Tag Archives: Tactical Survival

Wasp: Paper-War as a Tactic of Civil Resistance

Eric Russell’s science fiction novel, Wasp, is brilliant. It was published in 1957 and weaves civil resistance theory with creative tactics that remain fully relevant half-a-century later. What I want to do here is share some excerpts that describe a very neat civil resistance tactic. Please see my previous post for the context of the story along with the novel’s compelling theory on civil resistance.

One of the tactics that our protagonist James Mowry employs is paper-based. He writes hundreds of letters to Sirian Empire officials threatening more resistance if they continue fighting the war against Earth. This gives the semblance that the fictitious resistance group, Dirac Angestun Gesept, is far more than a one-person show.

In the early evening, he mailed more than two hundred letters to newspaper editors, radio announcers, military leaders, senior civil servants, police chiefs, prominent politicians and key members of the government.

When one is fighting a paper-war, Mowry thought, one uses paper-war tactics that in the long run can be just as lethal as high explosive. And the tactics are not limited in scope by use of one material. Paper can convey a private warning, a public threat, leaflets dropped by the thousands from the rooftops, cards left of seats or slipped into pockets and purses.

For his next paper-based tactic, Mowry choice to mail dozens of small but heavy parcels.

Each held an airtight can containing a cheap clock and a piece of paper, nothing else. The clock emitted a sinister tick—just loud enough to be heard if a suspicious-minded person listened closely.

Paper threats, that was all—but they were effective enough to eat still further into the enemy’s war effort. They’d alarm the recipients and give their forces something more to worry about. Doubtless the military would provide a personal bodyguard for every big wheel on Jaimec; that alone could pin down a regiment.

Mail would be examined, and all suspicious parcels would be taken apart in a blast-proof room. There’d be a city-wide-search with radiation detectors for the component parts of a fission bomb. Civil defense would be alerted in readiness to cope with a mammoth explosion that might or might not take place. Anyone on the streets who walked with a secretive air and wore a slightly mad expression would be arrested and hauled in for questioning.

After disrupting every-day processes for several weeks, the Sirian regime was in a state of panic deploying several thousand additional plain-clothed police officers, carrying out hundreds of random checks a day, erecting hundreds of road blocks, etc; in effect mobilizing considerable resources and time in reaction to major disruption caused by just one person. Could one man pin down an entire army this way?

Mowry wondered […] how many precious man-hours had his presence cost the foe? Thousands, tens of thousands, millions? To what forms of war service would those man-hours have been devoted to if James Mowry had not compelled the enemy to waste them in other directions? Ah, in the answer to that hypothetical question lay the true measure of a wasp’s efficiency.

Another tactic (not included in the story) is to write messages on paper money, as recently happened in Iran.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Role of Diplomats & Diasporas in Civil Resistance

The tenth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on how diplomats can assist democratic movements and what role the diaspora plays in the democracy movement.

The Diplomats Handbook is designed to give diplomats options regarding what they can do vis-a-vis diplomatic intervention. The golden rules for diplomats include listening, respecting, understanding and sharing. Guidelines are provided on how to demarche governments (like Iran’s currently) and how to inform the media (like in Burma); providing a space for meeting; attending rallies (like Ukraine) to act as a witness; ultimately to protect (like Italian embassy in Tehran).

The diaspora plays 4 important roles in the democratic process:

  1. Act as the voice of conscience to the world.
  2. Lobby diplomats for internationa support and cooperation.
  3. Mobilize activists for grassrooots involvement both inside and outside the country.
  4. Provide psychological and financial support to the movement.

In building a partnership with the international community, diasporas call for the:

  1. Protecting human rights.
  2. Spreading democracy.
  3. Building of civil society.

Actions are also needed from foreign diplomats. These include:

  1. Promoting the cause within one’s own government.
  2. Sending a unifying message regarding human rights and democracy.
  3. Exert pressure against human rights violations.
  4. Engage democratic groups.
  5. Support grassroots independent organizations.

