Erica Chenoweth, co-author of the forthcoming Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, argues in today’s New York Times that “nonviolent resistance is much more likely to produce results, while violent resistance runs a greater risk of backfiring.”
Chenoweth cites recent events in the Middle East in which the far more peaceful protests in Egypt and Tunisia led to change while Libyan rebels are now embroiled in an armed struggle whose outcome is uncertain. Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, the coauthor of Why Civil Resistance Works, recently conducted a study comparing the outcomes of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; they discovered that nonviolent movements were twice as successful.
The reasons behind the success of civil resistance include their ability to draw a wider range of participants and the fact that violent protest tends to reinforce the loyalty of the regime’s personnel. Chenoweth also demonstrates that with a few exceptions, most notably Iran, nonviolent movements frequently become democracies. She concludes the op-ed writing:
Although the change is not immediate, our data show that from 1900 to 2006, 35 percent to 40 percent of authoritarian regimes that faced major nonviolent uprisings had become democracies five years after the campaign ended, even if the campaigns failed to cause immediate regime change. For the nonviolent campaigns that succeeded, the figure increases to well over 50 percent.
The good guys don’t always win, but their chances increase greatly when they play their cards well. Nonviolent resistance is about finding and exploiting points of leverage in one’s own society. Every dictatorship has vulnerabilities, and every society can find them.