The thirteenth presentation at the Fletcher Summer Institute (FSI) for the Advanced Study of Nonviolent Conflict focused on international efforts to assist, defend and advance democratic development. The talk also focused on the strategies implemented by repressive regimes to prevent uprisings.
There are a number of issues that arise in democratic assistance:
- Is supporting democratic parties in advance of elections assistance or intervention?
- Fine line between democracy promotion and “picking sides”
- Difficult to identify who the democrats are
- Risk of futility: lost causes
- Risk of misuse of aid by corrupt and sincere actors; need to monitor.
- Risk of supporting Western-oriented NGOs to the exclusion of more authentic groups.
- Where does the initiative come from, the donor or the recipient?
The Color Revolutions
There are several well known successes in civil resistance movements. But to really understand what makes movements successful requires that we clearly understand why some movements failed, such as Burma 1990, Belarus 2006, Zimbabwe 2008. Iran is as yet undetermined.
There are some external conditions facilitating color revolutions:
- Democratic leverage: susceptibility to Western/democratic pressure as a result of economic or security ties.
- Relative lack of reciprocal leverage on West.
- Linkages: economic, geopolitical, social, communication and transnational civil societies.
Linkages make repression more costly by:
- Heightening Western attention and stakes.
- Increasing the prospect that Western governments will impose costs.
- Creating democratic constituencies with a stake in democratic reform.
- Strengthening demo actors in relation to autocrats.
The authoritarian backlash: Authoritarian learning. These regimes do the following:
- Preempt the favorable conditions for mass mobilization to bring about democratic change.
- Study and learn from other successful color revolutions. They have thus developed a number of counter-strategies.
- Restrict alternative political space more aggresively.
- Foment divisions among the political opposition.
- Forbid/criminalize the receipt of international grants by independent media and NGOs. This has placed a devastating role.
- Sever international democratic ties.
- Forbid international observation of elections.
- Forbid or harass domestic election monitoring.
- Shut down mobile networks, SMS, post-election, as crisis builds.
- Preemptively seize control of public spaces, block access for mass ralies; utilize force early and brutally.
- Redeploy security forces to ensure loyalty.
- Import and deploy powerful Internet monitoring and filtration systems.
- Borrowing and cooperation among authoritarian regimes.
There are favorable conditions and still some space for political pluralism. There are high levels of information and education. There is some unification of opposition. There are regime splits, unpopular incumbent. Extensive capacity is using new technologies.
There are however unfavorable conditions. Lack of a parallel vote tabulation to “prove” election fraud. Regime control of security forces so far. The regime is has the technical skill and capacity to monitor and block information. There is little Western leverage.
Tipping factors in Iran include:
- Courage, commitment, strategy of opposition leadership
- Opposition ability to craft and sustain campaign of non-violent civil resistance, vs “returning to normal”
- Further regime splits: where will the clerifcal establishment (Qom) and various security branches come down?
- Battle of information technology between regime and opposition: repression or evasion? Liberation technology: increasing use of Internet, cell phones, SMS and new social media?