Thursday, October 14, 2010

From Dictatorship to Democracy - Chapter Seven: Planning Strategy

KI Media is starting a series on From Dictatorship to Democracy by Gene Sharp whereby a chapter from this book in both English and Khmer is published every 2-day interval, with prior submissions listed in the menu bar for easy recall. The emphasis is that of KI Media. For its original complete text go to:

This book has been translated into KHMER and its full version is available at:

Be inspired! Be coordinated! And take action!

KI Media
. . . . .

Click here to read the Khmer version of this chapter (PDF)

From Dictatorship to Democracy

Planning Strategy

In order to increase the chances for success, resistance leaders will need to formulate a comprehensive plan of action capable of strengthening the suffering people, weakening and then destroying the dictatorship, and building a durable democracy. To achieve such a plan of action, a careful assessment of the situation and of the options for effective action is needed. Out of such a careful analysis both a grand strategy and the specific campaign strategies for achieving freedom can be developed. Though related, the development of grand strategy and campaign strategies are two separate processes. Only after the grand strategy has been developed can the specific campaign strategies be fully developed. Campaign strategies will need to be designed to achieve and reinforce the grand strategic objectives.

The development of resistance strategy requires attention to many questions and tasks. Here we shall identify some of the important factors that need to be considered, both at the grand strategic level and the level of campaign strategy. All strategic planning, however, requires that the resistance planners have a profound understanding of the entire conflict situation, including attention to physical, historical, governmental, military, cultural, social, political, psychological, economic, and international factors. [Sam Rainsy!] Strategies can only be developed in the context of the particular struggle and its background.

Of primary importance, democratic leaders and strategic planners will want to assess the objectives and importance of the cause. Are the objectives worth a major struggle, and why? It is critical to determine the real objective of the struggle. We have argued here that overthrow of the dictatorship or removal of the present dictators is not enough. The objective in these conflicts needs to be the establishment of a free society with a democratic system of government. Clarity on this point will influence the development of a grand strategy and of the ensuing specific strategies.

Particularly, strategists will need to answer many fundamental questions, such as these:

• What are the main obstacles to achieving freedom?

• What factors will facilitate achieving freedom?

• What are the main strengths of the dictatorship?

• What are the various weaknesses of the dictatorship?

• To what degree are the sources of power for the dictatorship vulnerable?

• What are the strengths of the democratic forces and the general population?

• What are the weaknesses of the democratic forces and how can they be corrected?

• What is the status of third parties, not immediately involved in the conflict, who already assist or might assist, either the dictatorship or the democratic movement, and if so in what ways?

Choice of means

At the grand strategic level, planners will need to choose the main means of struggle to be employed in the coming conflict. The merits and limitations of several alternative techniques of struggle will need to be evaluated, such as conventional military warfare, guerrilla warfare, political defiance, and others.

In making this choice the strategists will need to consider such questions as the following: Is the chosen type of struggle within the capacities of the democrats? Does the chosen technique utilize strengths of the dominated population? Does this technique target the weaknesses of the dictatorship, or does it strike at its strongest points? Do the means help the democrats become more self-reliant, or do they require dependency on third parties or external suppliers? What is the record of the use of the chosen means in bringing down dictatorships? Do they increase or limit the casualties and destruction that may be incurred in the coming conflict? Assuming success in ending the dictatorship, what effect would the selected means have on the type of government that would arise from the struggle? The types of action determined to be counterproductive will need to be excluded in the developed grand strategy.

In previous chapters we have argued that political defiance offers significant comparative advantages to other techniques of struggle. Strategists will need to examine their particular conflict situation and determine whether political defiance provides affirmative answers to the above questions.

Planning for democracy

It should be remembered that against a dictatorship the objective of the grand strategy is not simply to bring down the dictators but to install a democratic system and make the rise of a new dictatorship impossible. To accomplish these objectives, the chosen means of struggle will need to contribute to a change in the distribution of effective power in the society. Under the dictatorship the population and civil institutions of the society have been too weak, and the government too strong. Without a change in this imbalance, a new set of rulers can, if they wish, be just as dictatorial as the old ones. A “palace revolution” or a coup d’état therefore is not welcome.

