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Thread: Popular rebellion, state response and our failure to date: a debate

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Popular rebellion, state response and our failure to date: a debate

    Adapted from M-A Lagrange's post on the Libyan thread (No.682).

    What struck me in the Libyan story is the incapacity of the modern state to deal with popular uprising(s). It is clear now that we just do not know, want or can deal with non-state actors, even if it's a population and not an armed group.

    Basically we have not evolved, what ever we say, since the 'Cold War'. Tactics and technical factors have evolved, but states are still limited by their obligations to deal with a state, whether it is legitimate or not.

    I really think that we - the SWJ community - have to start thinking in depth on this.

    Quick scan of the headings here found nothing similar, although we may have touched upon the failure to adapt of the modern, western state elsewhere.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 04-11-2011 at 09:40 AM.
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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Basically we have not evolved, what ever we say, since the 'Cold War'. Tactics and technical factors have evolved, but states are still limited by their obligations to deal with a state, whether it is legitimate or not.
    Are states really obligated to deal with a state? During the Cold War states dealt with non-state actors on a regular basis: supporting rebels fighting against governments allied to your rival was a standard Cold War tactic.

    Is it possible that what we're seeing now is less inability to deal with non-state actors than a (not unreasonable) uncertainty over the extent to which it is in the interest of any given state to commit itself to a relationship with a non-state actor in a time when there isn't the motivation of trying to undermine a great-power rival.

    Is there a failure in Libya? If so, a failure to accomplish what? If there is a "failure", is it because the West doesn't have the capacity to work with a non-state actor or because the west isn't sure of the extent to which it wants to work with a non-state actor?

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    Council Member M-A Lagrange's Avatar
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    First of all, thanks David for creating that new threat.

    Dayuhan,

    My point was rather on the fact that in Lybia, according to the media, Western powers are asking to the population to get organised, basically to have a "State like" structre we can deal with.

    For non state actors, as rebel groups, you always have a hierarchy that you deal with. But in the case of Lybia, what really seems to be the limit for me is the fact that there was no organised government or para-state organisation. Which opened the door to many suputation: are they AQ... Basically: what are you people?

    This striked me as Kilcullen was making almost the same reflection about USSR, saying that we did not see its end coming as we were focussed on the State apparatus and not the people.
    In Lybia, it seems to be the same, we did/do not know what to do with that population that is not organised in a structure we (States) can apprehend and formally deal with. So it leaves an open door to negociations with a structure we know, in that case Gaddafi.
    It seems that we are embarrassed with dealing with organisations which are not similar with Webberian States and even more with populations. And it is incontradiction with most of the discours of R2P and hearts and minds.

    My point is: how can we deal with such "pure non state actor" or, to go in Bob's world direction, with the roots/core group of a State: the people.
    It seems that if some components of the Clausewitz trilogy are missing (either land or army) we do not know what to do.
    While we legitimate our position by the fact that our governements are by the people for the people and the spread of "democracy" is made for the people in the name of the people.
    Actually, the people, who are the main actors of the trilogy, seems to be the most problematic to deal with.

    But I do not want to limit the reflection on that by, for, in the name of the people aspect. I think that we need to look in depth to our ability to apprehend such event, especially population uprising. What is our role, what can we or cannot, do or do not want to do...
    To use Dayuhan question: is west capable to work with populace/population/people?

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    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Previous debates in this area

    There is a similar thread 'Threat or Opportunity: non-violent protest?':http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=12546

    How do external states, for the SWJ community often not regional states, respond to a 'popular rebellion' in the early stages? For a moment ignore recent events in some Arab states. How about South Africa, post-Sharpeville or Rhodesia post-UDI? More recently Iran, Poland, Ukraine and many more.

    Western diplomats have claimed their pre-regime change establishment of relations with internal and external opposition in South Africa was important in facilitating change. There was little or none in Iran and in Poland there was an attempt to over considerable support to Solidarity.

    In an earlier thread on 'kith & kin' we debated that factor, prompted by the situation in Haiti: http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ead.php?t=8829

    How legitimate can a Western state response be to a 'popular rebellion'? Legitimate to us, probably a few within the rebellion, not at all for the state concerned and quite possibly for many in the affected state.
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    Default The essence

    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    How do external states, for the SWJ community often not regional states, respond to a 'popular rebellion' in the early stages?
    To answer this question, it is necessary to understand the essence of popular rebellion. Popular rebellions revolve around mobilisation power. American sociologist Talcott Parsons likened uprisings to "A Run on the Power Bank". Popular rebellion succeeds if a defiant mass swamps a regime's instruments of repression. Regimes only have so many police officers, prison cells, torture chambers etc. When the masses keep crowding the streets despite of repression, the regime collapses.

    This means that our attention should not focus on the crowds, but on the organizations that mobilize and sustain them. Raising a crowd of a hundred thousand people and maintaining its presence on a city square is an exercise in communication, transportation, finance, and logistics. The organization that leads this undertaking will almost invariably take the forefront when the regime crumbles.

