Democracy advocates should give more heed to vision and strategic planning instead of an all-too-common “Chicken Little” approach to transitions, writes Robert L. Helvey, the author of On Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: Thinking About the Fundamentals. Democratic transitions from authoritarian rule should begin before dictatorships fall:
In waging a strategic nonviolent conflict, the vision of tomorrow is translated into a strategic goal in which the general public can see themselves better off at the end of a successful struggle, and they are confident enough in their movement leadership to risk their lives and fortunes in bringing down the dictatorship by removing its very sources of power found in “pillars of support.” These pillars are those institutions and organizations that make themselves available to be used by the dictator. Most often these are the military, police, political parties, religious institutions, government workers, and large businesses.
To prepare the battlefields for waging a strategic nonviolent struggle, many of the same considerations given to waging an armed conflict are applicable. For example, no military commander worthy of command would ever develop a strategic plan without preparing a strategic estimate in order to identify the environment in which the struggle would be waged, the capabilities of his own and opponent forces, and conducting a detailed analysis of opposing courses of action.
I cannot find any evidence of a strategic estimate being prepared by either the Egyptian or Syrian nonviolent movements. Otherwise, there would have been plans to pre-empt the Muslim Brotherhood victories in the recent elections and the Syrian movement would have considered that the current Assad would most likely act as did his father in quelling opposition through slaughter. They would have prepared for this contingency from the very beginning of the movement.
Another strategic planning failure is the misconception that a nonviolent movement can co-exist with a violent (armed) component……….If a movement leadership requests the participation of foreign military forces in its democracy struggle, it is, in effect, forfeiting its claim to self-liberation and has placed its future to be subordinate to the interests of the foreign government intervening on its behalf.
Col. Robert L. Helvey, U.S. Army, (ret), is a consultant and instructor to pro-democracy groups.