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Understanding civil resistance. Questions I am asked and wrestle with

22 Mar

z15502016QWhile I continue teaching and writing on civil resistance, some prominent scholars, opinion makers and students have lately asked a number of very pertinent questions regarding the practice of and corresponding analytical concepts about civil resistance — no doubt some of the queries were sparked by the recent popular upheaval in Ukraine. Since these questions often resurface in various conversations, I would like to take a shot at some of them, including:


Protest laying down1. How are nonviolent actions and violence defined in civil resistance? When does a nonviolent action stop and violence begin?

Nonviolent action in civil resistance is a politically purposeful act conducted outside the institutionalized politics that can be coercive, but it does not entail physical violence or bodily harm.  As a politically purposeful tool, a nonviolent action aims at 1) delegitimizing an adversary, 2) decreasing adversary’s effective control over the population, 3) weakening the loyalty of its key allies, and 4) increasing the scope and diversity of the participation by a) mobilizing disengaged parts of the society and b) deploying various other action-initiatives that people will be able and willing to join. The above political goals are intrinsically linked to a nonviolent character of resistance actions without which the goals cannot be achieved. Any violence by civil resisters would be bound to undermine — if not in short, then in the mid- and long-term perspectives — political goals of the civil resistance struggle. For example, the goal of the anti-communist opposition in Poland was set around the struggle to win the right to establish free trade unions. By itself, the goal was revolutionary in the tightly controlled “workers” country, but more importantly, the very nature of the goal made the use of violence redundant and even counterproductive. Instead, reaching the goal of legal trade unions that would be independent of the communist party entailed a political (nonviolent) mobilization of workers supported by other segments of the society. They would then choose suitable nonviolent actions — such as occupational strikes inside the factories — that were effective in minimizing the risks of repression (in contrast to open street demonstrations that were crushed in the past) and in increasing the economic and political costs on the regime where idle factories occupied by protesting workers became powerful examples for hundreds of thousands of other workers across industries on how to resist in order to achieve the goal of free trade unions.

Nonviolent action turns into violence when a political tool to delegitimize an adversary — disrupt the business-as-usual and solicit loyalty away from an adversary — shifts to becoming a purely material device used to physically harm the opponent. This would include, for example, throwing stones or Molotov-cocktails during the campaign.

2. If implied threats are used, people harm themselves on purpose or property is destroyed as part of a nonviolent campaign. Is this still nonviolent?

Threats of physical violence (e.g. against collaborators), destruction of property (e.g. cutting communication lines) or self-inflicted harm in order to express a protest are on the borderline of violent and nonviolent tactics. They are usually part of an overall nonviolent campaign that would include hundreds of other clearly nonviolent tactics beyond the ones mentioned above. For example, self-immolation by the Tibetan protesters is a relatively small — though a very dramatic and tragic — element in their self-preservation and self-determination struggle that includes a very rich repertoire of cultural resistance, including family and community-based actions to protect and develop Tibetan culture and language and traditions in defiance of the persistent campaign of Hanisation.

Still, even though the borderline actions are few and far between in an overall nonviolent campaign, it is worth delving more into their nature. One way to assess the character of these actions is to highlight the essence of a civil resistance struggle. The core value of civil resistance is life in and of itself — its preservation and bettering. Political struggle is carried out as long as a human being remains a political agency for action. Death, including by suicide, ends all political engagements. A destruction of property might not entail, in the process, bodily harm, but any benefits stemming from that action might be outweighed by massive reprisals if it is not executed strategically. Blowing up the railways in order to undermine the German war efforts during WWII might have led to considerable collateral damage because Germans held nearby villages — even though they might not have been directly involved in the sabotage —accountable for the actions of the partisans. On the other hand, the concealed sabotage of the German weaponry, which failed to shoot, drive or communicate once it reached the front, by the Danish factory workers was less risky, with lower chances of punishing repression once the weapons were loaded and sent where the German army needed them. Both cases show property destruction, but the first example leads to a loss of civilian life and the second one considerably limits that possibility. Consequently, the latter action can be said to remain within the realm of nonviolent resistance while the former is outside that realm.

