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Do Educated Ethnic Minorities Choose Nonviolent Resistance?

4 Aug

Renat Shaykhutdinov has an interesting piece in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Peace Education. From the abstract:

ethnic groups that enjoy a higher educational status are less prone to using violent strategies choosing instead peaceful protest. I test this hypothesis using data on 238 ethnic groups in 106 states from 1945 to 2000. The results of the statistical analysis indicate that groups with higher levels of educational attainment are more likely to engage in non-violent protest. Conversely, groups that enjoy lower educational status in their respective societies tend to use violent tactics.

The basic idea here is that ethnic minority groups that have better educational access and privileges than the majority (or “core”) population are more likely to use nonviolent protest to make territorial or group demands. Ethnic minorities that have no significant advantages (or the same educational access and privileges as the majority population) will be a little less likely to use nonviolent resistance, and ethnic minorities with observable disadvantages relative to the majority population should be more likely to adopt violence. You can read the article (linked above) to see the evidence he brings to bear on this question, his control variables, and the methods he uses.

This is a great, under-explored question with extremely important ramifications for the policy and advocacy communities. In general, we should probably think more about how learning shapes world politics. Moreover, I like Shaykhutdinov’s argument, mostly because I can get behind its policy implications (who is pro-educational-inequality-across-ethnic-groups and would say so in public?). Nevertheless, the article brings to mind a couple of issues for me.

  • What is the causal mechanism here? Shaykhutdinov argues that educational attainment (what he codes as “educational advantage” vs. “no significant educational advantage” vs. “educational disadvantage”) should reduce the propensity to use violence because education instills norms, values, and skills. I’d call this the “violence is for dummies” argument. This argument has some appeal, as well as some empirical support elsewhere in forecasting where nonviolent uprisings will occur. But we also knowthat a lot of the most dangerous terrorists or insurgents in the world have been educated elites–including many suicide terrorists. Those who use violence aren’t really dummies. Moreover, if education makes people less violent, then why do highly educated people in many societies commit the worst violence? Seemingly this argument would apply to government officials as well as to ethnic groups. But very highly educated people in the world have been some of the 20th Century’s greatest mass murderers (I’m thinking Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, of which many at the top were educated in France prior to returning to Cambodia and committing one of the world’s worst genocides). So why doesn’t educational attainment make violence go down in those cases too?

    Pol Pot

  • To me, one of the most important effects he may be picking up is the fact that ethnic groups that enjoy educational “advantages” may simply be “advantaged” in general. Privilege is privilege. I suspect that educational advantages would be highly correlated with business advantages, for example. The problem is that advantage–or status–may be explaining both the educational status of the groups and their adoption of different protest techniques. What I mean is that ethnic groups that enjoy privileges in society may not wish to threaten that privilege by appealing for more rights through violence. People with less privilege, on the other hand, are already starting from a lower point on the social totem pole. They likely already face considerable barriers to social, economic, and political satisfaction, and educational access is simply more of the same. It is precisely these conditions that may explain both their educational disadvantages and the grievances that they use to justify their violence. This is the classic endogeneity problem (and to be fair, there are no easy ways to overcome this problem statistically).
  • Does the type of education matter? Substance of education might be important. For instance, people who have spent their entire lives in parochial schools may have different feelings about nonviolent and violent resistance than people who have spent their entire lives in public schools. People who receive training in civil resistance methods during their education may be more likely to favor these methods over violence (and vice versa!). A potentially more precise (and theoretically defensible) type of education might be whether the ethnic group has had access to training from other civil resistance or civil society organizations on how to launch an effective nonviolent protest, versus contact with violent insurgents on how to train for a violent uprising.
  • Ironically, I think that oppressive regimes would much rather face a violent insurrection than a nonviolent one. Check out this creepy video released by the Iranian Interior Ministry to see what I mean:

Civil resistance campaigns are scary for autocrats. They don’t know how to competently respond to them. Violent insurgencies, on the other hand, are relatively easy for them to dispose of, using a wide range of repressive tools that are readily available to them. If we took Shaykhutdinov’s conclusions to their logical policy implications, therefore, scholarly-inclined autocrats might use this research as a pretext to generate more educational inequality among their ethnic groups. That way, they could continue to suppress these minority groups socially, economically, and politically, while also denying them the fundamental skills and knowledge required to launch effective nonviolent challenges to the regime. Yikes.

