Almost no conflict is conducted between parties of identical power; therefore, all conflict is waged by asymmetrically advantaged parties. However, part of the basis for nonviolent power is that we are dedicated to redressing that asymmetry enough to first get to the table and then to earn and agreement that will meet our needs, never our greeds.
“It begins with the formal structural equality of the parties, based on the fact that each has a veto over any agreement; therefore, the parties need to grant each other recognition with equal standing in the negotiations. From this, it extends to the behavioral setting that facilitates exchanges through the courtesy of symmetry that each party gives the other, even if the encounter is asymmetrical in other terms” (Zartman (pictured), 2009, p. 324).
Whenever we do manage to get to that negotiating table we do have veto power, even if the only veto power we can exercise is to walk out. In nonviolent struggle, we hope we only exercise that option when there is clear evidence of dirty tricks that make honest negotiation impossible. Otherwise, keeping all parties at the table, with or without third party neutrals (mediators of some type) is crucial.
Getting to the table is the first goal, of course. Gandhi discovered and the US Civil Rights movement improved upon the methods by which that is accomplished using nonviolence. And once there, understanding that the power exercised by the contending parties is not symmetrical means we can continue to explain that with great transparency to our side and their's. This builds both a new framework of perception and the trust required for that framework to function. It looks from the outside casual observer like a chimera, a completely counterintuitive arrangement, until we properly explain what is going on right in front of the world. That frankness, so reactively avoided in most negotiation, can be our strength, because as we build trust we build knowledge and we create collective memories on our culture of nonviolence.
These dynamics are being dissected and displayed more and more in our academic research on the power of nonviolence and the strategies of negotiation. The race is on, since violent conflict has become the greatest problem on Earth and the two solutions are nonviolence and constructive conflict transformation, linked. How else are we going to solve the evisceration of our ecology and our economy, the two bulwarks of sustainability for all societies? Military solution is an oxymoron, since the mere preparation for success is demonstrably fatal to the ecos, the home (the Greek root of both economy and ecology).
Zartman, I. William (2009). Conflict resolution and negotiation. In Bercovitch, Jacob; Kremenyuk, Victor; & Zartman, I. William (Eds.). The Sage handbook of conflict. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. p.p. 322-339.