Tag Archives: nonviolent movements

Guides to Helping Civil Resistance Movements & Activists Succeed

11 Dec

My four guides published on the ICNC Minds of the Movement over the last two years can serve as a useful toolkit for the pro-democracy activists and their allies to build more resilient and disciplined nonviolent movements, mitigate state repression and shift behavior of security forces in favor of the pro-democracy organizers, inoculate activists against disinformation and anti-movement propaganda, and direct democratic states to provide more effective support for dissidents and pro-democracy campaigns challenging authoritarian regimes.

1. How to Achieve Robust Discipline to Succeed: A Guide for Pro-Democracy Movements

Dictators and aspiring autocrats fear disciplined civil resistance movements. They deploy mighty state resources and work hard to demoralize and disrupt the discipline of such movements. They want to make them violent, divided, and societally marginal. Despots want nothing more than to face an undisciplined challenger. We must then ask, how can nonviolent pro-democracy movements achieve discipline?

This guide has curated specific actions to help create, instill, defend, and buttress the robust discipline required for movements to succeed.

2. For Members of Security Forces: A Guide to Supporting Pro-Democracy Movements

You serve in the police, interior security, intelligence services, or the military. A ruler at the helm orders you to repress a pro-democracy movement and its unarmed people who are going out to protest against him. You do not agree with what the ruler and his political sycophants expect from you. Deep down, you know you would be no longer serving the country and its people if you were to follow those orders. You are looking for ideas on how to delay, derail, or go against the ruler’s orders to suppress the nonviolent movement.

You are in the right place for the ideas on how you can help the pro-democracy movement and become part of the resistance from within the system, or outside of it if you choose to serve and defend the people and not the ruler.

3. Defending the Truth: An Activist’s Guide to Fighting Foreign Disinformation Warfare

This guide aims to help activists defend and push back against nefarious interference from abroad and attempts at distortion and disinformation. The cornerstone of such resistance is tightly knit local communities that are organized, mobilized, and vigilant. Such communities are characterized by a dense web of mutual aid and solidarity assistance organizations, trusted information-sharing networks, information verification hubs, and rapid mobilization infrastructures to defend against both domestic and external authoritarian threats.

4. A Democracy’s Guide to Foiling Autocrats. How Democratic States Can Effectively Support Pro-Democracy Movements

Democracies lack a developed toolkit of actions for supporting pro-democracy movements. They are reactive and on defense in the face of authoritarian encouragement.

This guide offers specific ways for democracies to play offense against autocrats challenged by their people. It presents a curated and comprehensive list of tools that democratic states can deploy to conduct an effective assistance to nonviolent pro-democracy movements.

How Diplomats Work With Organized People

19 Nov

I have recently had a pleasure of joining Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman on stage at Ryerson University to discuss civil resistance, democratic transitions and the role of diplomats in assisting nonviolent movements.  Those who have not had a chance to participate in the meeting can now view the Centre for International Governance and Innovation’s podcast “Inside the Issues” where Amb. Kinsman discusses the third edition of A Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support.  He eloquently explains there why and how the international community, including diplomats must and can work with the mobilized societies of non-democracies.

In the interview Kinsman emphasizes a growing phenomenon of ordinary people from all over the world “demanding greater agency over the decisions” that affect their daily life. The Arab Spring was a vivid illustration of the agency in action.  According to Kinsman the urge for people to attain agency suggests that a traditional focus of the international efforts on fixing “processes”, e.g. setting up an election infrastructure or building institutional capacities of government agencies has to be reassessed in favor of developing new tools that the international community could use to work more effectively with activists and nonviolent organizers around the world.

Although democracies cannot be imposed from above Kinsman sees an important role for diplomats in assisting nonviolent pro-democracy movements. Formally, diplomats have been accredited to the authorities of the host countries that historically encapsulated the idea of the state-to-state relations. However, in today’s practice, diplomats from democracies should represent their own societies to the societies of the host countries. In essence, diplomats today must advance the ideas of a public diplomacy that pays attention to the values, interests, thinking and aspirations of the ordinary people and not the elites.

It is necessary for diplomats from democracies to strive to reconcile their societal values with more instrumental political or economic interests of their state. Kinsman offers a useful example for how that reconciliation can look in practice. The strategic partnerships with China and Russia that democracies are striving to develop do not permit the latter to tell the former what they can or cannot do with their citizens and how they can or cannot run their internal affairs. However, the democracies can and must stress that any strategic partnership is also driven by the reactions of their citizens to the abuses that the Chinese and Russian citizens are subject to. A diplomat faces the pressure of his/her own democratic society that insists that its diplomatic representative cannot be silent when human rights are violated. Furthermore, as Kinsman observers, diplomats and their societies have to repeatedly ask the governments of non-democracies about how their behavior towards human rights defenders reconcile with the letter and spirit of the international covenants that these governments voluntarily signed on and thus agreed to a certain human rights-oriented code of conduct.

