So I have recently become aware of a number of cases where unarmed civilians have attempted to confront, disrupt, and/or expel armed non-state actors from their locales. Generally these civilians are not “pro-state;” they are often just as critical of the state as they are critical of the armed groups they oppose. Their primary aim is to end violent bloodshed, and to eliminate the institutions and practices in their cities or villages that perpetuate the bloodshed.
Such attempts are more complex (and perhaps more difficult) than typical anti-state campaigns. They involve confronting “invisible” adversaries who are not accountable to any particular constituencies, making it very difficult to identify and disrupt their pillars of support. Moreover, the most important factor in assuring success against a state adversary–broad-based participation–does not necessarily provide the same kind of leverage over non-state actors as it does vis-a-vis state actors.
Nevertheless, some movements around the world have succeeded (or made progress) in depriving violent armed groups the means with which to exploit or oppress them. Here are some examples:
- Colombia “peace villages” (anti-FARC, anti-government, and anti-paramilitary)
- Algeria (anti-GIA)
- Lebanon (anti-sectarian violence)
- Afghanistan (anti-Taliban, anti-NATO)
- Mexico (Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity: anti-drug war)
- Nicaragua (anti-Contras)
- If you know of others, please add in the comments section below!
A number of interesting questions arise. Under what conditions do civilians use unarmed methods to oppose and disrupt violence by non-state actors? Under what conditions, and by what mechanisms, do such efforts succeed? I know of a few people, like Oliver Kaplan, who have studied such phenomena. But it is clear that much more research must be done to understand how the dynamics of civil resistance change in environments like these.