Tactics and Peacekeeping

Strategic Considerations in the Selection and Implementation of Nonviolent Tactics

In order to be strategically effective, the tactics chosen must be directed at the strategic aims and applied in accordance with the conceptions of conflict and Gandhian nonviolence that underpin the strategic framework.

There are several strategic considerations that should guide the selection, organization and implementation of the tactics used in your defense/liberation strategy. This is because there is an almost infinite range of behaviors that constitute nonviolent action and choosing the actions that are the appropriate tactics at the various stages of your strategy are important strategic decisions.

Hence, your strategic plan should:

(i) identify, precisely, the strategic goals of your struggle (which should be written into your defense/liberation strategy document);

(ii) make sure that, when planning any tactic, it is guided by its strategic goal, not its political objective. If you do not understand this vital distinction, read this short article: ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’;

(iii) in choosing the different tactics designed to achieve each of your strategic goals, consider the three major categories of tactics – protest and persuasion, noncooperation and nonviolent intervention – and the vast array of tactics in each category. (Gene Sharp compiled a list of 198 tactics which you can see here.) Given the variety however, careful thought needs to be given to selecting the tactics that are most likely to help achieve your strategic goal in this context. For example, if your strategic plan includes the decision to resist the occupation of an important media installation in order to counter its propaganda function, nonviolent activists might choose (among other tactical options) to picket the entrance and use moral suasion on the occupying personnel (a form of protest), to refuse to service and supply it (a form of noncooperation), or to blockade it (a form of nonviolent intervention). Clearly, there are significant but different strategic implications associated with each tactic. These need to be carefully considered in light of the strategic aims and stages of the strategy;

(iv) identify a combination of tactics that are designed to have impact in one or more ways: politically, psychologically, morally, socially, economically and/or physically. These tactics should be feasible, creative and culturally appropriate. Remember that secrecy and sabotage are strategically counterproductive so you should not plan tactics that rely on secrecy for their ‘success’ or which involve damaging property. For a brief explanation why, again see ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions’. For a detailed explanation, which also outlines the catastrophic outcome of the decision to use sabotage by the South African liberation struggle in 1961, see The Strategy of Nonviolent Defense: A Gandhian Approach. pp. 230-235.

(v) identify the sequence in which these nonviolent tactics will be applied;

(vi) make a realistic assessment of the capacity of those affected to bear the cost;

(vii) recognize that certain classes of tactics have particular requirements for effectiveness. For example, effective noncooperation (such as a boycott) usually requires the involvement of larger numbers of people and longer periods of time;

(viii) recognize that while more powerful tactics have the potential to work very quickly, there are greater risks to the activists and wider strategic implications and dangers. These tactics require more careful preparation, higher levels of nonviolence education and discipline, higher quality organization and leadership and, usually, supplementary use of more moderate tactics;

(ix) consider the factor of dispersion or concentration. Tactics involving dispersion (such as a strike or boycott) provide the opportunity for more people to participate in the action and are more likely to over-extend the opponent; they also minimize the opportunities for repression. Tactics involving concentration (such as a street demonstration) provide the opportunity to share commitment and build solidarity and, in those circumstances in which the opponent elite’s power has been functionally undermined, to deliver a decisive ‘blow’. Moreover, such tactics may be deliberately used to expose the opponent elite’s willingness to use violence.

(x) in circumstances in which the correct tactic involves concentrating people in one place even though the opponent elite is likely to attempt decisive repressive action, more elaborate preparation, including the organization of peacekeeping teams, should be undertaken. This article, written in 1994 and revised for republication in 2014, will explain what is necessary to conduct your nonviolent action with maximum strategic effectiveness and minimal risk, even if severe repression is anticipated: ‘Nonviolent Action: Minimizing the Risk of Violent Repression’.

What about military and police forces?

While there is an ongoing debate in activist circles concerning the appropriate nature of the relationship between activists and the military/police forces of the opponent elite, from a Gandhian perspective, this debate was settled a long time ago. The article ‘Nonviolent Activism and the Police’ explains why.

For a thoughtful explanation of how to do police liaison, which applies equally to liaison with military forces, this article spells it out: ‘How to do Police Liaison’.

If you want to know how to respond to police/military deals and threats, you can find out in this article: ‘Police Deals and Threats: How Should Nonviolent Activists Respond?’

And this article will give nonviolent activists plenty to think about in response to the perennial question ‘Should I Be Arrested?’

And, to reiterate, if you anticipate severe military and/or police repression but intend to proceed with a particular nonviolent action anyway, plan and implement it as outlined in this article: ‘Nonviolent Action: Minimizing the Risk of Violent Repression’.


