrations stop working, movement leaders would do well to appreciate the many other nonviolent methods of protest and noncooperation they can bring to bear against their opponents. The campaigns that ultimately succeed will be the ones that fully embrace Sun Tzu’s warning that “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

They also put up a nice slideshow of kitchenware in people power movements.

The full article is here.

Dispatch from Warsaw & the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates

29 Oct

Last week, I was in Warsaw attending the World Summit of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates. A number of Nobel Laureates were in attendance, and Sharon Stone got an award for her humanitarian efforts and peace activism.

I gave a talk at a workshop organized by Jacek Kurczewski, a professor at the University of Warsaw, on Nonviolence, Reconciliation, and Peacebuilding. Here were a few of my key takeaways from the whole event (academic insights first, of course).

  • James Gibson made a compelling argument that the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission is essentially a success. Based on more than 3,000 interviews and surveys among black, white, and South Africans of Indian origin, he says that the TRC has created more mutual trust that has allowed people to reconcile with the past. Although he argues that it’s hard to expect that these successes can be transferred to other cases because of the peculiarities of the South African case, this was a refreshingly optimistic take on the reconciliation process in a country where we’ve seen a lot of cynicism lately.
  • Jennifer Lewellyn argues that we ought to look at peacekeeping and peacebuilding as an inherently relational exercise.
  • Severine Autesserre argues that local peacebuilding is far superior to top-down approaches to peacebuilding, and that such efforts ought to get more resources and support than more traditional missions.
  • John Braithwaite argues that peacebuilding, peacekeeping, and postwar transition works better when civil society is engaged and creates networks or nodes of power that can effectively “check” concentrations of power within more formal and traditional institutions.
  • Sonja Lokar argues that when women’s civil society groups are actively engaged in peace processes and settlements and continue to remain engaged in advocacy efforts regarding women’s equity issues, they are much more likely to gain higher representation in formal political institutions (including parliament). If they don’t they will be left behind entirely. And she argues that women’s representation in government will ultimately lead the country to be less likely to relapse into civil war—a claim that has some empirical support elsewhere.
  • Among the most impressive of the Nobel Laureates was Shan Cretin, the Secretary General of the American Friends Service Committee, who called out the Summit organizers for failing to involve more people from typically underrepresented groups as well as the Global South.
  • The presentation that made the most lasting impact on me was Ira Helfand’s presentation on the continued threat of nuclear war (or a nuclear accident). Dr. Helfand is was representing the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization. Their recent study found that even a very small-scale nuclear war (involving less than .5% of the world’s nuclear arsenal) between India and Pakistan would have catastrophic environmental effects that would ultimately wipe out about 1 billion people around the world—or 1/6 of the human race). Such a war could be exceedingly small and even accidental but would destroy civilization as we know it. Yikes.
  • Lech Walesa wants all politicians to have microchips so that the public can monitor their every move. (For real).
  • F.W. de Klerk is a self-proclaimed optimist and thinks that today’s troubles in South Africa are temporary.
  • None of the Laureates was willing to criticize the Nobel committee’s decision to award the Peace Prize to Barack Obama in 2009—despite moderator Ghida Fakhry’s repeated attempts to get them to do so.

Friday Quote

25 Oct

Nonviolence is a wager–not so much in the goodness of humanity–as on its infinite complexity.

Credited to Robert Inchausti, an English professor at Cal Poly.

It’s Been Awhile

17 Oct

My activity on this blog has been a bit scarce for the past…well…eleven months. A lot has gone on, and other commitments took me away from regularly posting here. Here is a little bit about what I’ve been up to; some of it may be of interest to readers of this blog.

I moved to a new institution and hired 25 research assistants.

I taught two new graduate courses (one of which is called Advanced Seminar in Civil Resistance and is personally one of my favorites to teach).

I got promoted with tenure (yay!).

I co-edited a special issue on nonviolent resistance in the Journal of Peace Research (this special issue will definitely interest readers here).

I released the NAVCO 2.0 dataset.

I published some op-eds relevant to nonviolent conflict in Foreign Affairs, CNN, The New York Times, and elsewhere.

Barb Walter and I started a blog called Political Violence @ a Glance, which since won an award for Most Promising New Blog.

The Washington Post bought The Monkey Cage, another blog to which I contribute.

I edited a book on political violence, due out in a couple of months.

I presented papers at about six conferences and workshops, served as a guest lecturer at about a dozen universities and institutes, and gave research talks about about a dozen more.

And then I did a bunch of other publishing and research on a host of other stuff that’s not related to civil resistance.

So, yeah. A lot has happened. But I am hoping to be a bit more active on this blog, in large part because it’s the only place I know where I can blather on unhindered about strategic nonviolent action.

So put on your seatbelts! Rational Insurgent is back on the beam.