547742_571900669547272_354267135_n3. If the activists set the nonviolent battlefield so as to provoke the authorities to use violence, is that still considered nonviolent?

Nonviolent action is often designed — as Martin Luther King Jr. said — to dramatize the already existing injustice. Violence of the adversary against nonviolent action is therefore an extension of the repressive system that is in place. Nonviolent action does not so much provoke but expose to a larger public the violence that the community is being subject to.  A smart nonviolent action is the tool to show the real face of injustice in a dramatic way. This is done to draw massive media attention and, consequently, awaken a large part of the population that over years and decades might have become numbed to or complicit in the existing injustice.

Nonviolent action that exposes violence in a vivid fashion remains in every sense nonviolent as it was before violence was evoked to crush it.

4. Can civil resistance authentically sustain itself on its own for long and succeed against a materially powerful adversary without some kind of external assistance?

The question is set on the (wrong) premise that a nonviolent contestation is material and, consequently, only a materially stronger force prevails. If the material resources (money, manpower, capacity to repress) matter for the outcome of the struggle then the natural question is how resource-deprived, seemingly powerless and until now victimized people can become their own liberators, as well as a sole force able to bring down immovable repressive structures. Surely, the thinking goes, they must have received material help from outside (from other governments with resources) that aided them in their success. The major problem with the premise and derived from its conclusions is that in reality the nonviolent struggle is hardly ever driven by material “boosters” from outside. The resilience of mass-based civil resistance movements that can withstand repression, government propaganda and attempts of co-optation while continuing mobilization and disruptions come from individual and collective fortitude and will. Those who maintain their power through material force, including firepower, can hardly understand a different force. The Ukrainian activists that were kidnapped and tortured during the Maidan revolution told the media that their captors — while beating them up — wanted to know how much money activists received from the foreign embassies in Kyiv, how the money transfer was organized and who was behind it. They could not comprehend that a three-month-old Maidan and other ongoing protests, often in freezing winter temperatures, could have been organically propelled and sustained over time by the voluntary participation and actions of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who donated their time, money, goods, and services and took the risk simply because they deeply identified with and shared the values and ideals that Maidan represented.

The government that projects its power through the tools of oppression, bribery, and propaganda has major difficulties in grasping that political authority of a movement can, in fact, be derived from entirely different (nonmaterial) sources: a genuine representation of people’s grievances and expectations, an organically-created sense of an individual and collective responsibility for the movement and people’s free volition to join the movement that undergirds authentic consent and participation.

With the authentic grassroots force comes people’s commitment to the movement, and with that commitment the movement can self-generate needed resources. The most successful civil resistance movements were also the most effective fund-raisers. The Polish solidarity movement was an extremely effectual resistance force because it mobilized millions while its self-organizing skills were propelling the most successful grassroots fund-raising machinery in Polish history. The assistance from other governments for civil resistance movements in the distant and recent past has never been a decisive factor in the ultimate victory of the nonviolent campaigns. Some activists realize that an external help from governments can in fact do more harm than good as it helps the regime brand the movement as a foreign stooge that represents other governments’ interests rather than the interests of the local population. This is one more reason why activists develop their own domestic sources of material and financial support to reinforce their grassroots legitimacy and occupy a better position to defend themselves against the regime’s attempts to discredit them.

enhanced-buzz-2970-1385130500-25 5. Is a successful nonviolent fight against a democratically elected leader a civil resistance or a coup?

