Visiting Scholar Explains Nonviolent Social Movements

David Cortright

The Middle East Center was on the cutting edge of educating about nonviolent social change when it invited a leading scholar to speak to students and faculty on the topic in November. Professor David Cortright, Director of Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame gave a talk on the latest research findings on the effectiveness of nonviolence.

Professor Cortright is an internationally renowned scholar and practitioner of nonviolent activism. As an active duty soldier during the Vietnam War, he spoke against that conflict. In 1978, Cortright was named executive director of SANE, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, which under his leadership grew from 4,000 to 150,000 members and became the largest disarmament organization in the United States. He also was actively involved in the nuclear freeze movement of the 1980s. He is currently Chair of the Board of the Fourth Freedom Forum in Goshen, Indiana.

“New research shows that nonviolence is twice as effective as force in achieving social or political goals,” said Cortright, referring to struggles in Serbia, Ukraine and Nepal, as well as his own experiences. Nonviolence works by creating “loyalty shifts” – changes in attitude within the majority population, both toward entrenched power and nonviolent activist groups. “Governments can justify the use of force against groups that also use force,” said Cortright. “It is much more difficult to justify the use of violence against completely nonviolent protesters.”

Reducing or ending terrorism also is more successful using nonviolent methods, such as a combination of policing and political processes. According to research analysis, military force has a poor record, less than 10 percent success, in eliminating terrorism.