Dr. Maria J. Stephan is a senior policy fellow at the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on the dynamics of civil resistance and their relevance for violent conflict prevention and democratic development. Previously, Stephan was lead foreign affairs officer in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO), where she worked on both policy and operations. Her last assignment entailed engaging the Syrian opposition in Turkey. Earlier, she was detailed to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan to focus on subnational governance and civil-military planning.
Prior to government service, Stephan directed policy and research at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC), a DC-based NGO dedicated to developing and disseminating knowledge about nonviolent struggle. She was an adjunct professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service and American University's School of International Service. Stephan is the editor of Civilian Jihad: Nonviolent Struggle, Democratization and Governance in the Middle East (Palgrave, 2009) and the co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (Columbia University Press, 2011). The latter book was awarded the 2012 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Prize by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in political science and the 2012 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.
Stephan has worked with the European/NATO policy office of the U.S. Department of Defense, and at NATO Headquarters in Brussels. She received both Harry S. Truman and J. William Fulbright scholarships. She holds doctoral and master's degrees from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a bachelor's degree from Boston College. Stephan is from Clarendon, Vermont.
Civil Resistance as a Powerful (and more Effective) Alternative to Violence
The hope that "people power" can successfully challenge dictatorships and usher in new and improved governing systems seems to be dashed. Ongoing carnage in Syria, continued instability in Libya, political assassination and restlessness in Tunisia, a bloody counter-revolution in Egypt, and bloody crackdowns against Ukrainian protestors in the Euromaidan would make anyone skeptical about the promise of nonviolent resistance against oppressive regimes.
This skepticism is understandable but misplaced. Two years ago, Erica Chenoweth and I published a book called Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict. In analyzing data from 1900 through 2006, we discovered a simple finding: that campaigns of nonviolent resistance were twice as likely to succeed as campaigns of violent resistance, and that nonviolent campaigns ushered in greater chances of democracy and civil peace than armed struggle. This was true even in highly authoritarian, repressive, and powerful countries where we would think nonviolent resistance to fail.
In fact, despite recent cynicism about the power of nonviolent resistance, a number of contemporary cases suggest that the historical record still holds. Civil resistance remains a superior strategy of social and political change in the face of oppression, and movements that opt for violence often unleash terrible destruction and bloodshed-in both the short and long term-usually without realizing the goals they set out to achieve.