Violent conflict, as the history of humankind has systematically shown, is quite effective for the strongest party to the conflict. As long as one is military superior to its opponent, it usually works. The so-called Dahiya doctrine, for instance, was designed by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Chief of General Staff Gadi Eizenkot during the Lebanon War in 2006. It’s a military strategy of warfare which “threatens the destruction of civilian infrastructure of hostile regimes to deter the use of that infrastructure by combatants and endorses the employment of “disproportionate power” to secure that end”. In other words, it’s basically pure massacre against a much weaker enemy.

On the other hand, when the forces at stake are symmetrical, the tendency is to drag the conflict to a lengthy bloodbath on all sides, often leading to a stall and no clear winners. Examples of protracted conflicts are countless and go as old as the Peloponnesian War, documented by Thucydides’ year-by-year account of a long and vicious conflict between Athens and Sparta that lasted for 27 years, from 431 to 404 BCE. Since the XX Century, countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, Angola, Guatemala, Colombia, Cambodia, Sudan, South Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Former Yugoslavia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lebanon, Iran-Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan and Somalia have been ravaged by the longevity of conflict. Today, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, the Central African Republic (CAR), Mali, Nigeria and countries of the Lake Chad region comprise international and non-international dimensions and look likely to form the next wave of armed conflicts that may run for many years.

What to do if you are the actor who is not strong enough to launch an attack à la Dahiya doctrine as well as is not in a position to engage in symmetrical warfare? Do underdogs stand a chance against Goliath?

Being the party to the conflict which is clearly outnumbered, underfunded and maybe inexperienced doesn’t sound promising. In light of this reality, the oppressed peoples and nations worldwide should acknowledge that on the battleground their fate is to be squashed by their counterparts. But should the underdogs of the world capitulate then?


It might still take many years until the international community acknowledges that the United Nations is a representative of the oppressed nations of the world as much as an aristocratic gentleman’s club is sympathetic to the working classes. It seems that, in the years to come, the multilateral system as we know it will become even more inefficient and hypocrite than now. As a good example, the UN Human Rights Council passes resolutions that, in practice, cause nothing but a mild headache to some states. All they have to do is put together a thick report saying that they are committed to human rights and that’s it. And what to say about the most selective of the principles: the right to self-determination, enshrined in the UN Charter?

Taking into account that the United Nations as a project to maintain world peace and to be the guarantor of human rights has so far failed consistently, what are the options left for minorities suffering from state oppression?

Alternatives are many. Made popular by Gandhi’s movement against the British Empire, the modern form of nonviolent resistance includes numerous tactics such as symbolic protests, civil disobedience, economic or political noncooperation. Pacifism, in particular, became huge in the 60’s and 70’s and undouble shook the world’s imagination. As we entered the XXI Century, however, persisting injustices make us wonder if the image of hippies offering flowers to soldiers worked well. When arguing that violence leads nowhere, romantic pacifists forget the most self-evident reality we have in the history of humankind: that wars, inherent to the human interaction, are incredibly effective for the winner.

Photo: BDS archive License: CC BY-NC 2.0

It seems that the only way out is to block the engines of the capitalist system that contributes to inequality and exploitation of resources and land. If not with arms, the only way to defeat powerful states is by making sure the capital produced by them cannot circulate nor replicate elsewhere. The key of movements such as the Palestinian campaign for BDS is to constrain Israel’s capital from leaving its borders. Capital needs to reproduce as much as we need oxygen to live. Choking economically a state that commits gross violations of human rights seems to be most effective, bloodless and sophisticated tactic to achieve emancipation from oppression. Critics of BDS claim that it is not morally correct, as it represents collective punishment towards civilians for their government’s wrongdoings. What is then the oppression towards Palestinian civilians but collective punishment?

The European Union made a wonderful move last year, when it recognized the right of its citizens to boycott Israel: “The EU stands firm in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of association in line with the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, which is applicable on EU member states’ territory, including with regard to BDS [boycott, divestment and sanctions] actions carried out on this territory,” As the movement is growing steadily and shows good prospects – the best measure is how desperate Israel is at the moment and how much money they are putting in trying to delegitimize the campaign – other oppressed nations should feel inspired and launch their own BDS campaigns. Contrary to the US, Europe seems to be the perfect ground to expand the most threatening tactic against a state in breach of international law. Underdog nations and peoples of the world will probably never win a military war, but through concerted effort to wage economic warfare, there is a light at the end of the tunnel – dim, but for sure alive.


Cover Photo Credit: S.Sgt. Albert R. Simpson (Wikipedia)  License: CC BY-NC 2.0

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    Fernando Burgés is from Brazil. He holds a BA in International Relations, a Postgrad Certificate in Nationalism Studies and a Master in Political Science. He currently lives in Brussels.

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