Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Resistance Dynamics and Social Movement Theory: Conditions, Mechanisms, and Effects

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Resistance Dynamics and Social Movement Theory: Conditions, Mechanisms, and Effects

Article excerpt

Understanding Current Conflicts

Contemporary conflicts have become more transnational, protracted, irregular, and resistancecentric.1 They can be best described as protracted internal conflicts with multiple state actors and nonstate actors intervening much like the multidimensional hybrid operational environment discussed in Army Special Operations Forces (ARSOF) 2022.2

This article aims to explain how to harness the emerging strategic utility of nonstate actors by utilizing well-established bodies of knowledge on resistance dynamics. This objective is based upon the observation that an increasing number of external state actors overtly or covertly intervene in intrastate conflicts by exploiting the environment's resistance potential in order to increase their respective strategic influence.3 Similarly, both internal and external nonstate actors take advantage of interstate conflicts or political instability stemming from failing states. The current conflicts in Iraq and Syria certainly meet this characterization; as do those in Ukraine, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Mali, and Libya. More state actors are supporting or sponsoring political movements in intrastate conflict, making the termination of fighting very difficult. For instance, the resilience of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is largely attributed to the protracted Syrian civil war in which regional powers such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey all sponsor local movements. In addition, external nonstate actors such as ISIL, al-Nusrah, and Hezbollah are also deeply involved in the conflict. In other words, these current conflicts represent a sample of a larger shift in warfare. As of this writing, Uppsala University's world conflict data program compiles 40 conflicts in the world for 2014. All but one of them are intrastate conflicts and 13 of them are internationalized.4 In short, state actors are actively leveraging and taking advantage of the resistance potential of groups engaged in civil conflicts.

The United States must adapt to this operational environment in order to achieve national policy objectives. Key to this goal is a shared problem identification that will lead to mitigation and reduction of the fog and friction inherent in a hybrid operational environment. Problem identification begins with understanding how external groups are leveraging and harnessing the resistance potential of organic movements toward their respective strategic interests. By understanding how resistance potential is shaped toward strategic objectives, we can also better determine how to replicate the best practices of supporting and sponsoring robust organic movements.

In order to fight successfully in this complex hybrid environment, a deep understanding of resistance dynamics is critical. Without understanding resistance dynamics, it becomes next to impossible to identify who is working with adversarial state actors and how their nonstate surrogates gain political support against our own strategic interests. Our recent unsuccessful attempt at building a surrogate force in Syria is a good reminder of why it matters to harness the utility of organic resistance. Instead of building a sustainable movement with an armed wing, we thought a program designed to train and equip a few dozen commandos would suffice.5 This article intends to delineate the strategic dynamics of resistance and discuss the utility of resistance as a strategic tool.

I will begin with a discussion of how resistance is conceptualized in doctrinal and academic terms to distill the essential characteristics of the concept. Then I will highlight three aspects of resistance: antecedent conditions, mechanisms, and effects. I will identify what antecedent conditions facilitate resistance, followed by a variety of mechanisms employed by movements to exploit the conditions. The discussion of mechanisms accompanies a description of the effects that can be expected when movements take advantage of these conditions. …

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