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HKS Authors

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Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values, Emerita
Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values

Abstract

The recent revolutions in Libya and Syria offer a bitter lesson: to generate outside intervention against a dictator, armed rebellion is more effective than even the most heroic nonviolence. In the Syrian tragedy, the first long phase of the revolution from mid-March 2011 to the middle of the summer was militantly nonviolent, with "peacefully, peacefully" the continuing refrain as nonviolent protesters were mowed down by government forces. Even as the nonviolent casualties mounted, the revolutionaries themselves resisted calling for outside military intervention, partly because such intervention seemed to contravene the very nature of nonviolent resistance. Since the revolution turned violent about a year ago, the call for outside intervention, even military intervention, has multiplied several-fold. Nonviolent resistance, however, is more likely to foster successful negotiation among all parties during the transition to a new government. Not only is a nonviolent transition more likely to create the conditions for economic and political renewal after the dictator is gone, but the process of nonviolence is more likely to surface the kinds of leaders who can both broker a peaceful transition and lead effectively after the transition. It is also well-known that nonviolent revolution is far more capable of attracting universal sympathy. Paradoxically, however, only violent revolution is capable of attracting outside intervention through either direct military involvement, as in Libya, or through increased delivery of weapons to the revolution, as in Syria

Citation

Mansbridge, Jane. "Outside Intervention in Nonviolent Revolutions." Jurist.org, September 11, 2012.