    Take Iran, though all factions of the population participated in the 1978 revolution (Liberals, Socialists and the Shi'i clergy), the clergy took the forefront because of their organizational infrastructure (mosques where they could adress groups of people, charitable branches that could manage distribution of food and water, financial reserves from religious fundraising, etc.) A similar thing happened in Iraq in the wake of OIF. In 2003, Moqtada al-Sadr took control of the remains of the organization that organized the (failed) 1991 Shi'i uprising. This organization allowed him to organize the first free Shi'i pilgrimage in southern Iraq, mobilising half a million people. Similarly, the 1987 Intifada put the organization that was able to sustain it logistically (the Muslim Brotherhood, which evolved later into Hamas) to the forefront.

    In summary, for an effective response to a 'popular rebellion' in the early stages, we should NOT focus on the rebellion, but on the organization that SUSTAINS it.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    A) States can choose to recognise a rebel government as the legitimate government, as France did with the Libyan rebels iirc.

    B) There's non need to get involved in others' internal affairs in most cases. Whatever problem our governments have in dealing with foreign rebels in distant places, it's probably not important.

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Marc View Post
    In summary, for an effective response to a 'popular rebellion' in the early stages, we should NOT focus on the rebellion, but on the organization that SUSTAINS it.
    I respectfully disagree. I think, since the end of WWII we have entered into an era where popular rebellions can be (or have been) sustained by ideas, not organizations. Ideas have no structure. The right idea at the right time is like a match in a field of dry grass, it rapidly can turn into a wildfire if not suppressed early. "An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come" Victor Hugo. In my mind the change has occurred for three reasons. First, communications is so much faster now than it had been in the past. Second, the mechanisms of state repression so popular prior to WWII are no longer viable in the international community. The third has to do with why the popular uprising happens, that is an entirely different theory.


    I also think that it is human nature to want to put a face with a name (or in this case, a revolution). Even with faceless ones, we tend to put an person, in an iconic image, at the center of the storm. A man standing in front of a tank. Otherwise it is just too confusing, to hard to gauge who to trust. Plus, since so much of modern politics is business, too hard to figure out who is going to sell me the oil.

    I don't know the answer. There was a time when a foreign power would send in military envoys to determine the likelihood of a revolution's success. Perhaps that is an idea whose time has come again.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 05-16-2011 at 10:18 AM.
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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by M-A Lagrange View Post
    My point was rather on the fact that in Lybia, according to the media, Western powers are asking to the population to get organised, basically to have a "State like" structre we can deal with.
    Are we "asking them to organize" (assuming that we are; media reports aren't always accurate) because we can't deal with them unless they have a state-like structure? Or are we asking them to organize because they can't possibly win - or govern if they do win - if they don't organize?

    Rebellions may start as disorganized mass movements, but if they want to succeed they sooner or later have to organize. If the government opposing them is strong enough to resists they will have to organize to defeat the government. If the government falls while the movement is still disorganized, there still has to be an organization process if the rebels are to take advantage.

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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Mao made this point, too. He wrote that uprisings rebel, then organise (plan). Political (ideological) movements plan (organise), then rebel.

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    Council Member M-A Lagrange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fuchs View Post
    Mao made this point, too. He wrote that uprisings rebel, then organise (plan). Political (ideological) movements plan (organise), then rebel.
    This is exactly my point. Mao is a figure of the post WW2 and Cold War. What about a rebellion that is not politically organised (many parties, civilian will...) not planed (population get fed up or react to a desperate act as in Tunisia or to repression).
    Cause this is what West has been encouraging (non organised popular movement) and now may have to face/support. In the case of Lybia, the first move was to say: you are not organised that means we do not trust you cause you might be a easy catch for AQ.

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    Council Member TheCurmudgeon's Avatar
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    Default Back to the topic ...

    Moving back to the original question:
    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    What struck me in the Libyan story is the incapacity of the modern state to deal with popular uprising(s). It is clear now that we just do not know, want or can deal with non-state actors, even if it's a population and not an armed group.

    Basically we have not evolved, what ever we say, since the 'Cold War'. Tactics and technical factors have evolved, but states are still limited by their obligations to deal with a state, whether it is legitimate or not.
    I think that the modern nation-state can and does deal with non-state actors, like corporations and NGOs, as long as they have an organizational structure. The question becomes more, how do you deal with a mob? I am not sure that an outside element can until that amorphous blob coagulates into some organizational entity. I think you can send in envoys but you must be realistic about what you believe they can achieve.

    I suppose you could send in a demagogue, someone trained at swaying a mobs opinions ... maybe George Clooney.
    Last edited by TheCurmudgeon; 05-17-2011 at 10:11 AM.
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    Council Member Fuchs's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheCurmudgeon View Post
    The question becomes more, how do you deal with a mob?
    You step on a balcony and hold a speech.

    This works fine (unless you're a delusional moron as was Ceaucescu).

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