One participant noted that the diaspora can also play a negative role by acting as spoilers in a particular process. Cuba doesn’t really qualify but I’m struck at how different the perspectives of Cubans in Miami are from those of Cubans on the island. Once the Castros are gone, how will the relationship between the diaspora and Cubans on the island be managed?

In the case of Vietnam, the nonviolent opposition groups in the diaspora make a point to go back to Vietnam on a regular place to work side by side with counterparts in country.

Another conversation that ensued was on the role of the US State Department, and specifically how nonviolent movements can manage that relationship. In one case, a participant mentioned that the State Department has been one of the most frustrating impediments. Another participant volunteered guidance: with the State Department, you need to apply a lot of pressure and make friends with the right people in State.

One final observation emphasized the need for the diaspora to be the voice of conscience both outside the country and also within the country.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Rechanneling Militancy in Nonviolent Struggle

The ninth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the issue of terrorism. In particular, the talk discussed how terrorism works and why it fails. Is terrorism an effective means at achieving a stated objective?

Terrorism is almost entirely psychological; it is about changing people’s minds and perception. So terrorism always requires an audience.

How terrorism works

  • “Propaganda of the Deed” – directed at supporters and potential supporters; action speak louder than words; this is the moment, join the revolution.
  • “Provoking repression” – directed at governments, people will turn on their governments when the latter over-react.
  • “Asset to liability shift” – directed at populations and governments; increase the perceived “price” (in financial but also political terms) of a policy.

There are two examples of terrorism being successful particularly because the conditions were “right” so to speak. The first is the anti-colonial movement in Algeria. The second is the creation of Israel, i.e., the terrorist activities against the British.

Why terrorism fails

  • People are more resilient than terrorist assume. The longer a terrorism campaign goes on, the more people get used to it and become more resilient.
  • People rarely blame the government. People do not turn on the government for not preventing the terrorism.
  • All governments are not paper tigers. Government do not step down and readily give in to terrorist demands. Governments are not easily dislodged as terrorists sometimes assume.

Terrorists often face dilemmas, they can:

  • Carry on but risk losing momentum, such as ETA.
  • Escalate and risk turning the people against them, such as Al Qaeda in Iraq.

While this was an interesting presentation, I was hoping to learn more about concrete tactics/actions nonviolent movements can use to dissuade potential new recruits from joining terrorist groups. In any case, here are good reads I recommend on this general topic:

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Backfire, Legitimacy & Dividing Loyalties in Civil Resistance

The eight presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the issue of security forces. One of the guiding questions for this presentation was: In what circumstances can nonviolent movements reduce the legitimacy of security forces in the eyes of the population?

Giving water and food to security forces is a tactic that often works to at least lower tensions and aggression. But one must be very careful about the assumptions made with regards to how security forces might react to various tactics.

Getting repeatedly arrested may provide some advantages, as was noted by colleagues in the Otpor movement. They would start getting know the police officers and wardens, and the building this interpersonal relationships that proved important as the resistance scaled up.

Backfire occurs when an attack creates more support for or attention to what/who is attacked. Any injustice or norm violation can backfire on the perpetrator. This concept relates to Gene Sharp‘s “political jiu-jitsu“:

Political jiu-jitsu is one of the special processes by which nonviolent action deals with violent repression. By combining nonviolent discipline with solidarity and persistence in struggle, the nonviolent actionists cause the violence of the opponent’s repression to be exposed in the worst possible light. This, in turn, may lead to shifts in opinion and then to shifts in power relationships favorable to the nonviolent group. These shifts result from withdrawal of support for the opponent and the grant of support to the nonviolent actionists.

What are the real preferences of the security forces? These will never be monolithic and fully in line with the regime, i.e., preferences will be differential.  What are the risks in expressing those preferences if you’re part of the security? Security forces don’t always obey:

  • Philippines, 1986
  • Serbia, 2000
  • Ukraine, 2004

When and how do security forces choose to disobey? Developing relationships (usually covert) with leadership and officers was a tactic used in Serbia. In Egypt, activists told police they understood that they had orders to follow and simply asked that they simply not hit them as hard. Developing relationships with ordinary soldiers/police during action is an area that requires further exploration.

