Tag Archives: grand strategy

The Grand Strategy — the final piece of the Gene Sharp summaries

This is the final summary I’m leaving here. It’s the second step in the organization of a social movement, where you determine the most strategic ways to launch the conflict and sketch out its general stages.

Before reading about this step, I first recommend reading at least the summaries of From Dictatorship to Democracy and Self-Liberation, or you won’t know what this is all for!

And before actually crafting your Grand Strategy, you should have already completed a Strategic Estimate or you won’t have laid the proper groundwork on which to build the foundation of your movement.


Grand strategy is the master concept for the conduct of the conflict, the conception that serves to coordinate and direct all appropriate and available resources (economic, human, moral, etc.) of the population or group to attain its objectives in a conflict. It is an overall plan for conducting the struggle that makes it possible to anticipate how the struggle as a whole should proceed. How can the struggle be won? How is the desired change to be achieved?

In complex struggles, including those against repressive regimes, prior to the initiation of conflict it is usually very difficult, and often impossible, to plan the concrete  implementation of the grand strategy from the first campaign to the last. In these cases, the strategic plan should be as concrete and specific as possible for implementation of the strategy for the initial campaign, but will be necessarily vague for future campaigns. This is because the limited objectives of future campaigns, their strategies, timing, and tactical activities will be determined in large part by changes in the conflict situation that will occur during the first stage or stages of the struggle. Strategists will therefore need to keep a close eye on the progress of the struggle, and develop the concrete strategic plans for future campaigns accordingly, while the conflict is ongoing.

The planners’ first draft of a grand strategy might be initially guided by the thinking of several persons, but the final text may be prepared by a single person or a team. Once drafted, it will need to be critically considered by a larger group, all members of which will need to have studied all of the designated readings.

Initial Questions

Study the Strategic Estimate you’ve drafted up carefully. Determine whether conditions are suitable for nonviolent struggle. They must be ripe if campaigns are going to be successful.

What are the objectives?

Estimate the length of the forthcoming struggle. Will more than one campaign be required? Provision must be made for an error of judgment in the strategic estimate and for contingency tactics if the struggle turns out to be long instead of brief.

Determine which mechanism of change will be necessary:

  • Conversion: Those in the regime have a change of heart. Rare.
  • Accomodation: Both sides come to a compromise. Much more common.
  • Coercion: The resisters have gained so much power that regime must bend to their will.
  • Disintegration: The regime completely falls apart. Rare.

How do the strengths and weaknesses of the contending groups compare?

On what issues will it be extremely important to act?

What are the main leverages to be employed by the resisters?

Do the issues and the available leverages match?

How do the leverages available to the resisters relate to shaping the grand strategy for the resisters?

How do the available leverages of the resisters relate to the identified weaknesses of the opponents?

Which pillars of support for the opponents are potentially vulnerable to application of the leverages available to the resisters?

How might the opponents oppose the nonviolent resistance group’s course of action?


What is the broad conception of how the struggle is to be waged and how are the objectives to be achieved? Which general means of pressure and action might be applied? What is to be the main thrust of the nonviolent struggle against the opponents? Through economic losses? By undermining the opponents’ legitimacy? Through political paralysis? Is the nonviolent struggle group able to weaken or remove most or all of the sources of power of the opponent group?

By what kinds of action and in what stages could the sources of power of the opponents be incrementally weakened and severed?

Sketch out the general phases of the struggle. Nonviolent struggle normally includes four phases:

  • Preparation for the conflict
  • Initiation of action to gain the objective(s)
  • Development of the ongoing struggle
  • After success, consolidation of the gains

How can social order be maintained in the midst of the conflict?

How can the society continue to meet its basic needs during the course of the struggle?

Organizing and Outreach

What ways might there be for the resisting population to mobilize other persons and groups to participate in a struggle over these issues?

How can the real issues be used to advance mobilization of resistance, to shrink support for the opponents, and to change loyalties within the opponent group and third parties?

What types of symbolism can be most effective in mobilizing the population?

How can the oppressed population muster sufficient self-confidence and strength to act to challenge the dictatorship, even initially in a limited way?

How could the population’s capacity to apply noncooperation and defiance be increased with time and experience?

Assess what skills will be needed during future individual campaigns, and whether these skills are already present among expected resisters. If not, then preparations to develop these skills will be a necessary task.

How can participants be trained?

What resources (finances, equipment, etc.) will be required throughout the struggle?

How can the resisting population simultaneously persist in its defiance and also maintain the necessary nonviolent discipline?


Determine which specific methods of nonviolent action are most appropriate to this particular conflict. This decision will need to be taken in the light of a variety of factors: the issues at stake, the nature of the contending groups, the type of culture and society of each, the social and political context of the conflict, the mechanisms of change intended by the nonviolent group (as to convert or to coerce), the experience of the nonviolent group, their ability in applying nonviolent action, the type of repression and other countermeasures expected, the ability of the nonviolent group to withstand them, and the intensities of commitment to the struggle within the nonviolent group. Can even use methods other than nonviolent resistence to complement the struggle: legal action, public education, publicity, etc.

Choose a limited objective for the initial campaign

The issues for limited campaigns should be ones that can arouse wide support throughout the population. Also, the selected issues should be ones that can be seen to be clearly justified, and be ones that the regime will have difficulty in repudiating. The issues usually should also be ones on which the regime can reluctantly give way or on which the regime might be defeated by empowered people.

How might the long-term struggle best begin?

What might be the objectives of a series of limited campaigns for the resistance to gain strength and limit the power of the opponents?

The End

As victory approaches, how can the resistance continue to build the institutional base of the society after the previous regime has ended to make the transition as smooth as possible?

Formulate a projection of likely long-term consequences of the struggle.


If this or any other of the summaries has been helpful to anyone, please let me know, as a comment or otherwise. (Remember, feedback is an important part of strategy!) Apparently this site is actually getting views from people around the world, and even if a tenth of those views are real people as opposed to spam bots, I’d love to hear if these summaries have been inspiring or played a role in your organization efforts (or if they leave something to be desired!).



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