Nonviolent protest

Michael Barone
Posted: Dec 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Over the past four weeks, hundreds of thousands of nonviolent protesters in Ukraine have succeeded in forcing a second -- and fair -- national election. The fraudulent returns of the November election have been thrown out; the new election is scheduled for Dec. 26, and there seems little doubt that Viktor Yushchenko, the candidate cheated of victory by the current regime, will win.

 The United States helped achieve this happy result, with Secretary of State Colin Powell quickly declaring the November result fraudulent. All this has lessons for U.S. policy that go far beyond Ukraine.

 Those lessons are set out in three books on nonviolent protest by authors who seem to come from different points on the American political spectrum. The first is "A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict" by Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall, heads of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict.

 Ackerman and Duvall, who seem to come from the political left, describe how nonviolent protest produced peaceful change in the 20th century far more often than most of us probably realize. They include the demonstrations against Russia's tsarist autocracy in 1905, Gandhi's nonviolent protests against the British raj in India, to the American civil rights movement and the South African movement against apartheid, the removal of a military dictator in El Salvador in 1944, the Solidarity movement in Poland and the restoration of democracy in the Philippines in 1986.

 Nonviolent protest, Ackerman and Duvall argue, means "separating governments from their means of control." They admit that nonviolent protest does not always work. Some dictators are too ruthless; some populations -- Germans in Nazi Germany -- are not willing to oppose their rulers. But nonviolent protest can be a force more powerful than busy policymakers, preoccupied with negotiating with governments, are inclined to think.

 The lesson here is this: The United States brought down one member of George W. Bush's axis of evil, Saddam Hussein, by military force. That is not an attractive option for the other two, the mullahs of Iran and Kim Jong Il in North Korea. But those regimes are clearly unpopular and are vulnerable to nonviolent protest.

 Mark Palmer, who seems to come from the political center -- he was a Foreign Service officer who wrote speeches for Henry Kissinger and was ambassador to Hungary when it threw off Soviet control in 1989 -- builds on Ackerman and Duvall's work in "Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World's Last Dictatorships by 2025."

 Palmer agrees that "political systems that deny people their rights can best be taken apart from inside." But he also argues that outsiders -- including the United States -- can help.

 One ingredient in most cases of peaceful regime change has been "the judicious support of external allies, who gave money and training to the movements or denied commercial privileges and political approval to the regimes." Thus, Solidarity was aided by open support from Lane Kirkland's AFL-CIO and covert support orchestrated by the Reagan administration.

 Unfortunately, in Palmer's view, democratic leaders -- by implication, the Bush administration -- have not given much thought to how they can assist nonviolent change. Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley could make worse use of their spare leisure time than reading Palmer's specific suggestions.

 They might also want to take a look at Allen Hertzke's "Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights." This is an account of how leaders of different political views -- Reagan administration alumnus Michael Horowitz, evangelical Christians like Charles Colson and Jews like the liberal Rabbi David Saperstein -- have worked to protest the persecution of Christians in places like Sudan and China.

 There is plenty the United States can do, they argue, to undermine the legitimacy of oppressive regimes and to encourage nonviolent protest. Their latest success was passage of a North Korean Liberation Act in October, with provisions designed to spotlight that regime's persecution and oppression. (Interestingly enough, mainline Protestant churches, always ready to denounce Israel and other U.S. allies, showed little interest in joining this movement.)

 Encouraging nonviolent conflict is not as sure a means of removing a threatening dictatorship as military action, and no one can be sure just when or whether it will succeed. As Ackerman and Duvall show, regime collapse often occurs suddenly, and when least expected by experts. But that is no reason not to try.

 Palmer's world without dictatorships would be far safer for us than the world we live in today. The Bush administration should be working to bring it into existence.