External support to various actors involved in nonviolent campaigns can affect the trajectory of a nonviolent struggle. This monograph evaluates which external support to civil resistance campaigns is efficacious as well as the cumulative impact of these forms of external support on campaign outcomes.
Nonviolent campaigns usually take place in complex domestic settings. We develop a strategic approach to external assistance, arguing that nonviolent campaigns tend to benefit the most from external assistance that allows them to generate high participation, maintain nonviolent discipline, deter crackdowns, and elicit security force defections. But various forms of external assistance have mixed effects on the characteristics and outcomes of nonviolent campaigns.
In this study, we use novel qualitative and quantitative data to examine the ways that external assistance impacted the characteristics and success rates of post-2000 maximalist uprisings.
Case studies in the report are:
- Serbia (2000): Bulldozer Revolution
- Ukraine (2004-2005): Orange Revolution
- Belarus (2006): Denim Revolution
- Iran (2009): Green Revolution and Day of Rage
- Tunisia (2010 – 2011): Jamine Revolution
- Egypt (2011): January 25 Revolution
- Syria (2011 – 2013): Syrian Uprising
- Sudan (2011 – 2013): Anti-al-Bashir Movement
Specifically, our combined qualitative and quantitative research suggests that training seems to effectively support nonviolent campaigns more consistently than any other form of assistance. – pg. 5
- Executive Summary
- Four Perspectives on External Assistance
- A Brief Summary of Eight Campaigns
- Exploring General Patterns of External Support
- Combined Analysis: Triangulating the Qualitative and Quantitative Data
- Main Recommendations Informed by the Findings
- Acknowledgements / About the Authors
9 Key Findings
- “First, few nonviolent uprisings in the past twenty years existed without significant international attention and involvement. However, both quantitative and qualitative evidence suggests that external support is always secondary to local actors. While authoritarian regimes often accuse domestic dissenters of being foreign agents, there is little evidence to suggest that external support is necessary or sufficient for the success of nonviolent campaigns.
- Second, long-term investment in civil society and democratic institutions can strengthen the societal foundations for nonviolent movements. Long-term technical and financial assistance to civic organizations, election monitoring, political parties, think tanks, youth movements, unions, and independent media has helped build the demand side for human rights, civic participation and government accountability.
- Third, activists who receive training prior to peak mobilization are much more likely to mobilize campaigns with high participation, low fatalities, and greater likelihood of defections. Training provides important skills-building functions but, perhaps even more importantly, it can provide direct avenues for relationship-building, peer learning and spaces for strategic planning.
- Fourth, mitigating regime repression via political, diplomatic, and security engagement is a critical form of assistance that supports an enabling environment for nonviolent organizing and mobilizing. Programmatic support to civil society needs to be backed by pressure, but sanctions can make getting support to activists very difficult. The research also highlights the need for greater investment in local and third-party mediation to mitigate violence and facilitate transitions.
- Fifth, generally speaking, support from foreign governments appears to indirectly help most campaigns. But this finding does not mean that government assistance is what makes movements win. Government assistance before a campaign begins may help to strengthen the rule of law, support the creation of independent media, enhance capacities for election-monitoring and other accountability mechanisms, and create more opportunities for opposition parties, unions, student groups, and civic organizations to develop. Persistent bilateral government engagement with a state experiencing a civil resistance campaign may provide greater diplomatic leverage for the donor state—creating opportunities for mediation, negotiation, or even the threat of withdrawal of financial resources. And government assistance after a campaign may help to bolster civil society, democratic institutions, and independent media. Therefore, government assistance can indirectly support nonviolent campaigns. But in general, states seem to be most involved after the campaign has ended—serving as a critical check on transitioning governments.
- Sixth, concurrent external support to armed groups tends to undermine nonviolent movements in numerous ways. Such activities risk militarizing a conflict where a nonviolent movement is already gaining momentum. Support to armed organizations is correlated with lower participation rates, lower chances of maintaining nonviolent discipline, lower chances of eliciting security force defections, and lower chances of movement success. And support by armed rebels groups or paramilitary organizations to nonviolent movements is associated with decreased nonviolent discipline, increased campaign fatalities, and movement failure.
- Seventh, repressive regimes often benefit from outside support from powerful allies, posing a significant challenge for activists. This support, particularly when it is used to bolster regimes’ security apparatus, can alter the relative balance of power between autocrats and opposition forces. On the other hand, an ally’s refusal to back an abusive regime can also be pivotal to the success of the nonviolent campaign.
- Eighth, direct funding to movements has few generalizable effects on movement characteristics or outcomes. The only statistically significant finding suggests that direct financial assistance to movements is correlated with fewer participants in the campaign, suggesting it has adverse effects on a vital movement characteristic. The qualitative research provides more measured evidence for direct financial support, depending on how it is delivered and implemented, as well as who is driving the agenda. Flexible donor funding that minimizes bureaucratic obstacles has been most helpful to movements.
- Finally, donor coordination is important to be able to effectively support and leverage nonviolent campaigns. Numerous interview respondents pointed out the necessity of alignment and coordination among donors in supporting movements, which occurred surprisingly infrequently. This insight helps us understand not just the who and what of external assistance, but also the how. Unity and cohesion are important for movements and donors alike.” – Source: pgs 1 – 2
Qualitative evidence suggests that external support in the form of financial assistance, diplomatic support, or transnational solidarity is most useful when it leverages good local strategies and networks. For example, the youth-led Otpor movement in Serbia, which began as a self-funded network committed to mass mobilization, benefited from donor support that helped the movement expand their activities. But nonviolent campaigns cannot be exported or imported, contrary to authoritarian propaganda. – pg. 74
For governmental actors
- “Treat movements as stakeholders and conflict actors in their own right, with goals and demands.
