Protective Use of Force: What Are the Advantages of Nonviolent Methods?

This is the ninth installment in a multi-part series. Browse the Protective Use of Force index to read more.

     by Adam Herriott / Deep Green Resistance UK

Advocates of nonviolent methods argue that their approach holds a number of advantages over using force.

One argument often made is that “violence” or the use of force weakens the movement, that it shifts attention to this form of resistance and away from the issues at stake. Some also argue that the use of “violent” means or force can give the government the excuse it needs to use violence against the movement. [1]

Gene Sharp argues that using nonviolent methods or “weapon systems” unfamiliar to police and military increases the activists’ total combat effectiveness. According to Sharp, any state repression against the nonviolent movement would expose state violence in the worst possible light, and shift public opinion and power relations towards the nonviolent group. In this way, organizers of nonviolent actions aim to cut off the sources of a regime’s power—one being its capacity for violence—rather than to attack the resources and the infrastructure produced by that power. Sharp considers that, in a sense, this may constitute a more direct attack on the opponent than could be achieved with “violence” or the use of force [2].

Marty Branagan contends that nonviolent actions have resulted in extraordinary achievements, are ethically superior, and are more effective. He also argues that nonviolence replaces the win/lose power play, which leads to a physical, legal and psychological response, with a win/win solution of cooperation. Nonviolent methods also avoid the long-term inter-generational hatred caused by “violence” or force. Branagan cites several studies that indicate that nonviolent struggles result in governments that better observe democratic rights. [3]

Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan conducted a statistical analysis of the effectiveness of nonviolence by compiling 323 major nonviolent campaigns between 1900 to 2006 and subjectively rating them as “successful,” “partially successful,” or “failed.” [4] However, the rating of reformist movements as successful, for example, do not use a revolutionary criteria. [5] I’ll explore the issues with this study in a future post.

Ackerman and Kruegler write that most nonviolent methods are chosen because they are the most effective and least costly means available, and that nonviolent action is often chosen because a military response is not an option. [6]

Mike Ryan describes two distinct arguments that support adherence to nonviolence: the ideological argument and the practical argument. Ideologically, nonviolence is seen as good/right and violence is bad. Practically, it is argued that it’s not the right time for violence; it alienates the people; it results in repression; and it will result in unfavorable press. [7]

This is the ninth installment in a multi-part series. Browse the Protective Use of Force index to read more.


  1. Politics of Nonviolent Action, Gene Sharp, 1973, page 597
  2. Politics of Nonviolent Action, page 453/4
  3. Global Warming: Militarism and Nonviolence,The Art of Active Resistance, Marty Branagan, 2013, page 58
  4. Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, 2012
  5. Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos, 2015, page 42-6
  6. Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century, Peter Ackerman and Chris Kruegler, 1993, page 4
  7. Pacifism as Pathology, Ward Churchill, 1998, page 126/7

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