Political defiance contributes to a more equitable distribution of effective power through the mobilization of the society against the dictatorship, as was discussed in Chapter Five. This process occurs in several ways. The development of a nonviolent struggle capacity means that the dictatorship’s capacity for violent repression no longer as easily produces intimidation and submission among the population. The population will have at its disposal powerful means to counter and at times block the exertion of the dictators’ power. Further, the mobilization of popular power through political defiance will strengthen the independent institutions of the society. The experience of once exercising effective power is not quickly forgot. The knowledge and skill gained in struggle will make the population less likely to be easily dominated by would-be dictators. This shift in power relationships would ultimately make establishment of a durable democratic society much more likely.

External assistance

As part of the preparation of a grand strategy it is necessary to assess what will be the relative roles of internal resistance and external pressures for disintegrating the dictatorship. In this analysis we have argued that the main force of the struggle must be borne from inside the country itself. To the degree that international assistance comes at all, it will be stimulated by the internal struggle.

As a modest supplement, efforts can be made to mobilize world public opinion against the dictatorship, on humanitarian, moral, and religious grounds. Efforts can be taken to obtain diplomatic, political, and economic sanctions by governments and international organizations against the dictatorship. These may take the forms of economic and military weapons embargoes, reduction in levels of diplomatic recognition or the breaking of diplomatic ties, banning of economic assistance and prohibition of investments in the dictatorial country, expulsion of the dictatorial government from various international organizations and from United Nations bodies. Further, international assistance, such as the provision of financial and communications support, can also be provided directly to the democratic forces.

Formulating a grand strategy

Following an assessment of the situation, the choice of means, and a determination of the role of external assistance, planners of the grand strategy will need to sketch in broad strokes how the conflict might best be conducted. This broad plan would stretch from the present to the future liberation and the institution of a democratic system. In formulating a grand strategy these planners will need to ask themselves a variety of questions. The following questions pose (in a more specific way than earlier) the types of considerations required in devising a grand strategy for a political defiance struggle:

How might the long-term struggle best begin? How can the oppressed population muster sufficient self-confidence and strength to act to challenge the dictatorship, even initially in a limited way? How could the population’s capacity to apply noncooperation and defiance be increased with time and experience? What might be the objectives of a series of limited campaigns to regain democratic control over the society and limit the dictatorship?

Are there independent institutions that have survived the dictatorship which might be used in the struggle to establish freedom? What institutions of the society can be regained from the dictators’ control, or what institutions need to be newly created by the democrats to meet their needs and establish spheres of democracy even while the dictatorship continues?

How can organizational strength in the resistance be developed? How can participants be trained? What resources (finances, equipment, etc.) will be required throughout the struggle? What types of symbolism can be most effective in mobilizing the population?

By what kinds of action and in what stages could the sources of power of the dictators be incrementally weakened and severed? How can the resisting population simultaneously persist in its defiance and also maintain the necessary nonviolent discipline? How can the society continue to meet its basic needs during the course of the struggle? How can social order be maintained in the midst of the conflict? As victory approaches, how can the democratic resistance continue to build the institutional base of the post-dictatorship society to make the transition as smooth as possible?

It must be remembered that no single blueprint exists or can be created to plan strategy for every liberation movement against dictatorships. Each struggle to bring down a dictatorship and establish a democratic system will be somewhat different. No two situations will be exactly alike, each dictatorship will have some individual characteristics, and the capacities of the freedom-seeking population will vary. Planners of grand strategy for a political defiance struggle will require a profound understanding not only of their specific conflict situation, but of their chosen means of struggle as well [Who but Sam Rainsy? The CPP and their Vietnamese patrons know this].(13)

When the grand strategy of the struggle has been carefully planned there are sound reasons for making it widely known. The large numbers of people required to participate may be more willing and able to act if they understand the general conception, as well as specific instructions. This knowledge could potentially have a very positive effect on their morale, their willingness to participate, and to act appropriately. The general outlines of the grand strategy would become known to the dictators in any case and knowledge of its features potentially could lead them to be less brutal in their repression, knowing that it could rebound politically against themselves. Awareness of the special characteristics of the grand strategy could potentially also contribute to dissension and defections from the dictators’ own camp.