Dividing the oppressor is another tactic. So is campaigning for the end of conscription. In apartheid South Africa, the South Africa Defense Force (SADF) was the last line in the defense of apartheid and the 1983 End the Conscription Campaign (ECC) struck at the heart of this powerful force.

“Conscripts were not our enemy… we should serve their interests, ‘pull’ them away from the SADF rather than antagonize or ‘push’ them.”

The ECC also used branding, logos, posters, T-shirts, music concerts, kite flying, etc. But was the ECC successful? There were no high-level defections and the campaign was banned in 1988. However, it continued in different form and the number of conscripts who refused to serve. They were being flown to fight in Angola and were increasingly resistant to do so.

One participant noted that the gulf between members of a nonviolent movement and security officers are often culture, linguistic, etc. The case of Tibet is an example. When there are similarities, emphasizing those is an appropriate tactic. But when there are only differences, can accentuating those differences help the nonviolent movement?

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Building a Movement for Civil Resistance

The sixth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on the organizational side of civil resistance by drawing on the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) experience in apartheid South Africa.

UDF

What is needed for a successful movement?

  • A vision
  • A trigger
  • Leadership
  • An organizational base
  • A strategy
  • Broad unity with a range of allies

I found the trigger factor quite interesting. In the case of the ANC, the positive trigger was the end of the Cold War. Triggers provide windows of opportunity for action. Another example is Milosevic’s decision to call for early elections, which presented Otpor with a window of opportunity. So triggers can be both external and internal.

Elements of the South Africa movement:

  • Multi-level and decentralized organizational structure
  • Leadership was replaceable
  • ‘Branding’ and public presence (e.g., posters)
  • Mobilization and spreading of tactics
  • Local flexibility and creativity
  • National strategy and direction

Organizing outside existing structures is a key feature of the resistance movements that took place in South Africa and Serbia.

One participant noted the parallels often referred to between South Africa and Israel/Palestine. Earlier in the day one presenter argued that if one million unarmed Palestinians got together to march towards Jerusalem, it would be impossible to stop them. Another participant countered and noted the 600+ check-points in the West Bank.

The “final word” by someone else in the room: “You obviously have not seen the power of one million people marching.”

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Lessons from Serbia’s Civil Resistance

The fifth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict addressed the lessons learned by the Otpor student movement in Serbia. This presentation addressed the strategies and tactics that can lead to successful civil resistance.

otpor

Unity, Planning and Nonviolent Discipline are three main principles key to nonviolent struggle. These principles have obvious parallels with military principles. Nonviolent discipline is especially critical.

You can have 100,000 people demonstrating nonviolently in the streets but as soon as one person picks up a stone and throws it at the police, this is what the media will focus on and gives the regime the “excuse” to crack down. One participant noted that in their country, the regime sends criminals to pick fights and turn nonviolent protests violent. In this case, one tactic that could help mitigate this issue is to have women be on the front lines because police is less likely to use force against them.

Here are the 10 lessons learned from Otpor’s resistance in Serbia:

  1. Taking an offensive approach. The moment you start responding to what the regime does, you are losing your momentum. Keep moving, always, just like sharks.
  2. Understanding the concept “power in numbers”. Draw on the multi-level marketing model: “Act, Recruit and Train.”
  3. Developing an Effective Communication Strategy. There are typically 4 crucial target audiences: Members and supporters; Wider audience; Potential allies within oppositional parties and NGOs; and International community.
  4. Creating a Perception of  a Successful Movement. Pick the battles you can win; know when and where to declare victories.
  5. Investing in Skills and Knowledge of Activists. This is always appreciated by your members and helps foster group cohesion.
  6. Cultivating External Support. Solicit external support early but be deliberate as to whether you make that support public or not.
  7. Inducing Security Force Defections. Security forces are a key pillar of support to the regime. Most are not interested in acting with violence; they have families they need to feed. Those who take pleasure in torture have wives or girlfriends, find out where the latter shop, put pictures of their husbands with the question: “Why is X torturing our sons?” If you have the person’s phone number, add that to the poster and add “To find out, call X at #”.
  8. Resisting Oppression. Decentralize leadership and engage in extensive training to prepare activists to avoid surprises and overcome effects of fear. Share motivating messages (e.g., to the police).
  9. Using Elections as a Trigger. These create an atmosphere of “social referendum” while creating a wide coalition among political parties and broader consensus with civil society.
  10. Enabling Peaceful Transition of Power. Key state stakeholders need to be rapidly restored after “nonviolent revolution” to demonstrate democratic dividends right away.