As indicated earlier, to ensure that a nonviolent tactic is effective, it must be strategically focused, thoroughly organized, and disciplined. If it has been decided that a tactic requiring a high level of concentration should be employed, there are additional risks that must be considered. Apart from the risk of ruthless repression, mentioned above, disruptions may occur because unchallenged rumors undermine crowd discipline, because hecklers provoke an unintended response, because people are affected by drugs or alcohol, because provocateurs try to incite violence, or because individual soldiers or police behave in an undisciplined manner. To minimize the risk of these disruptions occurring, and to minimize their impact should they occur, the action-planning group should appoint marshals and peacekeepers.

It is the function of marshals to maintain the appropriate mood at the action and to guide the crowd. Marshals should be fully informed about the nature of the action and should assist the action focalizers to make certain that it proceeds as planned. They should be friendly and helpful in dealing with fellow activists, the opponent elite’s soldiers and police, and the media. They should be calm, creative, and forthright in encouraging people to follow the guidelines of the planned action and to maintain their nonviolent discipline. For example, during the occupation of Tiananmen Square in 1989, marshals were used for crowd control and for maintaining discipline. One important task was to patrol a three-foot-wide corridor between soldiers and activists in front of Zhongnanhai (the Communist Party compound). This prevented people from touching the soldiers but allowed them to explain the purpose of the movement. Similarly, at an African National Congress rally near Soweto attended by a hundred thousand people on 29 October 1989, concern that provocateurs might initiate violence in order to sabotage the event resulted in more than seven hundred marshals being carefully briefed on how to handle the crowd.

Peacekeeping is a function designed to enhance the discipline and safety of those present at a nonviolent action. Peacekeeping is important, particularly in those circumstances in which provocateurs are likely to be present or in which the opponent elite might respond to the action with violence. Peacekeepers should be chosen because of their commitment to nonviolence as well as their emotional maturity, self-discipline, steadiness under stress, and ability to think quickly and clearly.

The peacekeeping team should be adequately staffed. This should ensure that worst-case contingencies can be handled effectively. It also means that peacekeepers can be rotated, if necessary, to deal with extremely difficult situations. Peacekeepers should be readily identifiable; for example, they might wear clearly labeled and distinctive caps or armbands. They should have radios or other suitable means of communication if possible. Peacekeepers should be educated to anticipate problems so that they can be dealt with promptly. They should work in pairs or small teams, although one might engage a disruptive subject while the partner or partners observe from a short distance.

Peacekeeping begins with the manner in which the action is set up. For example, if the action is a large rally that includes a stage for speakers, access to the stage and sound system should be controlled. If, despite precautions, a disruptive person does gain access, then a masterswitch to cut the power supply or a standby music tape might provide the time necessary to remove the subject with minimum disruption. During the occupation of Tiananmen Square in 1989, increasing attention was devoted to the way in which the occupation was set up. For instance, workers and students were organized into clearly identifiable groups (such as university departments) and positioned systematically around the square. This, coupled with a ‘pass system’ to control access to sensitive areas, was designed to help activists maintain discipline during the occupation.

In response to a disruption, peacekeepers should first attempt to isolate the disruptive individuals from bystanders. Even well-meaning bystanders can make the peacekeeping task more difficult. It is better to rely on peacekeepers who have been educated to perform the role. Individual peacekeepers also should attempt to separate the members of a disruptive group from each other. Because individuals feed off their group’s energy, it is easier to respond to them personally once they are separated. In dealing with an individual or, if necessary, a small group, a peacekeeper should adopt a relaxed, nonthreatening body posture with their open hands clearly visible by their sides; they should make only slow and predictable movements. They should stand close enough to occupy the subject’s attention, maintain eye contact at all times, and, when speaking, use a calm, steady voice. The most useful skill for reducing tension is reflective listening; often people who are angry or hostile feel that they are not being heard. Reflective listening requires the peacekeeper to listen attentively, to acknowledge feelings, and to accurately restate what has been said by the subject, perhaps several times over; none of which implies that the peacekeeper agrees with what is being said. Once the tension starts to subside, the peacekeeper should ask questions designed to encourage consideration of alternative courses of action. Peacekeepers should keep a log of incidents for subsequent debriefing, evaluation, and learning.

In situations involving several disruptive people or a group of well organized provocateurs, it may be necessary to use an experienced team of peacekeepers to isolate the group or to protect opponent soldiers. One way of doing this is to form a disciplined circle around the group or the soldiers and, perhaps, to sing or hum. For example, just hours before the Beijing massacre, five students wearing headbands locked arms to form a protective ring around a soldier in order to escort him safely through a hostile crowd.

Although the most effective way to avoid disruptions (including the actions of provocateurs) is to design tactics involving dispersion, there are obviously some circumstances in which tactics involving concentration, and therefore the risk of disruption, will be the appropriate strategic choice. In these cases, peacekeeping is an important aspect of organizational efforts to minimize the risk of disruption and to contain its impact should it occur.

Source of this document: https://nonviolentliberationstrategy.wordpress.com/strategywheel/tactics-and-peacekeeping/