Once a grand strategic plan for bringing down the dictatorship and establishing a democratic system has been adopted, it is important for the pro-democracy groups to persist in applying it. Only in very rare circumstances should the struggle depart from the initial grand strategy. When there is abundant evidence that the chosen grand strategy was misconceived, or that the circumstances of the struggle have fundamentally changed, planners may need to alter the grand strategy. Even then, this should be done only after a basic reassessment has been made and a new more adequate grand strategic plan has been developed and adopted.

Planning campaign strategies

However wise and promising the developed grand strategy to end the dictatorship and to institute democracy may be, a grand strategy does not implement itself. Particular strategies will need to be developed to guide the major campaigns aimed at undermining the dictators’ power. These strategies, in turn, will incorporate and guide a range of tactical engagements that will aim to strike decisive blows against the dictators’ regime. The tactics and the specific methods of action must be chosen carefully so that they contribute to achieving the goals of each particular strategy. The discussion here focuses exclusively on the level of strategy.

Strategists planning the major campaigns will, like those who planned the grand strategy, require a thorough understanding of the nature and modes of operation of their chosen technique of struggle. Just as military officers must understand force structures, tactics, logistics, munitions, the effects of geography, and the like in order to plot military strategy, political defiance planners must understand the nature and strategic principles of nonviolent struggle. Even then, however, knowledge of nonviolent struggle, attention to recommendations in this essay, and answers to the questions posed here will not themselves produce strategies. The formulation of strategies for the struggle still requires an informed creativity.

In planning the strategies for the specific selective resistance campaigns and for the longer term development of the liberation struggle, the political defiance strategists will need to consider various issues and problems. The following are among these:

• Determination of the specific objectives of the campaign and their contributions to implementing the grand strategy.

• Consideration of the specific methods, or political weapons, that can best be used to implement the chosen strategies. Within each overall plan for a particular strategic campaign it will be necessary to determine what smaller, tactical plans and which specific methods of action should be used to impose pressures and restrictions against the dictatorship’s sources of power. It should be remembered that the achievement of major objectives will come as a result of carefully chosen and implemented specific smaller steps.

• Determination whether, or how, economic issues should be related to the overall essentially political struggle. If economic issues are to be prominent in the struggle, care will be needed that the economic grievances can actually be remedied after the dictatorship is ended. Otherwise, disillusionment and disaffection may set in if quick solutions are not provided during the transition period to a democratic society. Such disillusionment could facilitate the rise of dictatorial forces promising an end to economic woes.

• Determination in advance of what kind of leadership structure and communications system will work best for initiating the resistance struggle. What means of decision-making and communication will be possible during the course of the struggle to give continuing guidance to the resisters and the general population?

Communication of the resistance news to the general population, to the dictators’ forces, and the international press. Claims and reporting should always be strictly factual. Exaggerations and unfounded claims will undermine the credibility of the resistance.

• Plans for self-reliant constructive social, educational, economic, and political activities to meet the needs of one’s own people during the coming conflict. Such projects can be conducted by persons not directly involved in the resistance activities.

• Determination of what kind of external assistance is desirable in support of the specific campaign or the general liberation struggle. How can external help be best mobilized and used without making the internal struggle dependent on uncertain external factors? Attention will need to be given to which external groups are most likely, and most appropriate, to assist, such as non-governmental organizations (social movements, religious or political groups, labor unions, etc.), governments, and/or the United Nations and its various bodies.

Furthermore, the resistance planners will need to take measures to preserve order and to meet social needs by one’s own forces during mass resistance against dictatorial controls. This will not only create alternative independent democratic structures and meet genuine needs, but also will reduce credibility for any claims that ruthless repression is required to halt disorder and lawlessness.

Spreading the idea of noncooperation

For successful political defiance against a dictatorship, it is essential that the population grasp the idea of noncooperation. As illustrated by the “Monkey Master” story (see Chapter Three), the basic idea is simple: if enough of the subordinates refuse to continue their cooperation long enough despite repression, the oppressive system will be weakened and finally collapse.