Civil resistance differs from a coup in at least two aspects. First of all, although both are extra-legal struggles, a coup is also an extra-constitutional takeover of power by a small group of power holders (political insiders) often as a direct result of violence or threat of violence. In turn, more often than not, the force behind civil resistance that can successfully challenge a violent regime without resorting itself to violence is a nationwide movement that represents grievances of the majority of the population. Because of its national representation — in terms of the composition and goals of the movement — combined with its largely nonviolent nature, the civil resistance eventually draws to its side key allies of the regime, e.g. sprawling bureaucracies, business communities and security forces. In that sense, civil resistance of national proportion is the manifestation of the fundamental constitutional credo that the people (nation) are the sole source of power and sovereignty in the country (see, for example, the first articles of the constitutions of Venezuela, the Russian Federation, Poland, Turkey or Ukraine). In civil resistance, the power is exercised in the extra-legal way, meaning beyond and above the established political procedures. However, in contrast to the coup, which is the usurpation of power by the actions of the few political insiders, mass-based civil resistance is the practical expression of a basic constitutional value — that only the people can claim and reclaim political power.

Finally, in contrast to a coup, where the only goal is a takeover of power by a deposition of the incumbents, civil resistance can bring about a major political change through at least three processes: a nonviolent coercion powerful enough to lead to the disintegration of the regime, a negotiated settlement between the regime and the opposition movement (by far, historically, the most common pattern of power transfer in civil resistance struggles), and finally, a conversion of the regime that sides with the movement and adopts its demands.

Ukraine-protests6. Why was it considered to be a nonviolent force that brought down Yanukovych when during the decisive days of resistance, just before his escape from Kyiv, media were showing people who used violence against his security forces?

During the 92 days of the Maidan revolution, 112 activists are now reported to have been killed. Close to 200 demonstrators are still missing, most of them presumably dead, their bodies buried in local forests surrounding Kyiv. 17 police and interior security troops have died during the same period. Violence was used by a small minority of the protesters, but minority violence was neither effective in protecting civilians nor in inflicting serious damage to Ukrainian security forces. Yanukovych fled not because of violence, but because he could no longer rely on his political allies and more importantly on the army that he planned to use to crash Maidan. His interior minister’s plan called for 22,000 police and troops to turn Maidan in Kyiv into Central Europe’s Tiananmen Square. He managed to assemble up to 5,000 police/interior security forces but he still needed the army. When the orders came, the army disobeyed the orders for mobilization. It did that not because it was scared of the violent opposition minority, but because it perceived the revolution as genuinely grassroots, representing grievances and ideals of the majority of Ukrainians. And this, in turn, was the result of nonviolent actions and mobilization of millions of Ukrainians from November 2 until Yanukovych fled Kyiv on February 21, hence the title of my co-authored article Ukraine Explained: A Nonviolent Victory.

The Maidan revolution in Ukraine was largely nonviolent and self-restrained. When violence broke out (three days in the second half of January and three days in the second half of February), it was limited and carried out by a few hundred, while millions that were engaged in various forms of resistance remain nonviolent. For comparison, the Tunisian revolution that lasted 28 days (3.5 times shorter than the Maidan revolution), is considered by most observers to have been nonviolent — 20 police and army troops died. Millions remained expressly nonviolent. President Ben Ali fled, not because he lost 20 security members, but because, like Yanukovych, he could no longer rule the country while his political and security allies no longer obeyed his orders.

7. Nonviolent restraint is useless when one is being attacked by armed thugs and has no way to run. Violence is needed to repel violence.  How then is civil resistance reconcilable with a life-and-death situation?

In a situation where an individual’s life is in immediate danger because of an armed attacker who is ready to shoot and kill on the spot and there is nowhere to retreat, the use of arms can be the only way to survive. However, what works in a dark alley in one-on-one combat is not necessarily applicable to a collective struggle driven by its own dynamics. The resistance of the many against an armed regime or a group is not about one encounter that decides the outcome of the battle, but about repeated interactions pursued on multiple levels (local, regional, national) among members of a movement, between activists and the general public that they try to mobilize, and a movement and the regime’s pillars of support (e.g. the business community) or oppression (security forces).