But not so fast, autocrats. I think the empirical relationship between educational advantage may be overstated a bit in Shaykhutdinov’s piece. Take a look at the cross-tabulation below (from the article).

What this table tells me is that the preponderance of ethnic groups in the sample are either advantaged or equal to society as a whole. Few ethnic groups in the sample (only 12 out of 238) were really disadvantaged, and among those that were, only 1 adopted a purely violent strategy. Among the most educationally privileged groups, however, over 15% resorted to a purely violent strategy (the highest percentage of all three categories), whereas only 10% of the educationally-equal groups used a purely violent strategy. A roughly equal percentage of them (38-39%) used nonviolent resistance. As such, the “middle” category of a “mixed” nonviolent and violent strategy is doing the most work in the statistical analysis. But the middle category is the one that is the most problematic fro the theory, since the theory relies on the notion that educationally-privileged ethnic groups should avoid violence, not use it occasionally.

To me, the cross-tabulation suggests that Shaykhutdinov’s hypothesis has little support. I am not sure if there is some colinearity in the regression that moves the coefficients into being significant, but my guess is that the substantive effects of educational equality are pretty small.

From my reading, here are the four key takeaways:

  • Shaykhutdinov should be commended for taking on a crucial question that needs further inquiry. We need more research on the relationship that education has on the choice to use nonviolent or violent resistance (or both), using methodological techniques that can help us to account for potential endogeneity.
  • There seems to be a weak positive association between educational advantage (as well as general education of the overall population) and the adoption of nonviolent strategies of protest, though the association needs further testing.
  • If Shaykhutdinov’s hypothesis is robust, then educational inequality may be a “structural” impediment to nonviolent mobilization. This means that people who want to promote the spread of nonviolent resistance (and reduce the spread of violence) should focus on improving the educational status of ethnic minorities in troubled countries.
  • If there ends up being no support for Shaykhutdinov’s hypothesis, we should be encouraged that educational inequality is not a “structural” impediment to nonviolent mobilization. Even the educationally disadvantaged should be able to adopt and practice nonviolent principles. This should scare autocrats, because it means that one of their tools–deprivation of educational rights–doesn’t really make a difference in terms of an ethnic minority’s ability to rise up and make demands of them.

Regardless, we need to know the answers to these vital questions. Kudos to Shaykhutdinov for taking the first cut.

Why Security Studies Should Take Nonviolent Conflict Seriously

31 Jul

This is a re-post from a March 1, 2011 piece I wrote for The Monkey Cage:

Recent events in the Middle East have revived interest in the theory and practice on nonviolent resistance. Pundits have rediscovered theoretical works by Gene Sharp and other theorists of nonviolent resistance, and have begun to pay more attention to ways that knowledge-sharing among practitioners of civil resistance has influenced these events.  At the same time, political scientists have been criticized for failing to predict the onset of these revolutions. Although such criticisms are not entirely fair, even those who did anticipate that change was coming in the Middle East did not anticipate that these dictators would fall to overwhelmingly nonviolent uprisings.

I would argue that part of this failure to grasp the power of nonviolent mass resistance emerges from a tunnel vision within political science—and within security studies in particular—that privileges the study of violence and often neglects civil resistance as a viable form of political contestation. Even those who study revolutions do not typically distinguish between nonviolent, violent, and “mixed” methods of resistance, despite the fact that the type of resistance method these movements select may have discernable effects on their outcomes.

It is time for security studies to take nonviolent conflict seriously, and to incorporate such episodes and their dynamics into the canonical literature.

