This is the second presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict 2009. The presentation focuses on “The Geopolitical Constraints and Opportunities for Civil Resistance.” Note that you can also follow #FSI09 on Twitter.
The thesis of this talk is that changes in geopolitical forces accelerate the frequency of nonviolent conflict. (My question is whether this claim is even falsifiable?).
The use of nonviolent strategies is ascendant and nonviolent movements are influenced by geopolitical forces. Geopolitics describes international politics in geographic terms, i.e., “the term has applied primarily to the impact of geography on politics.”
The weakened role of the state in international politics may in part explain the rise of civil resistance. (Note that I disagree with the argument that states are less significant actors). Fundamental trends in communication technologies and the global media may also explain this rise. In addition, the notion of “soft power” is in line with the strategies and tactics employed in resistance movements.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for me vis-a-vis the rise of nonviolent resistance is the promotion of democracy via global institutions and norms; the focus on democratic peace theory and civil society networks. That said, I’m still not sure how drawing on geopolitics as a framework to situate and explain civil resistance adds to our understanding of nonviolent conflict.
Moreover, as one participant noted, shouldn’t we frame the question as follows: how do social movements influence geopolitics, rather than vice versa?
In any case, I’m glad to note that much of the conversation generated by the presentation focused on the impact of communication technology on geopolitics while keeping a healthy dose of skepticism. One participant made a comment that I make all the time; namely that networks of activists are more likely to learn and adapt to changes in technology than centralized, hierarchical regimes are.
Somewhat surprisingly, the concept of the dictator’s dilemma was overlooked.
The dictator’s dilemma suggests that globalization has produced a lucrative global information economy that repressive regimes are interested in exploiting. However, as they gear the domestic economy to take advantage of the information economy, they give up some control on how technology is used within their borders.
One final note, I think there is an evolutionary dynamic at play, just like there is with warfare. We describe Al Qaeda’s approach as fourth generation warfare, i.e., decentralized tactics, since this give the group an asymmetric advantage over a more centrlaized military power such as the US.
In other words, Al Qaeda’s approach make logical sense. In this same way, perhaps more movements recognize that nonviolent civil resistance is indeed a Force More Powerful.