The dynamics of civil resistance in collective struggles brings to the fore the phenomena that are not present in the situation of a one-on-one encounter, for example, an adversary’s repression against unarmed people backfiring on the regime, or disruptive collective nonviolent actions undermining the control of the regime, exacerbating its internal divisions or causing loyalty shifts among its supporters in the movement’s favor.                                            

8. Is peaceful resistance against an extremely ruthless dictator idealistic? 

Because of its peaceful character, civil resistance is often considered, in moral terms, as an ethically superior force vis-à-vis a nakedly brutal material power. In that sense, many equate civil resistance with an idealistic fight, particularly if waged against a brutal tyrant. For example, commentators would reflect on the idealism of the Syrian peaceful resistance when it took on the ruthless Assad regime in March 2011.

Idealism of civil resistance is then contrasted with the realism of armed resistance — after all, a violent regime understands, and thus is afraid of only one thing: superior violence. In practice, however, when faced with a brutal dictatorial regime, civil resistance is in fact the most realistic of all possible alternatives, be it surrender, negotiations, conventional politics or armed resistance.

Violent or unarmed resistance is undertaken because the population is not ready to surrender. There is also an acknowledgment that other traditional channels of bringing about a political change — through courts, party politics, elections, grand political bargain or negotiations — are not a viable option for the repressed. In a highly violent environment, the overarching goal of the resistance is to provide an effective protection for the civilian population and to launch a successful campaign to bring a ruthless regime down.

The three-year anniversary of the Syrian uprising (March 15) offers a vivid example of the realism and utopianism of the selected resistance methods. Strategically, the armed resistance against a militarily stronger force proved to be a major failure in achieving its two main objectives: neither protected the population (more than 120,000 lives perished, more than 5 million Syrians are internally displaced, and 3 million are refugees) nor ended the tyranny (Assad remains in power). In fact, it was the armed resistance that turned out to be idealistic and emotional at is core, verging on utopianism. The underlying reasoning was, in fact, based on a number of misconceptions, both about armed and civil resistance, which I articulated earlier in one of my blog posts. Civil resistance, while it lasted, proved to be more strategic, calculated and realistic even though not many recognized this at that the time. In my co-authored piece on the resistance in Syria, published in fall 2013, we wrote about four misguided beliefs rooted in the seemingly  “realistic” necessity for the armed insurgency against the Assad regime and concluded that “the real gains of civil resistance [in Syria] were never assessed, before being overcome by the myth of the power of the gun, and later by [misguided] hope that external military intervention could resolve the conflict.”

10 Misconceptions about the Syrian Struggle

4 Dec

According to the advocates of the armed struggle against the Assad regime – both inside and outside Syria – a largely nonviolent resistance that lasted between March and August 2011 had no viable option but to turn violent. I identified at least ten arguments that have been used to justify or account for the shift away from civil resistance in favor of the armed struggle in the country. Some of these arguments explicitly devalue the role, and impact of nonviolent resistance.

1. Brutality argumentmy55r6g9-1344834470
• It was naïve to continue nonviolent struggle in the face of an extremely brutal opponent. In fact, nonviolent activists stood no chance against a ruthless regime. In these circumstances their resort to arms was the only rational choice Syrians could make.

2. Ethnic polarization argument
• Ethnic and religious polarizations were too strong in Syria and it was unrealistic to expect Alawites or Christian to defect the regime and join the anti-Assad resistance.

3. Self-defense and honorable death argument
• Syrians had the right to self-defense and armed protection of their communities against violent thugs of the regime. Failure to resort to arms in order to defend oneself would have led to a carnage. Furthermore, soldiers that deserted from the Syrian army feared they would have been killed in reprisals for their ‘treason’ – defections. Armed resistance thus offered a choice to die with a gun in hand rather than to be slaughtered without a fight.

