Summary of "The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict"

Summary of

The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict

By Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler

This Article Summary written by: Tanya Glaser, Conflict Research Consortium

Citation: "The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict," chapt. in Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1994), p. 21-53.

Ackerman and Kruegler suggest twelve principles of strategic action. Each principle addresses a factor in the success or failure of strategic nonviolent conflict. The authors note that adhering to these principles may increase the likelihood of success, but cannot guarantee it. They also expect these principles to undergo revision and refinement as our understanding of strategies of nonviolence grows.

The first five principles concentrate on creating conditions conducive to strategic nonviolence. First, the group must formulate clear, well-defined, functional goals. Such goals must be achievable within a realistic time frame, and must be amenable to nonviolent action. The goals should reflect the group's vital interests and have widespread support. Goals which draw support from outside the group are also helpful.

Second, the group must develop organizational strength at each level of the organization: in the leadership, the operational corps, and the general population. In order to successfully employ nonviolent strategies the group must be able to hide members and resources, to disperse resources, and to surprise the opponent. They will need to make decisions under pressure. They must be able to garner support, and implement their decisions.

Third, the group must secure access to material resources. Adequate food, energy, and medical supplies can be key in maintaining morale. They must also secure the relevant offensive resources, such as photocopiers or fax machines. Ackerman and Kruegler caution against allowing control of resources to become a goal in itself.

The fourth principle is to cultivate sources of external support. External sympathy and support can be very helpful in achieving the first three principles. The group should also seek to undermine their adversary's support.

The fifth principle is to seek to expand the group's repertoire of strategic nonviolent actions. Flexibility and versatility are key to success. When choosing a particular form of action the group should consider which action will help it to seize the initiative, whether the action could be easily duplicated elsewhere in the struggle, how much training and preparation the action will require and what its risk-impact balance is. The group should seek actions which "are likely to build momentum and maximize the adverse impact on the opponents while preserving flexibility."[p. 35]

The next set of principles focuses on engaging with the opponent. Principle six directs groups to attack their opponent's strategy for maintaining control and obedience. The more difficult it is for the opponent to control their own forces, the more difficult it will be for them to attack or even oppose the nonviolent group.

Seventh, the group should seek to minimize the impact of the opponent's use of violence. Being subject to violence can be demoralizing, and can feed the desire to respond violently. When possible, the group should try to get out of harm's way. Groups may try to limit the violence by disabling the adversary's weapons, or by suborning the adversary's troops. When violence does occur, it is important that group members be psychologically prepared for it, and that support systems for victims and families are in place.

Eighth, groups should use the adversary's own actions to alienate the adversary's supporters. Publicizing the adversaries attempts at repression, especially violent repression of nonviolent resistors, often alienates their support.

Principle nine stresses the need to maintain nonviolent discipline. The authors note that "when nonviolent protagonists maintain discipline, they not only delegitimize the opponents' violence, but they also gain credibility, stature, and, ultimately, power." By breaking discipline and engaging in acts of violence the group undermines its own credibility, and risks removing any restraint the adversary might have felt in dealing with the group. A strong sense of discipline can also reinforce morale, and help the group to weather violence.

The remaining principles focus on understanding the ongoing conflict. The tenth principle directs planners to pay attention to the five different levels of strategic planning and decision making. These are the levels of policy, operation, strategy, tactics and logistics. While it is important to keep a comprehensive overview of the nonviolent strategy in mind, planners must also be aware of the particular issues which arise at the various levels of an operation.

Eleventh, the nonviolent strategist should "adjust offensive and defensive operations according to the relative vulnerabilities of the protagonists."(opponents)[p. 48] Offensive actions undermine an opponent's ability to stay in the fight. Defensive actions protect a group's own ability to stay in the fight. Planners must be aware of where their actions lie on the offensive-defensive spectrum, and be prepared to shift along that spectrum as new vulnerabilities present themselves.

Twelfth and finally, strategists must match their choice of nonviolent action to not only their goal, but also to match the desired mechanism whereby the opponent eventually accedes to that goal. These are four general mechanisms by which the adversary may capitulate. They may be converted to the group's way of thinking. They may choose to accommodate the group's demands rather than continue the conflict. They may have become unable to continue the fight, and so be coerced. Or the adversary may have been disintegrated by the conflict, and so no longer exist to oppose the group's demands.