OTPIC Officially Retired

As of December 2, 2005, the Online Training Program on Intractable Conflict (OTPIC) has been officially retired, and is no longer open to new registrations.

The successor to OTPIC is a course called Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts (DCIC). The new curriculum is built around one of our major projects, Beyond Intractability, and offers a much more extensive and informative set of learning materials than that available through OTPIC.

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International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict

Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, USA

Non-Violent Struggle

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The problem with the use of violent confrontation strategies is that they quickly escalate to the point where the parties' only concerns are victory, vengeance, and self-defense. In these cases, the moral arguments of people who are being unjustly treated become irrelevant. What matters is that they have used violent strategies and their opponent is, therefore, justified in a violent response. This problem is complicated by the fact that both sides are usually able to argue that the other side started the violence.

Non-violent resistance strategies, such as those pioneered by  Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King are designed to avoid this trap by absolutely refusing to be drawn into a violent confrontation. Far from being cowardly, this is a strategy that requires tremendous courage, self-control, as well as a willingness to endure pain and sometimes even death. The strength of nonviolence lies in its ability to dramatically reduce the moral legitimacy of those who persist in using violent strategies against non-violent opposition. This loss of legitimacy can, in turn, contribute to coalition-building efforts leading to widespread condemnation of parties using violent strategies and often the imposition of sanctions by the international community.   In essence, non-violent resistance is a strategy for countering the power of violent force with the power of the integrative system. Many non-violent techniques ca also be effective when used against illegitimate uses of legal, political, or other types of force.

Key to the success of  non-violent approaches is the willingness of the parties to base their resistance upon broadly supported moral principles and a communication strategy which publicizes for all the world to see the immoral and violent behavior of their opponents. People can't be expected to condemn things that they do not know about. The success of these publicity efforts requires the presence of impartial and widely trusted observers, as well as a touch of theater. After all, effective communication strategies have to successfully compete for the prominent coverage on newspapers, television, and radio.

There are literally hundreds of different forms of non-violent resistance and struggle, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Gene Sharp, one of the leading scholars on nonviolent direct action has developed a list of 198 forms of nonviolent action, which he divided into three categories:  nonviolent protest and persuasion (the mildest), noncooperation, and nonviolent intervention (the strongest). Nonviolent protest and persuasion includes symbolic actions such as marches or parades, picketing, teach-ins, or vigils--any action which voices peaceful opposition to a policy or a law.  The intent is to persuade others to change their attitude toward that policy and to join the nonviolent struggle to overturn or correct the policy or law.

Sharp's second category, noncooperation, includes stronger actions which involve refusal to do things that are normally done to help a person, group, institution, or government with which one is in conflict.  For example, people might refuse to pay taxes if they disagree with the government's actions spending those taxes; they might refuse to work, or stage a work slow-down to protest working conditions or business or government policies; or they might refuse to obey laws they consider to be unfair or immoral. Noncooperation may be social, political, or economic, depending on what institution is challenged.

Sharp's strongest category of nonviolent action is intervention, which is designed to interrupt an ongoing activity or process of the opponent.  Examples include "sit-ins" in which people will sit in a business or government office, stopping its functioning; or blockages of roads, railroad tracks, or the movement of ships at sea.   Also included in this category are what Sharp called "psychological interventions," --for example, self-inflicted fasting.

All of these forms of direct action are effective, Sharp asserts, because they diminish the legitimacy, and hence the power of the opponent.  "Nonviolent action tends to turn the opponent's violence and repression  against his own power position, weakening it and at the same time strengthening the nonviolent group.  Because violent action and nonviolent action possess quite different mechanisms, and induce differing forces of change in the society, the opponent's repression. . . can never really come to grips with the kind of power wielded by the nonviolent actionists." (The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part II.  Pp. 111-113). Sharp compares this approach to the martial art of jiu-jitsu--in which the violent party loses its balance when confronted with nonviolent opposition.

Links to Examples of Nonviolence

Adam Curle --Treatment for Alienation
Nonviolence was used in Croatia to protect citizens from illegal evictions.
Homer Page - Constructive Demonstration Strategies
Page has been involved in advocacy activities for over 30 years. In this paper he discusses the importance of clearly defining the goals of one's activities,  how tactical escalation of a conflict can work to one's advantage, and how demonstrations relate to negotiation efforts.
Robin Crews - Nonviolent Peacekeeping: The Only Alternative
In this presentation, Crews argues that violence cannot solve intergroup conflicts, that nonviolent approaches are the only options that stand to succeed
Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler -- Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
Ackerman and Kruegler argue that the use of nonviolent action in conflicts is on the increase. They seek to understand the principles of effective nonviolent conflict, and to explore its potential uses in the contemporary context.
Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler -- The Principles of Strategic Nonviolent Conflict
This abstract lists the authors twelve principles of strategic action, each of which influences the success of that action. (This is a supplement to the earlier article.)
Paul Wehr--Power Resources Inventory
This article (and the following one) briefly discuss the use of nonviolence in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.
Paul Wehr--Civil Disobedience
    This article (and the previous one) briefly discuss the use of nonviolence in the U.S. Civil Rights movement.


Links to Outside Examples of the Use of Nonviolent Struggle

The Harvard University Program on Nonviolent Sanctions and Cultural Survival Home Page

Nonviolent Action in Prevention of Genocide:Bosnia in Focus

Designing Effective Action Alerts for the Internet

Nonviolence Web Philosophy of Nonviolence

Nonviolence Web - Issues - Direct Action

Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths

Global Cultures of Peace--Linda Groff and Paul Smoker
This article focuses on alternative definitions of peace and the implications of those definitions to actual peacebuilding activities, including nonviolent direct action.

Michael N. Nagler Peacemaking through Nonviolence

Links to Related Sections

Legitimizing the Use of Force

Civilian Defense

Long Term Struggle

Human and Civil Rights Organizations

Copyright 1998 Conflict Research Consortium  -- Contact: crc@colorado.edu