The final presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the future of nonviolent conflict. This future depends largely on the quality of our thinking.
There is a surprising development of civil resistance. To be sure, the frequency of occurrences is accelerating. At the same time, a consensus on concepts and dynamics is also surfacing. The definition of civil resistance which is gaining traction is as follows:
Civil resistance is a type of political action that relies on the use of non-violent methods. It is largely synonymous with certain other terms, including ‘non-violent action’, ‘non-violent resistance’, and ‘people power’. It involves a range of widespread and sustained activities that challenge a particular power, force, policy or regime—hence the term ‘resistance’. The adjective ‘civil’ in this context denotes that which pertains to a citizen or society, implying that a movement’s goals are ‘civil’ in the senes of being widley shared in a society; and it generally denotes that the action concerned is non-military or non-violent in charachter.
This definition is taken from the forthcoming book “Civil Resistance & Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Ghandhi to the Present” edited by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash.
Civil resistance will increasingly be the preferred strategy for countering repression. This is due to the better success/failure ratio of civil resistance and the fact that nonviolent transitions have a more democratic outcome.
Skill of civil resistance will become increasingly ascendant over restrictive conditions. They will be less limited by the brutality of the regime. In addition, they will be less constrained by low civil society development. Hence the need for training in civil resistance.
Foreign policy elites will increasingly recognize civil resistance as a contest without a predetermined outcome. To this end, we need to do the following:
- End the sterile debate on whether to engage or not to engage rather than who to engage with;
- End the distinction between hard and soft power;
- Better understanding of the varieties of assistance to opposition movements;
- Create norms for requests for assistance rather than right to protect.
In conclusion, we are neither at “the end of history” nor “the return of history.” The advancement of civil resistance puts us at “the end of the return of history.” So how do we accelerate this process?