Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

How `People Power' Can Triumph Over Military Might

IS it possible for ``people power'' to triumph over military might? Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, the authors of ``Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century,'' do not make that bold a claim. Through examination of six nonviolent actions in this century, they make a convincing case that ``all visions of the future will be incomplete unless they address the strategic potential of nonviolent sanctions.''

Ackerman, managing director of Rockport Financial Ltd. in London, is best known for his investment-banking background, but has been a visiting scholar at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. Kruegler is president of the Albert Einstein Institution in Cambridge, Mass. (see story, above).

About these ads

The authors have taken six episodes, and examined the effect of nonviolent sanctions applied by people without access to military power. The episodes provide a walk through some of this century's nightmares: the Russian revolution of 1905; the French occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 and German civilian resistance to it; the Indian independence movement in the 1930-1931 period; Danish resistance to Nazi occupation in World War II; the civic strike of 1944 in El Salvador; and Solidarity in Poland in 1980.

Before examining these events, the authors develop a 12-point screen against which to measure the resisters' success. Under ``principles of development,'' they stress the importance of defining objectives, achieving the proper organizational structure, and reaching out to external sources for possible aid.

Under ``principles of engagement,'' resister's should look for ways to prevent their opponents from consolidating their control or of limiting the impact of their opponents' weapons and maintaining their own reliance on nonviolence. On the latter point, the authors argue: ``Not only does violence mix poorly with nonviolent action, but even the contemplation of opportunistic violence weakens the effectiveness of strategic nonviolent conflict.''

In a third category, ``principles of conception,'' they argue for a constant reappraisal as the scene shifts and for ``continuity between sanctions, mechanisms, and objectives.''

This somewhat dry rehearsal of principles is relieved in the telling of the six episodes. This reviewer was especially interested in their analysis of Gandhi and the events following the famous salt march of 1930. The authors find Gandhi a master strategist, but say that his vanity (in being invited to the Second London Conference) made him yield up too many of the fruits of a successful campaign of passive resistance.

A skeptical reader, as this reviewer was at the start, would claim that these periods of resistance arose suddenly and developed differently, so that no amount of planning could have improved their outcomes. The authors' analysis of each case convinces one, however, that there are principles to follow in a resistance movement that will enhance the chance of success, even if not all of them can be implement-ed. They freely acknowledge that each situation is unique. ``Strategic nonviolent conflict is just as unpredictable as conflict between two military adversaries. In fact, the uncertainty may be greater because nonviolent sanctions rely so heavily on masses of people understanding and performing complex operations.''

If the world has indeed entered a new era, and if global communications make every conflict more visible and the use of military force seem more reprehensible to mankind at large, then the possibilities for successful nonviolent conflict would seem to have broadened. By analyzing the cases they present, Ackerman and Kruegler have done pioneer work in trying to show how such actions have a better chance of success.