A key variable determining the likelihood of success by nonviolent movements, particularly in authoritarian situations, is defections by government supporters. The enforcement power of the state ultimately depends on the cooperation of security forces and other government officials. “Defections” by security forces and other personnel does not necessarily mean stripping off uniforms and joining protests; it can also include decisions to quietly not carry out orders, leak information to the opposition, engage in work slowdowns, to “lose” paperwork and delete computer files and other less overt acts of defiance.
The top priority of any security force is training and preparedness. In other words, assuring a unit or a soldier is ‘fit to fight.’ And the most crucial element of preparedness, is morale. Focusing tactics on decreasing the morale of the security forces – and making them question the legitimacy and purpose of their mission – can lead to a waterfall of defections and loyalty shifts.
Movements which maintain nonviolent discipline have been shown to dramatically increase the rate of defections due both to allowing for greater sympathy for the opposition as well as a sense that defectors would be welcomed instead of punished.
If you would like to learn more about how nonviolent resistance movements can use loyalty shifts and defections to their advantage, see “How Ukraine Ousted an Autocrat: The Logic of Civil Resistance” (Atlantic Council, 2014) by Maciej Bartkowski and Maria Stephan. In this article, Bartkowski and Stephan argue that defections from the Ukrainian regime’s pillars of support during the EuroMaidan movement in 2014 were essential to the fall of Yanukovych.