4. Redressing an affront argument
• Regime’s arrests, tortures, rapes and killing were an affront to ordinary Syrians and needed to be revenged. The violent rebellion against the Assad regime is to right an affront and falls within the ‘just’ tradition of honor killing that is part of the history and culture of the society.

5. Historical argument
• The road to a genuine liberation can never be peaceful. Liberation struggles in Libya, Kosovo, or earlier in Algeria or Syria under the French protectorate were violent. Earlier uprisings against Syrian Ba’ath regime were also violent.

6. Foreign fighters’ argument
• Violence on the opposition side would ensue anyway given the influx of the foreign fighters whose primarily means to fight the regime is the armed struggle.

7. Complementarity argument
• Violent struggle more often than not incorporates civil resistance. Nonviolent political organizing is needed for violent resistance to succeed. This was the case with the grassroots insurgencies in Vietnam against the United States or in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union and now against NATO. The combination of violent resistance and nonviolent organizing is also practiced by the political-armed groups such as Hizbullah and Hamas.

8. Violent adversary understands only violence
• Violence works against Assad as he is a rational thug who wants to ensure the survival of his family and his political control. He agreed to give up his chemical weapons when faced with an imminent military attack by a more powerful adversary. Consequently, Syrians need more not less weapons and widespread violent uprising to tip the balance of force in favor of the resistance.

9. Blaming the victim argument
• Criticism of Syrians for their resort to arms against a dictator is immoral. Syrians are victims and Assad is a perpetrator.

10. Passivity of international community
• International community does not intervene on behalf of nonviolent movements in contrast to the well-known interventions in support of violent insurrectionists – e.g. in Libya or earlier in Kosovo. The violent struggle had more chances than its nonviolent counterpart to bring about greater international involvement in the conflict that could eventually topple the Assad regime.

My take on the misconceptions

1. Civil resistance is a realistic alternative to violence though, paradoxically, it faces a higher burden of proof than the violent struggle
The continuance of civil resistance would have been no more unrealistic than the eventual choice of the armed resistance. In fact, the resort to violence by the Syrian opposition was the most unrealistic options among all available alternatives to tip the balance of force in their favor. The terrible outcome of the violent strategy in Syria, clearly seen today, shows that the choice of the armed struggle – rather than that of the nonviolent resistance – was in fact “naïve”, “idealistic” and “irrational.” By turning to arms and prematurely terminating the six-month old nonviolent resistance (between March and August 2011), the Syrian opposition began fighting the regime at its strongest and on the regime’s own violent terms. The likelihood of success in the armed challenge dramatically decreased for the poorly armed opposition. In this unequal conflict the rebels had to turn to the external parties for the military assistance. Such help never comes free and gives external actors excessive influence over the domestic situation. The choice of armed struggle, although emotionally satisfying, was less than well-thought-out strategy to reach a successful outcome in the conflict.hp.12.14.12.Syriaprotest

Worse, the choice of arms has faced much lower level of scrutiny as a viable strategy than the civil resistance did. Never in the history of civil resistance struggle were nonviolent actionists exempted from the some kind of violent repression. In fact, wherever civil resistance occurs violence by its adversary is and should be expected. Far too often the efficacy of nonviolent resistance is dismissed in the face of activists’ killings while the deaths of rebels in violent insurgency is seen as a usual progression of the conflict. Rather than the sign of weakness of the civil resistance strategy repression exposes government’s limitations on its control over the population. Now, the regime is compelled to rely on the extraordinary (and no more voluntary) methods to ensure obedience. When a disproportionate violent reaction backfires – as it happened in Syria in the first months of nonviolent resistance – it increases domestic and international sympathy for the activists and creates fissures among government’s supporters and between regime’s moderates and hardliners. This reveals more about the authorities’ vulnerabilities than that of the citizens. In spite of the evidences to the contrary the repression against peaceful resisters in Syria was used to claim that nonviolent resistance failed and armed response was justified. At the same time, when the armed rebellion faced even more ferocious violence by the Assad regime (e.g. the fighter jets and chemical weapons that had not been used during the civil resistance were deployed by the regime once the resistance turned violent) this was hardly seen by anyone as the evidence that the armed rebellion stopped being effective. Furthermore, recent scholarly work Why Civil Resistance Works by Chenoweth and Stephan showed that a brutal nature of the regime does not impact the overall likelihood of success of nonviolent resistance.

