The Link Between Nonviolent Resistance and Conflict Transformation in Asymmetric Conflicts

Nonviolent resistance is a generic type of nonviolent movement that goes hand in hand with conflict transformation. Conflict transformation aims to change the dynamics of the conflict, the relationship of the parties and to create favorable conditions to bring both parties to negotiations. One way to achieve such conditions may be to perform acts of omission and commission. By these acts, the adversary can be convinced to opt for the resolution of the conflict as soon as possible. Nonviolent resistance can take over the functioning of the state and society if it is waged against the occupiers, the state government or the colonizers. It cannot be pursued where there is an asymmetry of power. The strong group can use force to suppress the weaker one. It can cause massive bloodshed, mental and physical damage, and widespread chaos. The power asymmetry could give the strong group leverage to do what they perceive to be right and do “other” to meet their unnecessary demands.

Marginalized and oppressed communities can air their grievances and demand equal treatment and social justice through nonviolent resistance. It is one of the most effective tools in the field of non-violence. Direct engagement in the opposition against physical and structural violence, and all injustices without resorting to physical violence. It can also contribute to conflict transformation because their techniques have a common goal, social change through peaceful means. Conflict transformation can also cause shifts in power, which can mitigate or defuse conflict. This can lead both parties to conflict resolution. Additionally, “direct action” challenges existing methods of dispute resolution such as courts, legislature, mediation, negotiation, etc. It confronts the status quo and can disrupt the public order situation.

Nonviolent resistance is not only opposition to physical violence but also structural defects. Tolstoy, Quaker and Thoreau asserted that the authority of any ruler or regime depends on the submission and obedience of the “governed”. In nonviolent resistance, this submission is abolished through non-cooperation and civil disobedience such as boycotts, strikes, fiscal resistance. It prevents the government from functioning.

Since 1945, different social movements have grown to achieve different goals like Gandhi’s independence movement, civil rights movement, etc. During this time, two major concepts of nonviolence have been developed: principled nonviolence and pragmatic nonviolence. Reasoned nonviolence is the approach that defends the use of nonviolent resistance for religious, moral and philosophical purposes. He says violence should be avoided because it is brutality against humanity and nature. People should be at peace mentally and physically. They should believe in the truth and follow non-violence as the goal of life. Gandhi followed the same principle of non-violence. He believed in self-transformation, self-harm to achieve one’s goals, and fighting violence without using it. He believed in the transformation of conflicts by extremely peaceful means. On the other hand, pragmatic non-violence proposes the idea of ​​a tactical approach. He says nonviolent struggle must be properly planned and strategic. There should be a balanced approach employed, peaceful means like negotiations and dialogues coupled with non-violent actions and tactics to challenge the power dynamics of society.

Nonviolent resistance or any nonviolent movement can attract foreign support to put pressure on the adversary. This is an important part of the NVR. But the speakers must be impartial and support the legitimate group. They most often work for the assistance of low power groups. If it is discovered that foreign players have associated gains through their lent support, the NVR is considered illegitimate. Foreign aid can be effective in many cases. It can reduce the intensity of violence, put pressure on the adversary, impose sanctions on repressive regimes and play an important role in negotiation processes. And if both parties in conflict have good faith in the third party, the mediation process can lead to the resolution of the conflict.

NVR gives courage, political and social awareness and power to the oppressed. It is also called the power of the helpless. Actions and campaigns like protests, marches and demonstrations mobilize local people and create unity among them. Along with the symbolic expression of grievances, subjects can engage the adversary in meaningful dialogues and win them over. Logical arguments coupled with symbolic opposition against injustices can convert opponents and bring about social change. However, if the conflict is inter-ethnic or asymmetrical, these strategies may not bring enough social change.

The promotion of democratic practices as a peaceful means of eliminating hatred, revenge and animosity in the post-conflict phase is a positive aspect of many non-violent movements. A change in attitude and behavior can prevent the conflict from recurring. Therefore, post-revolution reconciliation is essential for lasting peace.

Véronique Dudouet made a comprehensive connection between nonviolent resistance and conflict transformation in her article Nonviolent Resistance and Conflict Transformation in Power Asymmetries. The author said that NVR and conflict transformation go together because they possess the same motive. She argues that a combination of NVR and conflict transformation techniques can be effective, but cannot be pursued in its true sense in an undemocratic state. This is rightly said because if a state is not democratic, there will be asymmetry of power. The dominant group may be a forced dictator or an occupier, in which case the dominated group may be forced to forcefully suppress nonviolent resistance. This could lead to bloodshed, disruption of public order and unjustified detentions. As clearly illustrated in the Amritsar massacre and many similar incidents. Gandhi was a supporter of the non-violence movement against the British Raj, he did not ask any of his followers to take up arms. The movement had to sacrifice many of its soldiers during the struggle even then.

Dudouet explains that Gandhi believed in self-transformation and endured violence without using it. Gandhi’s theory says that satyagrahi fights injustices, negotiates peacefully and finds solutions mutually. In this realistic world, this concept is extremely idealistic to understand. If the dominant group systematically uses violence to disintegrate the nonviolent movement, the dominated must take up arms for their survival. Such circumstances could involve foreign powers, which could exploit the situations for their benefit. Either side they support will lead to a chaotic situation. It is possible that the involvement or assistance of outsiders will render the NVR illegitimate against the oppressors. This will affect the cause of the nonviolent movement and if it is against the authority of the state, the whole movement can be presented as sabotage activity against the state. The Balochistan Liberation Movement is not a completely non-violent movement, but is claimed to be a threat to national security due to foreign support. Having their claims genuine, the movement lost its purpose and legitimacy.

It is mentioned in the article under review that many non-violent campaigns resorted to guerrilla tactics and lost their purpose and direction. They did, when the NVR failed. The urge to take two extreme approaches can harm the cause and the goal of the oppressed. A balanced approach must be used to be successful. When it is necessary to use violence to obtain something, or to prevent the adversary from doing something, it must be done. There should be no rules of thumb in NVR and conflict transformation to stick to. And that’s practically not possible either. According to the realist perspective, every movement and action in international politics is based on interests. If survival is the interest, one must acquire any strategy to achieve it. Few analysts assume that Gandhi is working for his own political interest calling him a skilled tactician of non-violence. They argued that he exploited the events of the killings, detentions, Amritsar massacre and other horrific wrongs inflicted on his followers to gain popularity and support across the country.

The author created a detailed analogy between conflict transformation and nonviolent resistance in power asymmetry, but offered no recommendations for transforming conflict into intense power asymmetry. This is a gap in this article. As the author has clearly described, the NVR is a powerful tool in undemocratic states to oppose oppression, but it is not very effective. The most appropriate recommendation for this purpose is a balanced strategy. It should include peaceful means of conflict resolution and power sharing combined with violent/guerrilla tactics if necessary. But offensive attacks should be avoided as the parties head to the negotiating table. Good faith must be established at this time.

Nonviolent resistance and conflict transformation have the same goal, peace. Not only is it important to express grievances through different means, but also to understand the perspective and concerns of others. It is evident in the article that nonviolent resistance and conflict transformation are effective, but in asymmetric conflicts it can become futile. Therefore, different strategies must be adopted to make it practically achievable and achieve the set goals.

Harry D. Gonzalez