At at time when the world is comparing the outcome of violent revolution in Libya to the outcome of peaceful revolution in Egypt, it may be worth examining which approach has the best chance of success. Actually, that examination has already been made. A study by Erica Chenoweth, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, and Maria J. Stephan, a strategic planner at the U.S. State Department, showed that "major nonviolent campaigns achieved success 53 percent of the time compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns." The study, “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict,” suggests two reasons for this:
First, nonviolent methods offer a campaign greater legitimacy, both domestically and internationally. This offers broader recognition of the group’s grievances and translates into greater support, internally and externally, and greater alienation of the target regime, undermining the regime’s political, economic, and even military power. In Ms. Chenoweth's words, "People don’t have to give up their jobs, leave their families or agree to kill anyone to participate in a nonviolent campaign. Such movements tend, therefore to draw a wider range of participants, which gives them more access to members of the regime, including security forces and economic elites, who often sympathize with or are even relatives of protesters."
Second, while regimes can easily justify violent reaction against armed insurgents, violence against nonviolent movements is more likely to backfire. Oppressive regimes need the loyalty of their bureaucracy and military to carry out their orders. Violent resistance reinforces that loyalty, while civil resistance undermines it. Potential sympathizers, at home and abroad, see violent militants as having extreme goals, but they perceive nonviolent resistance groups as more accommodating, thereby enhancing their appeal and the possibility of concessions through negotiation.
The study compared the outcomes of 323 violent and nonviolent campaigns from 1900 to 2006.
The strategies and tactics of dissent will will always depend to some extent on circumstances, of course, but it is encouraging to know that civil resistance is much more effective than the uncivil kind. Give peace a chance, indeed.