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Syria and the Question of Non-Violent Resistance
Dr. Luke Glanville
Protection Gateway
25 September 2012
 
Dr. Luke Glanville is a Research Fellow at Griffith University in Australia, and on the research staff of the Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. He is also Co-Editor of “Global Responsibility to Protect”.
 
What should we be hoping for when we look at the ongoing crisis in Syria? I don’t really know anymore.
 
The most interesting book that I have read this year is Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict, by Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan (Columbia University Press, 2011). (…)
 
The argument of the book (…) is straightforward: Non-violent campaigns of resistance are more than twice as effective as violent insurgencies in achieving their stated goals. (…) Moreover, the authors argue, campaigns of non-violent resistance, when successful, are much more likely to lead to the establishment of durable and internally peaceful democracies than are successful violent insurgencies which are often followed by regress into civil war within a few years. (…)
 
The implications for Syria (and similarly for Libya) are distressing. (…) The decision by elements of the Syrian resistance movement (which remained peaceful for longer than did the equivalent movement in Libya) to turn from a campaign of non-violence to violent insurgency may ultimately prove tragic. Even if they are successful in overthrowing Assad’s regime, there is a danger that they will have inaugurated a period of violence and instability leading to greater civilian suffering and death than was experienced even while the tyrannical Assad wielded power unopposed.
 
Of course, this is not to excuse the Assad regime for its brutal response to the resistance campaign – a response which has already led to as many as 20,000 deaths including many civilians. Similarly, it is not to rebuke the rebels for desiring freedom from oppressive rule. But, having read Chenoweth and Stephan’s book, I find it difficult to hope that the rebels successfully achieve a violent victory.
 
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