2. Ethnic polarization is not an obstacle for civil resistance
The 2007 Freedom House study on the adversarial conditions and civil resistance concluded, among others, that between 1973-2005 a degree of societal or ethnic polarization determined neither the emergence of civil resistance, nor its eventual success and failure. Correspondingly, the ethnic polarization in Syria has not prevented the civil resistance movement from emerging in March 2011. In fact, at its onset, different ethnic groups led nonviolent actions against the Assad regime. There were examples of anti-regime protests and demonstrations organized not only by Sunnis but also Christians, Kurds and Alawites. All sectors of the society felt one way or the other that they are oppressed or subjugated by the Assad family. Increasing unity among various groups not a growing ethnic polarization was the main concern for the regime during the civil resistance phase. And this is why, from the very beginning of the civic uprising, the government spent considerable resources to depict the resistance as driven by the Sunni extremists. Turning peaceful revolution supported overly or tacitly by the majority of Syrians into a violent resistance was the most strategically beneficial outcome for the regime. It was also the worst result for civil resistance as the coalition building across various societal groups and greater mobilization of people had propelled the movement. These drivers became significantly weakened once the resistance turned violent. It was the armed rebellion and not civil resistance that reinforced the regime’s strategy of divide and rule while, at the same time, raising ethnic divisions and deepening polarization. This, in turn, impaired the chances for building a nationwide movement against the Assad family.

3. Arms do not offer protection. Honorable death is strategically pointless
There are no studies that would compare the survival rate or battle deaths in both violent and nonviolent conflicts although future NAVCO 3.0 dataset will, among others, offer that statistics. The anecdotal evidences and individual case studies strongly suggest, however, that no major atrocities that will be equivalent to ethnic cleansing or genocide happened during civil resistance struggles in contract to civil wars. Additionally, the study that looked at violence against civilians in wars between 1989-2004 suggested that the civilian risk of dying in conflict countries with nonviolent movements was less than 1% in comparison with countries that experienced civil war. As for Syria specifically, the probability of dying in the conflict jumped by more than three times as soon as the opposition abandoned nonviolent resistance in favor of the armed rebellion.

No violent resistance that is militarily weaker than its adversary is ever able to protect civilians. Thinking otherwise goes against a common sense and a sound resistance strategy. A weaker side might eventually be able to win the war after it gains a military advantage – often as a result of the external assistance – but that usually comes with huge civilian losses. Two years into the armed resistance Syrian rebels have been able to achieve neither of the objectives: to protect locals and win the war. Arguably, given a historically lower degree of casualties and an impressive historical record of undermining brutal regimes civil resistance in Syria would have been an effective strategy in a long run, both to defend people and defeat the regime.

Finally, the Syrian army defectors should have had little strategic grounds to believe that, as lightly armed as they were, they would have increased their chances of survival when engaged in the firefight with much more powerful adversary. If they looked for an honorable death while resisting Assad violently their fight missed entirely the strategic objective that drove him to take arms in the first place – to survive and protect their own lives and those of the civilian population.

