Revolutionary armed conflict was once considered the only way for oppressed peoples to change severe injustice and oppression. Bloodshed was deemed necessary, often justified by the cliché that what was taken by violence can only be retrieved by violence. In the last decades of the 20th century, however, it became clear that armed insurrection is not the only choice for aggrieved groups and societies, and that nonviolent civil resistance, relying on a variety of forms of nonviolent action, could bring some impressive results. Some failures also occurred. Although this phenomenon has been coherently utilized to achieve political and social change for well over a century by groups, peoples, and societies in differing cultures and political systems, only recently has it gained respect as a potentially formidable strategic force by policy makers, political analysts, scholars, peacemakers, and international specialists of many fields.
Contemporary dictatorships and tyrants have collapsed from the pressure exerted by popular mass movements of nonviolent action, in countries such as the former Czechoslovakia, Chile, East Germany, Georgia on the Black Sea, the Philippines, Poland, Serbia, South Africa, or Ukraine, to name a few. In 2010–11, national nonviolent movements in Tunisia and Egypt changed the face of North Africa and the Middle East. Evidence shows that countries that experience bottom-up, grass-roots nonviolent struggle are more likely to sustain human rights and democracy once established than when armed insurrection is used, and that nonviolent movements succeed more often than violent insurrections. Given this record, it is important for would-be peacemakers to explore systematically the theories, methods, dynamics, and strategies of such movements.