In fact, many of the concepts and strategic dynamics that dominate in the security studies literature are perfectly compatible with those discussed in the literature on nonviolent conflict. For instance, a key for any actor in an asymmetric conflict is to attack the opponent at its weakest point and, if possible, to create divisions within the opponent. Ivan Arreguin-Toft argues weaker powers can do this by adopting indirect (or “guerrilla”) strategies against stronger opponents that use direct (or “conventional”) strategies. Gil Merom and Robert Pape have made the argument that democracies are particularly susceptible to challenges by violent non-state actors, because they create unsustainable divisions within democracies. But few have directly compared how nonviolent challenges would line up compared with violent ones, because most of the security studies literature assumes that the most forceful, effective means of waging political struggle entails the threat or use of violence.

The same concept of attacking the opponent at its weakest point applies to nonviolent conflicts, except that I would argue that nonviolent mass movements are actually superior at undermining regime opponents through asymmetric approaches. This is not because of the “moral high ground,” but rather because their reliance on nonviolent resistance confounds their opponents, whose usual response to internal challenge is to use force. As Qaddafi’s response to the Libyan uprising shows, many dictators are willing to use force against nonviolent protestors; however, this is seldom costless for these dictators. They usually pay a major price in the form of loyalty shifts among security forces or civilian bureaucrats, who are more likely to defect to a nonviolent opposition—especially one that appears to represent diverse constituencies within the country—than to a violent campaign, where their survival is not assured. This may be because violence causes the opponent to cohere and unite. Thus, violent movements play to the regime’s strengths, whether they use indirect or direct approaches.

Another good reason for security studies scholars to pay attention to nonviolent resistance is that dictators themselves seem to fear mass nonviolent uprisings far more than violent insurgencies, as evidenced by this fascinating propaganda video released by the Iranian Interior Ministry several years ago. Authoritarian regimes view nonviolent resistance movements as threatening subversive, precisely because they have fewer tools with which to deal with them without provoking backfire.

Ironically, violent insurgencies may be much easier for dictators to deal with, given that the insurgents confront repressive regimes using methods in which such regimes have a decided resource advantage. The ideal situation for Mubarak would have been for him to face a violent pro-democracy rebellion. He was quite experienced in putting down violent uprisings. This is why he took such pains to employ agents provocateurs to force nonviolent protestors to react with violence—and why we should expect authoritarians in other Middle Eastern regimes to attempt the same tactic. But in the Egyptian case, even when Mubarak’s regime unleashed a wave of armed agents provocateurs, the protestors were prepared to maintain discipline and refuse to escalate their actions, which would have undermined their legitimacy and given Mubarak’s security forces the pretext to repress them. Instead, that repression backfired, inspiring near-universal condemnation, resulting in ever more committed mobilization by pro-democracy protestors, and leading to the total refusal of the Egyptian security forces to comply with Mubarak’s orders.

Given the historical potency of nonviolent resistance, why have security studies scholars avoided studying it? I think that there are a few reasons.

  • The first challenge is that people hear the word “nonviolent,” and they assume that these movements are “passive,” “weak,” “pacifist,” or “activist.”
  • Second, it’s difficult to overcome skepticism about whether nonviolent resistance can work against brutal regimes, or whether it can effectively confront extremely “powerful” countries.
  • Others may think that nonviolent campaigns only succeed when they have help from foreign powers or the international community.
  • Some may think the study of nonviolent conflict must be constrained by interminable endogeneity issues, because nonviolent campaigns only emerge in situations where change is already on the horizon—where victory is already assured, so it is “safe” to organize a nonviolent revolution. According to this view, mass nonviolent mobilization is a consequence of regime transitions or self-determination rather than the cause.
  • And finally, nonviolent resistance may be viewed as extraordinarily difficult to measure—a preconception that has no doubt stymied interest and efforts to collect such data.

Most of these concerns are misplaced.

