Evolution of conflict

To what extent are the outcomes of major conflicts determined by the actions of people who were not initially involved?

Figure 1. Conflicts typically start small and grow by activating people who were not initially involved.[1]
Figure 2. When both sides in conflict respond with violence, the conflict typically escalates as people on the sidelines become outraged by the perceived excessive violence of one side and do things to support the opposition.

Dunnigan and Martel (1987) observed that most large wars start small – and small wars tend to start even smaller. If that's true, then the ultimately outcome of most wars is largely determined by (a) the number of people who become active in supporting or opposing one side or the other and (b) their level of commitment to that conflict. This is illustrated by the change from Figure 1 to Figure 2: People initially on the sidelines become activated to support one side or the other.

Revulsion or Attraction edit

But are new supporters attracted by the vision enunciated by one side or repulsed by the perceived excesses of the other?

Figure 3. If one side on conflict is seen to be substantially nonviolent, they tend to attract support from people previously on the sidelines repulsed by the violence from the other side.

India and Algeria edit

This issue has not been extensively researched, but the evidence currently available suggests that revulsion is more important than attraction in motivating escalation in conflict. Years ago, Gene Sharp compared India (Figure 3) with Algeria (Figure 2): "In the [nonviolent] Indian struggle for independence ..., probably not more than eight thousand died directly or indirectly as a result of shootings and other injuries". This is well under a hundredth of one percent of the Indian population in 30 years of mostly nonviolent struggle. Meanwhile, in the 7-year French-Algerian War, 1955-1962, "the number of Algerian dead [was estimated] by some as high as nearly a million out of a population only ten times that size."[2]

Sharp insisted that the difference in casualties was not due to the British being more humane than the French but rather to the tactics chosen by the revolutionaries. In 1919 in Amritsar, India, the British army killed a few hundred nonviolent protesters (estimated by the British at 379 and the Indians at around 1,000). The General who ordered the killings was forced to retire, and British military policy officially became "minimum force". In the French-Algerian war, by contrast, the revolutionaries were violent, which made it easy for the French government to justify violence.

Revulsion from strategic bombing edit

Indirect support for revulsion vs. attraction comes from Pape's claim that strategic bombing is a waste, and the only use of air power that contributes to combat objectives is direct support of ground operations.[3] One of Pape's examples is the the London Blitz during World War II. Before Hitler attacked London, he first targeted the Royal Air Force, destroying most of it on the ground. The British public was not happy about that, but few felt a need to respond. After the Germans started attacking London, Churchill's rhetoric against Germany attracted a more supportive response. The British (and U.S.) people were strongly repulsed by the obvious brutality of the Blitz.

However, Pape's conclusion has been questioned. A RAND report funded by the U.S. Air Force (USAF) acknowledged that the results of aerial coercion are unpredictable. They insisted that strategic bombing could be effective but failed to provide clear guidelines for when positive results could be obtained from bombing targets with substantive collateral damage without supporting ground operations.[4] Horowitz and Reiter applied "multivariate probit analysis [to] all instances of air power coercion from 1917 to 1999". Their quantitative analyses essentially matched Pape's qualitative assessment that attacking military targets has improved the chances of success, but "higher levels of civilian vulnerability have no effect on the chances of coercion success".[5] This would seem to support revulsion over attraction as motivations in conflict.

Torture is not attractive edit

Similarly, torture is not attractive: Miles claimed, "Before the [Abu Graib torture] photos became public, every [individual captured from the U.S. military in Iraq] returned alive, but not afterward. ... The first of the 11 beheadings [of captured U.S. military] in Iraq occurred 12 days" after the Abu Ghraib photos were televised. The other way to look at it is using the concept of legitimacy. A world power does not simply have power, it has legitimacy. By behaving in these ways, we undermine our legitimacy as a world leader. That's a different problem than establishing precedents for others to follow."[6]

This was echoed by General Stanley McChrystal's comments to Charlie Rose: "Look what Abu Ghraib did to us. I don't know how many foreign soldiers we captured or killed who were motivated by Abu Ghraib."[7]

McChrystal identified three major problems with torture.

  1. The information about our use of torture will ultimately leak out, just as it did from Abu Ghraib. That will in turn manufacture recruits for the opposition – and strengthen the resolve of their existing supporters to continue fighting. To be precise, the problem was not the torture itself but the disrespect shown for the other side that motivated people to oppose us.
  2. We never know for sure if torture will actually produce useful information. And we know that polite methods of interrogation, building a relationship with a detainee over a period of days can produce useful information that might not be obtainable otherwise. As an example, McChrystal cited a key Al Qaeda leader who was ultimately eliminated after a detainee provided key information that he likely would not have given if his treatment had matched the negative stereotypes of the Americans common among our opposition.
  3. Torture changes the torturers in unacceptable ways.

Pape's analysis of suicide terrorism in Iraq supports the claim that revulsion was a primary driver for recruiting opposition to coalition forces there. He noted that suicide terrorism is motivated by threats posed to local culture and local control by a foreign occupation by a democracy.[8] These comments support revulsion over attraction as a primary motivation for people becoming active participants in a conflict.

Dirty Wars edit

Jeremy Scahill's book and movie Dirty Wars makes a strong case that the primary recruitment tool for the opposition to U.S. military policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere is revulsion against collateral damage.

