External Leverages

"Great Chain of Nonviolence"

A detailed explanation of the graph can be found in  the webinar talk - on the right - starting from 43:18 until 46:30.


The extent to which foreign occupiers depend on domestic consent of the occupied population varies (e.g., the British in the American colonies or Burma relied more on the indigenous authorities and population than is the case for the Indonesian government in West Papua). However, in general, struggles for independence and self-rule waged against unduly foreign influence, domination, or occupation are often hard to win because the foreign hegemon or occupier usually draws substantial resources and support from its own capital and society. Therefore, these foreign masters may not necessarily depend in full on the ongoing cooperation and obedience of the subjugated population often ruled by a small domestic political elite submissive to the wishes of those masters (e.g., Chapter on Iran).


This is not to say that the populations of occupied societies cannot exercise any direct leverage over the occupiers, particularly if the occupier’s goals are to introduce settlements (as in Palestine); integrate or assimilate the local population with the culture, society, territory, or polity of the colonizers (as in Algeria and Poland); profit from extraction of resources or water pathways (as in West Papua and Egypt); or enlist the colonized population in cheap labor and use its local market for profitable manufacturing and trade (as in Britain’s American colonies). In such circumstances, the occupiers rely on at least some degree of cooperation or acquiescence from parts of the controlled society in order to maintain a semblance of stability and ensure that transportation and communication routes remain open, that trade in goods and money is unimpeded, and that colonial structures are not jeopardized by the indigenous population. Generally, however, the wide distance between a foreign government and a subjugated population limits the latter’s influence over the occupier and makes it necessary for the population to create external leverage by taking its cause to an international audience and to the society of the occupying forces. In doing so, a nonviolent posture is more likely to attract potential allies abroad and gain the support of groups within the occupier’s society while a violent response is more likely to dismay international state and nonstate actors and solidify the support of the occupier’s society for repressive tactics against the occupied population.


The strategy for undermining the immediate control of the adversary is central to successful civil resistance, as various episodes in this book describe. This is seen as far back as the eighteenth century, when the American campaigns of nonconsumption, nonimportation, and nonexportation convinced the British mercantile establishment to pressure their own government to reduce colonial taxation. Another element of successful civil resistance—highlighted in the work of Sayyed Jamal al-Din Asadabadi (el- Afghani) in nineteenth-century Iran and through various figures in the twentieth-century pan-African movement—is the development of strategic skills, training of activists, and establishment of publications in places abroad that are out of the reach of domestic forces of repression. In addition, diaspora communities have often played an important role in giving voice to a domestic movement, as with Poland in the nineteenth century, or in raising funds among Kosovo Albanians to support their movement for independence. The Cuban example cautions that a diaspora can give impetus to armed resistance instead of nonviolent actions.


Johan Galtung refers to the strategy of reaching out to potential third-party allies as “the great chain of nonviolence” that, by extending nonviolent resistance beyond the domestic battlefield, reduces the social distance between the occupied and the occupier’s society. This in turn increases the chances to influence the domestic base of the occupying regime. The strategy involves looking for potential links in the chain, with the idea that they will lead to further links with other external groups that can become potential allies of the nonviolent movement. Some opportunities for making these links might seem obvious, for instance, when students from colonies studied at universities of colonial powers—in Britain, France, Portugal, and Indonesia—and connected with opinion leaders of the colonial societies through fellow students and local citizens. Other instances—such as the transformation of missionaries from agents of cultural imperialism to critics of foreign domination and advocates for the rights of the subjugated— suggest new potential alliances across borders and among foreign and local groups and institutions within the colonized or occupied country. The effect of such alliances and solidarity might not be immediately decisive to the outcome of the struggle, but questioning within the dominant society—for example, by some policymakers, intellectuals, business elites, or functionaries that are asked to carry out repressive orders—can have a cumulative impact by eroding belief in the legitimacy of foreign domination or the will to pay the price of maintaining it.


There has been a noticeable spread of civil resistance over recent decades, even in the struggles ravaged by the most acute conflicts: for example, against dictatorship, occupation, or for self-determination from eight instances that are known to have taken place between 1899 and 1950, to sixty-five between 1951 and 2000, and already to fifty within the first and second decade of the twenty-first century (including the 2011 nonviolent insurrections of the Arab Spring). This trend, among others, has been facilitated by the increasing success rate that civil resistance movements have had in achieving their objectives.