I’ve found the past two days of conversations at FSI 2009 thought-provoking. There are many parallels between civil resistance tactics/strategies and the study of complexity science and complex systems.

One of the key challenges of nonviolent action is to scale the number of participants in the movement. Numbers matter. So how does one influence micro-motives so that they lead to macro-behavior—or emergent behavior. One way to influence micro-level motives in complex social systems is to create incentive mechanisms.

How does one communicate and synchronize these incentives? Enter the importance of communication technology.

Patrick Philippe Meier

FSI09: Lessons from Serbia’s Civil Resistance

The fifth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict addressed the lessons learned by the Otpor student movement in Serbia. This presentation addressed the strategies and tactics that can lead to successful civil resistance.

otpor

Unity, Planning and Nonviolent Discipline are three main principles key to nonviolent struggle. These principles have obvious parallels with military principles. Nonviolent discipline is especially critical.

You can have 100,000 people demonstrating nonviolently in the streets but as soon as one person picks up a stone and throws it at the police, this is what the media will focus on and gives the regime the “excuse” to crack down. One participant noted that in their country, the regime sends criminals to pick fights and turn nonviolent protests violent. In this case, one tactic that could help mitigate this issue is to have women be on the front lines because police is less likely to use force against them.

Here are the 10 lessons learned from Otpor’s resistance in Serbia:

  1. Taking an offensive approach. The moment you start responding to what the regime does, you are losing your momentum. Keep moving, always, just like sharks.
  2. Understanding the concept “power in numbers”. Draw on the multi-level marketing model: “Act, Recruit and Train.”
  3. Developing an Effective Communication Strategy. There are typically 4 crucial target audiences: Members and supporters; Wider audience; Potential allies within oppositional parties and NGOs; and International community.
  4. Creating a Perception of  a Successful Movement. Pick the battles you can win; know when and where to declare victories.
  5. Investing in Skills and Knowledge of Activists. This is always appreciated by your members and helps foster group cohesion.
  6. Cultivating External Support. Solicit external support early but be deliberate as to whether you make that support public or not.
  7. Inducing Security Force Defections. Security forces are a key pillar of support to the regime. Most are not interested in acting with violence; they have families they need to feed. Those who take pleasure in torture have wives or girlfriends, find out where the latter shop, put pictures of their husbands with the question: “Why is X torturing our sons?” If you have the person’s phone number, add that to the poster and add “To find out, call X at #”.
  8. Resisting Oppression. Decentralize leadership and engage in extensive training to prepare activists to avoid surprises and overcome effects of fear. Share motivating messages (e.g., to the police).
  9. Using Elections as a Trigger. These create an atmosphere of “social referendum” while creating a wide coalition among political parties and broader consensus with civil society.
  10. Enabling Peaceful Transition of Power. Key state stakeholders need to be rapidly restored after “nonviolent revolution” to demonstrate democratic dividends right away.

I’ve found the past two days of conversations at FSI 2009 thought-provoking. There are many parallels between civil resistance tactics/strategies and the study of complexity science and complex systems.

One of the key challenges of nonviolent action is to scale the number of participants in the movement. Numbers matter. So how does one influence micro-motives so that they lead to macro-behavior—or emergent behavior. One way to influence micro-level motives in complex social systems is to create incentive mechanisms.

How does one communicate and synchronize these incentives? Enter the importance of communication technology.

Patrick Philippe Meier