Twentieth Century Revolutions edit

Indirect support for revulsion over attraction as motivating engagement in conflict comes from the study led by Chenoweth and Stephan on How civil resistance works: They organized an international effort of leading scholars to identify the major governmental change efforts of the 20th century. This team identified 105 campaigns that were mostly nonviolent and 218 violent revolutions. The nonviolent revolutions were twice as likely as the violent efforts to achieve some measure of success: 53 percent vs. 26 percent. Moreover essentially all the successes were achieved by defections.[9]

When people are killed and property destroyed, the apparent perpetrators often make enemies edit

The above and other sources suggest that revulsion over collateral damage may be the primary motivation for people leaving the sidelines or defecting from one side or the other in many conflicts.

When people are killed and property destroyed, the apparent perpetrators generally make enemies. Once a person comes to support one side in conflict, any violence committed by their side is regrettable while violence committed by the opposition is an outrage justifying what our side does.[10]

This logic seems consistent with with the observations of Sharp, Pape, Miles, McChrystal, Chenoweth and Stephan cited above.

However, the fact that it seems to be routinely ignored in so many contexts suggests there are opportunities to study the circumstances under which violence serves long-term objectives and when it is counterproductive.

Moreover, there are occasions where violence does NOT generate a substantive backlash. For example, if police kill a lone sniper murdering people in a public space, few people will complain if security forces kill him before he kills more people.

Following the suicide mass murders of September 11, 2001, Al Quaeda was virtually dead. Millions of people stood vigil outside U.S. consulates and embassies all over the world, saying, "We are all Americans." Those millions and many others would have eagerly cooperated with an international police effort as Miles suggested. Al Qaeda would have attracted very few new recruits, and their existing members would have had to expend substantial effort to avoid capture and trial. Some of their own members might have defected. Miles noted that, "The attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., Madrid, London, Nairobi, Yemen, Egypt, Israel, Istanbul and Bali merit a vigorous, international coordinated police action such as has been used against other international criminal organizations – for example, the Mafia and the Medellin cartel. However, I do not believe that the cause of such police work is advanced by demonizing the criminals to the degree that our transmogrified image of them leads us to mire our military and intelligence resources in Iraq and Afghanistan."[11]

Evolution of faultlines in conflict edit

Every individual and group has a right and an obligation to defend itself. We need more detailed, empirically validated theory to help everyone select more effective means for advancing their interests in conflict.

Bezrukova,[12] Spell,[13] and collaborators used content analysis methods of text mining to identify and characterize faultlines in conflict. This methodology could be used to monitor the evolution of conflict to help us understand why people leave the sidelines to support one side or the other in conflict, why people defect, and why people increase or decrease their level of support for a given side in conflict.[14]

See also edit

References edit

  • Chenoweth, Erica; Stephan, Maria J. (2011), Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Columbia University Press, ISBN 9780231156820
  • Dunnigan, James F.; Martel, William C. (1987), How to stop a war: The lessons on two hundred years of war and peace, Doubleday, ISBN 0-385-24009-0

Notes edit

  1. Dunnigan and Martel (1987) observed that most large wars start small.
  2. Sharp, Gene (1980), Social Power and Political Freedom, Porter Sargent, p. 168, ISBN 0875580939 Sharp, Gene (1973), The Politics of Nonviolent Action, Part Three: The Dynamics of Nonviolent Action, vol. 3, Porter Seargent, p. 552, ISBN 0-87558-072-6 Gregg, Richard (1966), The Power of Nonviolence (2nd rev. ed.), Shockten, p. 100 After the war, the Algerian government reported a million deaths in that struggle. Other sources gave numbers ranging from 700,000 to 1.5 million; French officials estimated only 350,000 killed.
  3. Pape, Robert (1996), Bombing to win: Air power and coercion in war, Cornell U. Pr., ISBN 0-8014-8311-5
  4. Byman, Daniel L.; Waxman, Matthew C.; Larson, Eric (1999), Air Power as a Coercive Instrument (PDF), Project AIR FORCE, RAND Corporation, retrieved July 29, 2013
  5. Horowitz, Michael; Reiter, Dan (2001), "When does aerial bombing work? Quantitative empirical tests, 1917-1999", Journal of Conflict Resolution, 45 (2): 147–173, retrieved July 29, 2013
  6. Thieme, Richard; Miles, Steven H., An interview with Steven Miles: The torture-endangered society, Thieme Works, retrieved July 31, 2013
  7. Rose, Charlie; McChrystal, Stanley A. (January 7, 2013), "An hour with General Stanley A. McChrystal on his book 'My share of the task'", Charlie Rose, Charlie Rose, minutes 40-43 of 54 (start with 14:15 remaining), retrieved August 1, 2013
  8. Pape, Robert; Feldman, James K. (2010), Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It, U. of Chicago Pr., ISBN 978-0-226-64560-5
  9. Stephan, Maria J.; Chenoweth, Erica (2008), "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict", International Security, 33 (1): 7–44, retrieved August 1, 2013 Chenoweth, Erica; Stephan, Maria J. (2011), Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Columbia U. Pr., ISBN 9780231156820
  10. Graves, Spencer (February 26, 2005), The Impact of Violent and Nonviolent Action on Constructed Realities and Conflict (PDF), Productive Systems Engineering, retrieved August 1, 2013
  11. Miles, Steven H. (2006), "8. Why oppose torture?", Oath Betrayed:  : torture, medical complicity, and the war on terror, Random House, p. 162, ISBN 140006578X
  12. Bezrukova, Katerina, Bezrukova Home page, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara University, retrieved August 1, 2013
  13. Spell, Chester, Faculty Profiles – Dr. Chester Spell, Rutgers University, retrieved August 2, 2013
  14. Graves, Spencer; Bezrukova, Katerina; Spell, Chester (April 16, 2011), Proposed: International Center for Monitoring Conflict Evolution, YouTube, retrieved August 2, 2013