4. Revenge is not part of the effective strategy to wage a successful resistance
Similarly to a sound military campaign civil resistance is based on a rational calculus of costs, risks and benefits of different strategic options and tactics. In fact, a major aspect of civil resistance success is driven by how effective the resistance is in keeping a tab on emotions in favor of a rational analysis. The instinct of honor killing or a revenge is often ingrained in communal traditions that, on one hand, undergird future rebellions but also contain the seeds of their own demise. They often fail to create sustainable movements based on a diverse social or ethnic composition because such endeavor would require rejection of honor killing or right to revenge in favor of reconciliation and reaching out. Syrians were not predestined to engage in an eye for an eye struggle to the detriment of a more strategic approach in the same way traditionally militant Pashtuns led by Abdul Ghaffar Khan in the 1930s were not doomed to violence. In fact, the latter managed to create a 100,000-strong nonviolent army as did Kosovars that built their nonviolent movement in the 1990s. Both civil struggles successfully overcame emotional or traditional drive to ‘just’ violence rooted in generational-long animosities and intercommunal conflicts in favor of cross-familial or intertribal cooperation, mutual aid, nonviolent mobilization and civil resistance against a common adversary.

5. History lends support to civil resistance not armed rebellion
Poor historical inferences about conflicts in general and nonviolent struggles in particular contributed to the overconfidence in the effectiveness of arms and underassessment of what nonviolent conflict can achieve to win people’s freedoms. There is also almost nonexistent calculus of historical costs for nonviolent and violent struggles. Syrians failed to engage in more thorough discussions regarding costs and effectiveness of the Islamists’ armed uprising against the Baathist regime from the mid 1970s till the beginning of the 1980s and reflect more deeply on a relatively successful and united nonviolent struggle in Syria against the French colonial authorities in the middle of the 1930s. Furthermore, the Syrian rebel army and their western supporters missed another important piece of data that winning liberation through violence as it happened in Algeria at the beginning of the 1960s and recently in Libya on average decreased significantly the chances for these countries to become democracies- by at least 85% – in contrast to more than 80% of the likelihood that a successful nonviolent resistance would lead to a democratic outcome within 5 years after the end of the conflict. See Why Civil Resistance Works.

6. Syrians not the foreign fighters determined the nature and direction of the struggle
The foreign fighters engaged in violent battles with the Assad loyalists from the beginning of 2012 when the resistance had already turned into the armed uprising. In other words, foreign fighters joined violent rebellion rather than started it. Syrians themselves and not the foreign contingents determined the strategy used to challenge Assad. It is true that with the influx of foreign fighters the choice of violence has only been reinforced. If civil resistance, however, dominated the conflict landscape in spring 2012 that would have meant that the nonviolent discipline had now been strongly ingrained in the culture of the Syrian resistance. Consequently, the foreign fighters would have had an extremely limited space to operate within, and faced costly social ostracism by the indigenous population. With the difficulties of finding local support and shelter, and challenges with securing provisions foreign fighters might have faced marginalization and have become a relatively easy target for the regime.

7. Dictator fears the force that can dislodge his control
A superior military is one of the forces that the dictator fears it can dislodge his control. It is one of the reasons why Assad yielded on chemical weapons when faced with the threat of the American attack. But the opposition does not have such a superior military force at its command and is unlikely to acquire it in the future even with the external assistance. Meanwhile, the Assad forces keep being replenished with the military aid from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. Consequently, violent resistance against materially stronger dictator is not an effective force to dislodge his control.

If dictators understand violence so well why to use such well-understood weapon against them? – one of my colleagues, Jack DuVall, observes. Eventually, the struggle is won not because an adversary understands the instrument used by its opponent but precisely the opposite – when he fails to phantom the strategy deployed against him. Civil resistance is the phenomenon that brutal dictators have more difficulties in grasping and thus dealing with.

8. Civil resistance is undermined by violent resistance
Although violent struggle can feed on and be reinforced through nonviolent political organizing, as it was the case with the national communist struggle in China in the 1940s or the North Vietnamese insurrection against the South Vietnamese and US forces in the 1960s, civil resistance is mortally weakened if it colludes with violence. The possibility of violent repression backfiring decreases in the mixed resistance as the dictator and its supports effectively brand the whole resistance as being violent. This, in turn, justifies in the eyes of the public the extraordinary violent measures deployed by the government against the rebels.

