Power vacuums and violence

Why do some nationalist movements turn to violence while others maintain peaceful struggle and protest?

There are multiple triggers that can upset the existing balance of power within a movement and prompt competition among nationalist actors. The death of prominent nationalist leaders, or the co-optation of some nationalist leaders, or the repression of nationalist leadership are among the mechanisms that can fragment a nationalist movement and prompt in-fighting.

…the removal of the existing leadership exacerbates competition between those who favor violence and those who oppose it. Prior to leadership decapitation, actors who wished to use violence may be constrained by the existing nationalist leadership.

While other nationalists may continue to denounce violence, the absence of the most influential leaders emboldens those who wish to adopt violent tactics and use violence to become the new voice of the movement, potentially drowning out the advocates of peaceful protest.

All else being equal, once leaders are gone, those who prefer violence are less constrained; they even have a ready justification since they can cite the repression of the leadership as a provocation.

That is Adria Lawrence in a new paper that sees nationalist violence in power vacuums.

She looks at wars of decolonization in north Africa, but it makes you wonder whether drone attacks to decapitate movements is always and everywhere such a wise strategy.