  • First, well-organized nonviolent resistance campaigns are anything but passive. They are active, coercive campaigns prosecuted by unarmed civilians, often with a great deal of training, planning, and strategic forethought similar to what one might observe on the battlefield. This is why I prefer the term “civil resistance” to terms like “nonviolent resistance” (which defines the activity as the mere absence of violence), or “nonviolence” (which implies a moral or philosophical point of view that opposes the use of violence on moral grounds).
  • Second, civil resistance campaigns are highly effective. In a forthcoming book, Maria Stephan and I find that among major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900-2006, over half succeeded, almost all in excessively brutal regimes where victory was certainly not assured at the outset. Compared with a success rate of only about 25% for violent insurgencies, this figure is especially striking.
  • Next, in these nonviolent campaigns, people weren’t necessarily organizing because they saw weakness in their opponent regimes; they organized to create that weakness by attacking the regime at its most vulnerable points (ranging from specific economic sectors to forcing security force defections within the regime).
  • Among the cases we study, foreign aid tended to have no effect on the outcomes of the campaigns—in fact, sometimes foreign aid undermined the legitimacy of the campaign to its own participants.
  • And finally, nonviolent resistance is possible to conceptualize in a way that lends itself to robust inquiry using a variety of empirical methods for causal inference. Projects under the headship of Doug Bond, Doug McAdam and John McCarthy, J. Craig Jenkins, and others make this clear. Whether these efforts have been convincing is open to debate, but similar attempts to measure violent events have been no less problematic.

Those interested in pursuing research related to this topic have many reasons to be encouraged. First, there is considerable potential for fruitful inquiry on the causes, dynamics, outcomes, and consequences of civil resistance as a potent force in confronting powerful state interests. Possible areas for further research include explaining the onset of specifically nonviolent mass campaigns (as opposed to their violent counterparts), explaining variation in the success and failure of different nonviolent campaigns, researching the causes and effects of shifts from nonviolent to violent methods (or vice versa), exploring diffusion effects among movements, measuring and assessing the effects of different tactical choices, evaluating the international dimensions of domestic civil resistance, and exploring the long-term political, social, and economic consequences of civil resistance in post-conflict societies.

Second, there is already a wealth of case-based information that can inform such future studies. A number of scholars and practitioners have unwaveringly advocated and carried out the study of nonviolent conflict for decades, resulting in a voluminous body of work that is just waiting for mainstream security studies scholars to dive into. Moreover, some groups, such as the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, exist for the expressed purpose of spreading knowledge about the dynamics of nonviolent resistance, and are extremely generous in providing scholars with opportunities to do so.

Nonviolent resistance is here to stay as a powerful force for change in the world. I hope security studies scholars will pursue research that affords civil resistance the prominence it deserves in the field.

Why Civil Resistance Works

31 Jul

My book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (with Maria J. Stephan) is now available for sale at Columbia University Press. If you enter the discount code WHYCH, you can get a 30% discount.

Read the advance praise below:

“This is the first major scholarly book to make a well-supported argument that, contrary to what many people believe, nonviolent resistance is more effective than armed resistance in overthrowing regimes, an advantage that is maintained even when the target is not democratic.” — Robert Jervis, Columbia University

“Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan offer a fresh, lively, and penetrating analysis of the conditions under which nonviolent resistance succeeds or fails. Using a wealth of data and in-depth case studies, they show that the scholarly emphasis on forceful approaches is misguided: nonviolent movements are often better able to mobilize supporters, resist regime crackdowns, develop innovative resistant techniques, and otherwise take on and defeat repressive regimes and build durable democracies.” — Daniel Byman, Georgetown University and senior fellow, Saban Center at the Brookings Institution

“After the breathtaking events of 2011, can anyone doubt that nonviolent civil resistance is an effective tool for political change? In this provocative, well-written, and compelling book, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan demonstrate that nonviolent civil resistance is usually a better way to force political change. They identify the conditions favoring its success and provide a convincing explanation for why nonviolent resistance is so effective. Their analysis is rigorous yet accessible, and their conclusions have profound implications for anyone seeking to understand—or promote—far-reaching social and political reform.” — Stephen Walt, Harvard University

“This is social science at its best. Years of critical study culminate in a book on one dominating issue: how does nonviolent opposition compare with violence in removing a regime or achieving secession? The authors study successes and failures and alternative diagnoses of success and failure, reaching a balanced judgment meriting careful study.” — Thomas C. Schelling, Harvard University, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economics