The Zapatista "Social Netwar" in Mexico

The Zapatista "Social Netwar" in Mexico

David Ronfeldt
John Arquilla
Graham E. Fuller
Melissa Fuller
Copyright Date: 1998
Edition: 1
Published by: RAND Corporation
Pages: 181
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7249/mr994a
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  • Book Info
    The Zapatista "Social Netwar" in Mexico
    Book Description:

    The information revolution is leading to the rise of network forms of organization in which small, previously isolated groups can communicate, link up, and conduct coordinated joint actions as never before. This in turn is leading to a new mode of conflict--netwar--in which the protagonists depend on using network forms of organization, doctrine, strategy, and technology. Many actors across the spectrum of conflict--from terrorists, guerrillas, and criminals who pose security threats, to social activists who may not--are developing netwar designs and capabilities. The Zapatista movement in Mexico is a seminal case of this. In January 1994, a guerrilla-like insurgency in Chiapas by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN), and the Mexican government's response to it, aroused a multitude of civil-society activists associated with human-rights, indigenous-rights, and other types of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to swarm--electronically as well as physically--from the United States, Canada, and elsewhere into Mexico City and Chiapas. There, they linked with Mexican NGOs to voice solidarity with the EZLN's demands and to press for nonviolent change. Thus, what began as a violent insurgency in an isolated region mutated into a nonviolent though no less disruptive social netwar that engaged the attention of activists from far and wide and had nationwide and foreign repercussions for Mexico. This study examines the rise of this social netwar, the information-age behaviors that characterize it (e.g., extensive use of the Internet), its effects on the Mexican military, its implications for Mexico's stability, and its implications for the future occurrence of social netwars elsewhere around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-8330-4332-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-ii)
  2. PREFACE
    (pp. iii-iv)
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  4. FIGURES
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. SUMMARY
    (pp. xi-xii)
  7. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  8. Chapter One AN INSURGENCY BECOMES A SOCIAL NETWAR
    (pp. 1-6)

    Mexico’s Zapatista movement exemplifies a new approach to social conflict that we callsocial netwar. Mexico, the nation that gave the world a prototype of social revolution early in the 20th century, has generated an information-age prototype of militant social netwar on the eve of the 21st century. This study examines the nature of this netwar and its implications, not only for Mexico but also for our understanding of the prospects for similar conflicts elsewhere.¹

    The insurrection by the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) erupted on New Year’s Day 1994, when one to two thousand² variously armed insurgents occupied five...

  9. Chapter Two THE ADVENT OF NETWAR: ANALYTIC BACKGROUND
    (pp. 7-22)

    The information revolution is altering the nature of conflict across the spectrum. There are many reasons for this, but we would call attention to two in particular.¹

    First, the information revolution is favoring and strengthening network forms of organization, while simultaneously making life difficult for old hierarchical forms. The rise of networks—especially “allchannel” networks, in which every node is connected to every other node—means that power is migrating to nonstate actors, who are able to organize into sprawling multiorganizational networks more readily than traditional, hierarchical, state actors can. This means that conflicts will increasingly be waged by “networks,”...

  10. Chapter Three EMERGENCE OF THE ZAPATISTA NETWAR
    (pp. 23-44)

    The EZLN’s Zapatistas are rural insurgents. But they are not ordinary ones, and they were quickly perceived by intellectuals (e.g., Mexico’s Carlos Fuentes, Pablo Gonzalez Casanova) as representing the world’s first postcommunist, “postmodern” insurgency:

    Many people with cloudy minds in Mexico responded to what happened in Chiapas by saying, “Here we go again, these rebels are part of the old Sandinista-Castroite-Marxist-Leninist legacy. Is this what we want for Mexico?” The rebels proved exactly the contrary: Rather than the last rebellion of that type, this was the first postcommunist rebellion in Latin America. (Fuentes, 1994, p. 56.)

    This marvelous argument makes...

  11. Chapter Four MOBILIZATION FOR CONFLICT
    (pp. 45-60)

    The insurrection did not begin as a social netwar. It began as a rather traditional, Maoist insurgency. But that changed within a matter of a few days as, first, the EZLN’s military strategy for waging a “war of the flea” ran into trouble, and second, an alarmed mass of Mexican and transnational NGO activists mobilized and descended on Chiapas and Mexico City in “swarm networks” (term from Kelly, 1994). Meanwhile, no matter how small a territory the EZLN held in Chiapas, it quickly occupied more space in the media than had any other insurgent group in Mexico’s if not the...

  12. Chapter Five TRANSFORMATION OF THE CONFLICT
    (pp. 61-84)

    The physical—and electronic—swarming of activist NGOs into Mexico rapidly transformed the context and conduct of the Zapatista conflict. Within days, a traditional guerrilla insurgency changed into an information-age social netwar. The principal participants already had, or had shifted in the direction of, networked organizational structures—a point that is much truer for the EZLN and its NGO cohorts than for the Mexican government and army, but applies to the latter as well.

    Within weeks, if not days, the conflict became less about “the EZLN” than about “the Zapatista movement” writ large, which, as elucidated in Chapters Three and...

  13. Chapter Six THE NETWAR SIMMERS—AND DIFFUSES
    (pp. 85-112)

    In short, the netwar had its heyday in Mexico in 1994 and 1995. And except for the large international conferences convened by the EZLN in 1996, it has not fared well since then, except in episodes. During 1996, the off-and-on negotiations that the government and the EZLN began holding in 1995 at San Andrés Larráinzar ground to a halt. An agreement in February 1996 about indigenous culture and rights was supposed to be followed by additional agreements on political and economic issues. But in mid-1996, following the sentencing of its imprisoned colleague Javier Elorriaga, the EZLN withdrew from the talks....

  14. Chapter Seven BEYOND MEXICO
    (pp. 113-132)

    As noted in Chapter One, the Zapatista case has been hailed from the beginning as the world’s first “postmodern” insurgency or movement. As such, it has generated enormous comment outside as well as inside Mexico, and much of that has involved whether, and how, this case offers an information-age model of social struggle that can be further developed and replicated elsewhere.

    That view is not without critics. For example, writing from a rather traditional leftist position, Daniel Nugent (1995) has decried the postmodern label by pointing out that the EZLN remains quite traditional and premodern in many respects:

    It is...

  15. Appendix A CHRONOLOGY OF THE ZAPATISTA SOCIAL NETWAR (1994–1996)
    (pp. 133-140)
  16. Appendix B RETHINKING MEXICO’S STABILITY AND TRANSFORMABILITY
    (pp. 141-154)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 155-168)