Once violent resistance emerges it quickly overshadows civil resistance as a dominant means of struggle – as it happened in Syria and in other conflicts – e.g. in Kosovo in the late 1990s, Libya in 2011, or in Sri Lanka in the 1950s. Consequently, civil resistance loses its two important leverages in the fight against the opponent: its participation and defection drivers. On average, between 1900-2006, armed struggles were 4 times smaller in terms of citizens’ participation in the violent campaigns than in nonviolent resistance (Chenoweth and Stephan). A decreased participation as a consequence of the emerging violent flank bodes ill for the civil resistance. Furthermore, violence used by some extremists within or on the fringes of the movement consolidates the opponents as much as it polarizes movement’s supporters. Movement’s adversary can rally its supporters easier around the call to resist violent opposition and stay united which decreases the chances for the defections from the regime. It is always difficult to shift one’s loyalties towards another group that is perceived as posing a physical threat.

Moreover, violence perpetrated by a movement that contradicts its goal of building peaceful and democratic society helps the regime to further dehumanize it. Violence on the part of the opposition- even if limited – helps the regime to show to its own supporters as well as outsiders that the government faces predators, murders and rapists and itself is a victim of violence. It thus creates greater psychological and social distance between the rebels and their potential domestic and international supporters, further undermining chances for civil resistance to bring about mass defections from the regime and a greater international solidarity.

9. Syrians are victims of their own poor resistance strategy
Assad is the murderous perpetrator. Opposition and a general population are his victims. However, Syrians are also victims of their own poor strategic choices made to fight that oppression. It is actually immoral – not when the resisters are criticized – but that under the cover of the victim argument – the strategic shortsightedness of the opposition and rebels are denied. Around the beginning of 2011, the Syrian population understood that they were the key to their own liberation and their silence, compliance and obedience helped sustain the Assad regime. They realized they were part – voluntarily or not – of the evil system. The rebellion of ordinary Syrians came from the realization that they were themselves the problem as well as held the key to their own liberation from the enslavement. However, this psychological awakening did not match smart strategies needed to turn emotional readiness to stand up for ones’ rights into a rational strategy that would increase the probability of eventual victory. For example, Bassam Ishak, a Syrian political dissident, identified at least two failed strategies of the Syrian civil resistance when it began – the failure to mobilize all Sunnis to join nonviolent struggle and to understand better the culture of violence in the Syrian society in order to devise more effective strategies for maintaining nonviolent discipline. Moreover, the impatience of the opposition mixed with the belief that Syrians can achieve their liberation as quickly as Tunisians and Egyptians did led to the failure to develop a collective mentality for a protracted struggle and contributed to the premature abandonment of the nonviolent resistance. Consequently, Syrians became double victims – of the regime but also of their own wrong choices, particularly the ones that led them to opt for violent resistance.

10. Passivity of the international community
One of the arguments of the opponents of civil resistance was that the international community has not developed an effective mechanism to support nonviolent movements. However, this should in no way justify the resort to violence. It is true that the existing doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has set up the mechanism to intervene when violence breaks out on all sides of the conflict as it happened in Bosnia, Kosovo or Libya. And there is no mechanisms – besides the traditional instruments of punishing the regimes through sanctions – that could be used by the international community to provide a robust assistance to the nonviolent resistance movements when they last and help prevent them from turning into armed resistance. Therefore, my colleague, Peter Ackerman, rightly so, advocates the Right to Assist (R2A) as the new international principle designed to help nonviolent movements. Such a new norm could lower down a political threshold that is needed to support the practice of providing assistance to peaceful resisters as this type of intervention would be neither violent (as is often the case with R2P) nor selective (would be applied wherever widespread civil resistance emerges) and thus would hardly need the approval of the too-often-divided UN Security Council.

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