Log in  |  Register
Global Politics and Strategy
Volume 50, 2008 - Issue 3
CrossRef citations to date
The Strategic Dimensions of Civil Resistance
Peter Ackerman&
Berel Rodal
Pages 111-126 | Published online: 09 Sep 2008
Download citation
Full Article
Figures & data
Reprints & Permissions
Get access
The sequenced, sustained application of nonviolent operations has engendered historical results: tyrants have capitulated, governments collapsed, occupying armies retreated and political systems that denied human rights been delegitimated and dismantled. Those threatened by such campaigns are prone to define a ‘regime change’ desired and driven by outside parties as the object and prize In fact, the object is transformation in the way people themselves can determine how they are governed. Individuals and institutions who care about democracy and freedom, peace and security need to work together to develop a set of modern norms for how citizens and civil societies may freely work together across national boundaries and permit universal access to knowledge and resources necessary to protect rights, especially when denied or threatened by oppressive rule.
Previous article
Next article
1 We use ‘nonviolent’ rather than ‘non-violent’ to distinguish the newer meaning of ‘nonviolent action’ at the heart of civil resistance, chosen because it is an effective means of developing and applying political force, rather than as an ethical preference for action that is not violent. Gandhi fought against the use of the term ‘passive resistance’ (which he regretted coining), because he felt it did not convey the reality of political force which could be applied through nonviolent resistance.
2 Etienne de la Boétie, The Politics of Obedience: The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude (New York, Free Life Editions, 1975).
3 Abraham Lincoln, Speeches and Writings, 1832–1858 (New York, The Library of America, 1989).
4 Thomas C. Schelling, ‘Some Questions on Civilian Defense’, in Adam Roberts, ed., Civilian Resistance as a National Defence: Non-violent Action against Aggression (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1967), pp. 351–2, cited in Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler, Strategic Nonviolent Conflict (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994), p. 9. Robert J. Aumann shared the 2005 Nobel Prize for Economics with Tom Schelling. Aumann's particular area of study, the dynamics and application to conflict of repeated games, appears to be of particular relevance to the phenomenon of civil resistance. Work is planned to explore the insights to be gained from specific study of repeated games to help our understanding of the dynamics of civil resistance, and how better to model and exercise it.
5 Gene Sharp, Social Power and Political Freedom (Boston: Porter Sargent, 1980), p. 23.
6 Gene Sharp, The Politics of Nonviolent Action, 3 vols (Manchester, NH: Extending Horizons Books, 1973). Civilian-based defence was a particular development of the concept of civil resistance. The Cold War stimulated thinking amongst a number of scholars about civilian-based defence (CBD) as an alternative form of national defence based on the idea of prepared non-violent non-cooperation and defiance by a trained population.
7 Adam Michnik, Letters from Prison and Other Essays (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987).
8 Peter Ackerman and Adrian Karatnycky, eds, How Freedom is Won: From Civic Resistance to Durable Democracy (Washington DC: Freedom House, 2005).
9 Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth, ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Political Conflict’, International Security, vol. 33, no. 1, Summer 2008 (forthcoming). Stephan and Chenoweth, who developed an original dataset of all known major violent and non-violent campaigns conducted by non-state actors from 1900 to 2006, have found that the higher effectiveness of non-violent campaigns holds true across regime type and the level of repression faced by the campaigners/resisters.
10 Civil Resistance and Power Politics, led by Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash.
11 Adam Roberts and Timothy Garton Ash (eds), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-violent Action from Gandhi to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2009).
12 Quoted in Mure Dickie and Richard McGregor, ‘Beijing Concerned about “Colour Revolution”’, Financial Times, 18 November 2005, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/739cf006–57c5–11da-8866–00000e25118c.html.
13 Mikhail Saakashvili and Viktor Yushchenko, ‘The Carpathian Declaration’, Le Figaro, 11 January 2005.
14 On 26 October 2007 the New York Times reported an interview with Ashin Kovida, a Buddhist monk said to be a leader of Burmese protests who escaped to Thailand by dyeing his hair blond and donning a crucifix. Kovida said ‘he was inspired by the popular uprisings in Yugoslavia against the government of Slobodan Milosevic, videos of which were circulated by dissident groups in Myanmar’.
15 See http://www.nonviolent-conflict,org/​. The centre's mission is to better understand the experience and dynamics of civilian-based nonviolent power, and to disseminate this knowledge widely.
16 ‘Right to Help’ is the working title of a project directed by Edward Mortimer and Berel Rodal to develop and disseminate rules of the road and standards for cross-border assistance able to command widespread, even if not universal, assent. See also Peter Ackerman and Michael J. Glennon, ‘The Right Side of the Law’, American Interest, vol. 3, no. 1, September-October 2007, pp. 41–6.
17 David Miliband, speech on ‘The Democratic Imperative’, Aung San Suu Kyi Lecture, St Hugh's College, Oxford University, 12 February 2008.
Additional information
Notes on contributors
Peter Ackerman
Peter Ackerman is Chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington DC.
Berel Rodal
Berel Rodal is Vice Chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington DC.
Related research
Recommended articles
Cited by
The strategic dimension
The Adelphi Papers
Published online: 2 May 2008
U.S. Arctic security strategies: balancing strategic and operational dimensions
Troy J. Bouffard et al.
The Polar Journal
Published online: 28 Apr 2021
Three Challenges to Civil Resistance
Tom H. Hastings
Peace Review
Published online: 31 Jan 2017
View more
Information for
Open access
Open journals
Open Select
Dove Medical Press
Help and info
Help & contact
Commercial services
Advertising information
All journals
Keep up to date
Register to receive personalised research and resources by email
Sign me up
Copyright © 2021 Informa UK Limited
Privacy policy
Terms & conditions
Registered in England & Wales No. 3099067
5 Howick Place | London | SW1P 1WG
We use cookies to improve your website experience. To learn about our use of cookies and how you can manage your cookie settings, please see our Cookie Policy. By closing this message, you are consenting to our use of cookies.