- Listen to activists and movement leaders. Invite them to participate in policy fora and high-level diplomatic engagements. Encourage diplomats and development practitioners to engage with non-traditional civil society actors and movements, including as part of high-level country visits by government and UN officials, and recognize diplomats who do it well with awards and other incentives.
- Invest long-term in civil society strengthening and capacity-building, but avoid the NGO-ization of less formal civil society groups. Support for movements, independent media, human rights documentation and advocacy, election monitoring, and nonviolent action training and skills-building can help create an enabling environment for nonviolent campaigns.
- Provide convening spaces and opportunities for intra-movement cohesion and relationship-building and facilitate meetings between movement leaders and government officials. Strengthen the ability of international mediators to engage effectively with movements, particularly in the context of mass mobilizations.
- Coordinate donor activities at the policy and programmatic levels. This is particularly important to counter malign external actor influence, including governmental backing of authoritarian repression.
- For the US government specifically, designate a point person or office to take the lead in planning and coordinating USG efforts in the context of popular movements challenging authoritarian regimes. Convene outside experts who are familiar with civil resistance and transition characteristics to inform policy and programmatic decisions.
- Prioritize the prevention and mitigation of violent repression targeting nonviolent activists and movements. Use diplomatic pressure, targeted sanctions, and military-to-military levers to deter and punish security force or paramilitary violence targeting unarmed protestors. These tools are described in Military Engagement. Encourage nonviolent discipline on the part of activists and movements to avoid militarizing.
- Support NGOs and other nongovernmental actors that work regularly with movements. Challenge foreign governments’ efforts to restrict civic space using legal, political, economic, and security assistance levers.
For nongovernmental actors
- Adopt a movement mindset and develop flexible funding mechanisms to support activists and movements, for whom timely infusions of small funds are often more useful than large chunks of funding.
- Invest in trainings and workshops for activists and movement leaders that build skills in civil resistance and nonviolent organizing, help movements resolve internal conflicts, prepare them for negotiations, and bring veterans of successful nonviolent movements to share lessons learned. Providing spaces for strategic planning, trust and relationship-building, and peer learning can be particularly helpful for activists who are otherwise involved in the daily minutiae of activism.
- Support research and education efforts that elevate the histories and contemporary applications of nonviolent resistance in different countries and contexts. Translating and disseminating these materials in local languages can deepen awareness of, and appreciation for, homegrown and culturally nuanced examples of nonviolent action.
- Expand the circle of local partners and engage groups operating outside the capital. Facilitate connections between grassroots actors and more traditional NGO leaders, between local and national groups and NGOs, and between civic actors in cities and rural areas without forcing collaboration.”
Source: pgs 83-84
In this webinar, Professor Erica Chenoweth and Dr. Maria Stephan discuss their groundbreaking new study on external support to civil resistance movements, published in ICNC Press’s latest monograph: The Role of External Support in Nonviolent Campaigns: Poisoned Chalice or Holy Grail?
Using both quantitative and qualitative research methods, Chenoweth and Stephan examine and speak about:
- A wide variety of forms of external support to civil resistance campaigns.
- A range of providers of external support.
- Diverse recipients of movement-related external support
- Considerations related to timing of external support
- The impact that these factors have on the trajectories and outcomes of civil resistance campaigns.
About the Authors
Erica Chenoweth is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard Kennedy School and a Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University. Chenoweth is core faculty at Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, where they direct the Nonviolent Action Lab. Chenoweth has published seven books and dozens on articles on political violence and its alternatives. Chenoweth’s most recent book, Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford, 2021), explores what civil resistance is, how it works, why it sometimes fails, how violence and repression affect it, and the long-term impacts of such resistance. Their next book with Zoe Marks, Rebel XX: Women on the Frontlines of Revolution, explores the impact of women’s participation on the outcomes of mass movements and the quality of egalitarian democracy more generally.
Maria J. Stephan
Maria J. Stephan’s career has bridged the academic, policy, and non-profit sectors, with a focus on the role of civil resistance and nonviolent movements in advancing human rights, democratic freedoms, and sustainable peace in the US and globally. She most recently directed the Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace, overseeing cutting-edge research and programming focused on the nexus of nonviolent action and peacebuilding. Stephan is the co-author (with Erica Chenoweth) of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011). She is the co-author of Bolstering Democracy: Lessons Learned and the Path Forward (Atlantic Council, 2018); the co-editor of Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? (Atlantic Council, 2015); and the editor of Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave, 2009). From 2009-14, Stephan was lead foreign affairs officer in the U.S. State Department, serving in Afghanistan and Turkey. She later co-directed the Future of Authoritarianism initiative at the Atlantic Council. Stephan has taught at Georgetown University and American University. She received her BA from Boston College and her MA and PhD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Stephan, a native Vermonter, is a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
- TED talk: The success of nonviolent civil resistance: Erica Chenoweth at TEDxBoulder
- International Center on Nonviolent Conflict ICNC – Resource Library
- Civil Resistance Tactics in the 21st Century
- Book – Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non violent resistance, Erica Chenoweth, Maria J. Stephan, Columbia Press, 2012
- The Checklist to End Tyranny: How Dissidents will Win 21st Century Civil Resistance Campaigns
- Beautiful Action Trainer Modules (BATMo): Resources for Nonviolent Action Trainers
- Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA): Start Here
- Civil resistance
- Direct action
- Direct action - Non violent NVDA
- Donors and donations
- Not for profit organisations_Non Government Organisations NGOs
- Violence - Prevention and De-escalation