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 7.14.30 AMKinsman also mentions the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict where I work while discussing the important findings on civil resistance that shows that nonviolent movements are 2,5 times more effective in reaching their political objectives as well as bring about more quickly a resolution to a conflict than their violent counterparts. Nonviolent resistance also “incubates all of the features of capacity building, empowerment, tolerance, inclusivity, pluralism that will be necessary the morning after [when the dictator is gone]” – he goes on. Violence naturally cannot deliver this propitious-for-democracy experience.

The third edition of A Diplomat’s Handbook updates the existing and introduces several new case studies, among others, Zambia, Tunisia, Egypt, Russia, Cuba, China that offers variety of examples of how diplomats have worked with nonviolent activists. Since- as Kinsman argues – “no two situations are the same” and “each country’s trajectory toward democracy is sui generis” it is imperative to learn from individual cases. At the same time, this learning informs the content of the diplomats’ “toolbox” that they as well as other external actors can use to work more effectively with mobilized citizenries around the world.

Kinsman concludes with an important observation that the effectiveness of diplomats while working with the civil society of the host country depends on the quality of their own democracy at home. One cannot talk authentically about inclusivity and pluralism if these values are not practiced or are practiced badly at diplomat’s home country.  Public diplomacy is an “exemplary” undertaking, according to Kinsman, whereby domestic actions of a civil society to perfect its democratic practices bear on the scope and quality of what its diplomats can push for vis-à-vis non-democracies and their societies.

Dictators' Worse Nightmare: Defections

12 Nov

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 6.55.34 PMIn his seminal 3 volume book on Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp observed that “Nonviolent actionists may try to destroy the opponent’s army as an effective force of repression by inducing deliberate inefficiency and open mutiny among the soldiers, without whom there can be no army” (p. 453).  This was in 1973.  In February 2011, Leon Panetta, the then CIA Director, testified to Congress, trying to explain why the US intelligence community failed to phantom that the seemingly immovable Tunisian and Egyptian dictators might indeed fall and that fall could occur within days through a sheer pressure of mass-based nonviolent mobilization.  In his testimony, Panetta pointed to the source of the intelligence community’s failure to anticipate the fall of dictators: “There’s always been a feeling that the military ultimately could control any demonstration in any regime. But the loyalty of the military is now something that we have to pay attention to, because it’s not always one that will respond to what a dictator may or may not want.”

Given what Sharp wrote almost 40 years earlier the level of ignorance among the top brass of the American ‘intelligence’ officers about the effects of civil resistance and particularly its power to induce defections among security forces was quite astonishing though not surprising. Afterall, the state actors’ understanding of power  – and with that the drivers of major political changes – has been based on a material force: a capacity to repress, financial means to buy off  and a formal position to govern. Unarmed populations that have little material force to show for have been hardly seen as powerful. Yet, time and again, popular nonviolent revolutions prove that that political power is not tangible, is not material and is not institutional and can rest with ordinary people if only they mobilize and organize. The effectiveness of this intangible power rests in the legitimacy of claims and ideals, as well as in the collective identification with shared grievances and expectations that the popular movement can harness and advance. The movement combines this illusive but potent ideational power with a strategic deployment of nonviolent actions that in turn induce defections among the allies of the regime. For example, through the use of nonviolent weapons such as strikes, demonstrations, civil disobedience as well as the work of solidarity networks and mutual aid groups and associations, the Polish Solidarity movement induced mass defections from the Polish Communist Party and the state bureaucracy in the 1980s. In the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos, in Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia and more recently, in Tunisia and Egypt, the dictators commanded their militaries to shoot at unarmed demonstrators only to see their security forces disobey and refuse to follow their orders. Even the Free Syrian Army that eventually hijacked nonviolent resistance, turning it into the armed uprising, was a product of the defections induced by a 5 month-long nonviolent struggle waged by hundreds of thousands of unarmed Syrians between March and August 2011.

My colleagues, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, in their book Why Civil Resistance Works, estimated that the security defections occurred about 52% of the time during the successful nonviolent campaigns and that security defections made nonviolent campaigns 46 times more likely to reach their ultimate objectives of bringing down the regime, expelling occupying forces or win self-determination in comparison with the nonviolent campaigns where defections did not occur. This is the reasons why scholars must look more closely at the dynamics of defections among regime’s supporters, particularly its security forces during the nonviolent uprisings.

At the same time, the policy community must give a serious consideration to different international instruments that could help nonviolent movements bring about quicker and more widespread defections among security forces of the autocratic regimes. Setting up a special global fund for civil resistance movements that could give awards to the officers (together with their families) who refused to follow and give orders to shoot at the unarmed protesters might be one of such instruments.


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