People living under the dictatorship may be already familiar with this concept from a variety of sources. Even so, the democratic forces should deliberately spread and popularize the idea of noncooperation. The “Monkey Master” story, or a similar one, could be disseminated throughout the society. Such a story could be easily understood. Once the general concept of noncooperation is grasped, people will be able to understand the relevance of future calls to practice noncooperation with the dictatorship. They will also be able on their own to improvise a myriad of specific forms of noncooperation in new situations.

Despite the difficulties and dangers in attempts to communicate ideas, news, and resistance instructions while living under dictatorships, democrats have frequently proved this to be possible. Even under Nazi and Communist rule it was possible for resisters to communicate not only with other individuals but even with large public audiences through the production of illegal newspapers, leaflets, books, and in later years with audio and video cassettes.

With the advantage of prior strategic planning, general guidelines for resistance can be prepared and disseminated. These can indicate the issues and circumstances under which the population should protest and withhold cooperation, and how this might be done. Then, even if communications from the democratic leadership are severed, and specific instructions have not been issued or received, the population will know how to act on certain important issues. Such guidelines would also provide a test to identify counterfeit “resistance instructions” issued by the political police designed to provoke discrediting action.

Repression and countermeasures

Strategic planners will need to assess the likely responses and repression, especially the threshold of violence, of the dictatorship to the actions of the democratic resistance. It will be necessary to determine how to withstand, counteract, or avoid this possible increased repression without submission. Tactically, for specific occasions, appropriate warnings to the population and the resisters about expected repression would be in order, so that they will know the risks of participation. If repression may be serious, preparations for medical assistance for wounded resisters should be made.

Anticipating repression, the strategists will do well to consider in advance the use of tactics and methods that will contribute to achieving the specific goal of a campaign, or liberation, but that will make brutal repression less likely or less possible. For example, street demonstrations and parades against extreme dictatorships may be dramatic, but they may also risk thousands of dead demonstrators. The high cost to the demonstrators may not, however, actually apply more pressure on the dictatorship than would occur through everyone staying home, a strike, or massive acts of noncooperation from the civil servants.

If it has been proposed that provocative resistance action risking high casualties will be required for a strategic purpose, then one should very carefully consider the proposal’s costs and possible gains. Will the population and the resisters be likely to behave in a disciplined and nonviolent manner during the course of the struggle? Can they resist provocations to violence? Planners must consider what measures may be taken to keep nonviolent discipline and maintain the resistance despite brutalities. Will such measures as pledges, policy statements, discipline leaflets, marshals for demonstrations, and boycotts of pro-violence persons and groups be possible and effective? Leaders should always be alert for the presence of agents provocateurs whose mission will be to incite the demonstrators to violence.

Adhering to the strategic plan

Once a sound strategic plan is in place, the democratic forces should not be distracted by minor moves of the dictators that may tempt them to depart from the grand strategy and the strategy for a particular campaign, causing them to focus major activities on unimportant issues. Nor should the emotions of the moment — perhaps in response to new brutalities by the dictatorship — be allowed to divert the democratic resistance from its grand strategy or the campaign strategy. The brutalities may have been perpetrated precisely in order to provoke the democratic forces to abandon their well-laid plan and even to commit violent acts in order that the dictators could more easily defeat them.

As long as the basic analysis is judged to be sound, the task of the pro-democracy forces is to press forward stage by stage. Of course, changes in tactics and intermediate objectives will occur and good leaders will always be ready to exploit opportunities. These adjustments should not be confused with objectives of the grand strategy or the objectives of the specific campaign. Careful implementation of the chosen grand strategy and of strategies for particular campaigns will greatly contribute to success.
13 Recommended full length studies are Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, (Boston, Massachusetts: Porter Sargent, 1973) and Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict, (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1994). Also see Gene Sharp, Waging Nonviolent Stuggle: Twentieth Century Practice and Twenty-First Century Potential. Boston: Porter Sargent, 2005.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This strategic planning is too much for SRP.