Wouldn’t it be kind and generous of us to send the US or NATO or a UN-approved military into Libya to bloodlessly prevent the vicious slaughter of masses of people by a truly evil lunatic?
In a study called "Why Civil Resistance Works," Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth examined major uses of violence and nonviolence against tyrannical governments around the world between 1900 and 2006. They found that violence succeeded 26 percent of the time. I think they were taking a short view, because the blowback from violence is often delayed. But they found that nonviolence succeeded 53 percent of the time, over twice as often.
They also found that when the regime being challenged uses violence, a nonviolent resistance campaign gains in its likelihood of succeeding, whereas a violent campaign becomes more likely to fail.
Let me repeat that: when someone like Ghadafi uses violence, a violent campaign against him is set back whereas a nonviolent campaign against him would become more likely to prevail, much more likely to prevail on average than a violent campaign.
Nonviolent campaigns are also far more likely to win defections from the state military, and those that do win such defections are extremely likely to succeed — a fact that gives great significance to Libyan pilots’ and soldiers’ refusals to obey orders, and to news reports of whole units already defecting.
The idea of using nonviolence is not dreamy speculation. Its record over the past century is one of greater success than violence has achieved. Libya can look to either side, toward Tunisia or toward Egypt, to see nonviolent action’s most recent accomplishments.
In contrast, if you think "humanitarian war" helped Bosnia, check out George Kenney’s view of that claim.
Nonviolence works because it gives the resistance legitimacy and respect within a nation and abroad, and because it can make state violence backfire. Ghadafi’s military is not, in any reports I’ve seen, slaughtering civilians. It is targeting rebel troops, something it could not do if there were no rebel troops. It could target nonviolent resisters, but not without more defections from within its ranks. A Ghadafi soldier held prisoner by rebel forces has told PBS that he was falsely informed that he would be fighting foreigners or serving on guard duty, when he was sent to battle Libyans. These troops are being lied to. But no lies can easily persuade soldiers that attacking their unarmed countrymen and women is just.
Ghadafi is focused on the media because he recognizes its power. He’s parading prisoners and announcing progress. Imprisoning and abusing nonviolent resisters would be very bad media, and Ghadafi would know this.
All right, you say, but the Libyans have chosen violence, they’re in the heat of the struggle, there’s no time to train them in another way, and they’re asking for a no-fly zone.
None of that is exactly right. A minority of Libyans has made those choices. Other options are available. Americans and others offered nonviolent activism training to Egyptians. Egyptians and Tunisians can provide it to Libyans. Humanitarian aid can be provided without military involvement. And the majority of Libyans would almost certainly resent the involvement of US and European militaries. A no-fly zone is not enforced without death and destruction. Limited involvement, even the limited involvement of funneling weapons through Saudi Arabia, usually leads to greater involvement and needs to be nipped in the bud.
According to Reuters, al Qaeda wants U.S. military involvement in Libya even more than John Kerry or John McCain does. Meanwhile Senator Richard Lugar warns against a Somalia-like disaster and wisely advises staying out.
Usually the US military covers up for disastrous occupations, as in Iraq, by pretending to have innocently stumbled into a civil war. Jumping into a civil war, no matter how clearly one side is more to blame, would be disastrous. The rebel side in this war is refusing to work with Human Rights Watch to investigate crimes against its own leaders. That is the level of Libyan antipathy toward foreign interference. British troops have been captured and expelled by the forces they were there to "help." The reputation of U.S. and Western forces is worse than worthless, and deservedly so. Washington wants its hands on power. So do the leaders of anti-Ghadafi violence. But what will they replace him with following a successful violent revolution? They will have no groundwork for representative government. A new tyranny will be a likely outcome, as will further violence down the road.
Ghadafi is in a corner. If he is hit by greater military force, he will hit back with what he has. He may hit oil and gas facilities at incredible cost to human life and the environment. If he is hit by outside forces, public sympathy will shift in his direction. If he is hit by outside forces lacking UN authorization (and Russia is opposed) he will claim to be, and will be, the victim of an international crime. These are not winning strategies.
Ghadafi must be pushed into a corner, yes, but not with loyal troops ready to defend him. Those forces must be led to defect, to join their brothers and sisters in opposition to dictatorship. That can happen quickly, or it may take time, but it can only be done using a tool that is stronger than violence, a tool we must resort to when the going really gets tough: nonviolent civil resistance.