From Eastern Europe to South Africa to the Arab Spring, nonviolent action has proven capable of overthrowing autocratic regimes and bringing about revolutionary political change. In fact, recent research suggests that nonviolent movements are more than twice as effective in achieving their goals than violent ones. So why do some political movements nevertheless believe it necessary to take up arms? Can they be convinced otherwise? This book examines why political movements that seek to overthrow the state come to embrace a strategy of either armed insurgency or civil resistance.

I demonstrate that revolutionary movements engage in a process of strategic calculation, attempting to weigh the comparative effectiveness of each strategy within their given conflict environment. I explore the impact of various group, state, and international-level factors on this calculus, arguing that the nature and breadth of a movement’s base of support, the patterns of regime repression, and the availability and conditionality of foreign support all influence movement behavior, though sometimes in counterintuitive ways. The book employs a mix of both qualitative and quantitative evidence. I draw upon original interviews with movement leaders, ex-combatants, military commanders, and foreign observers to present detailed accounts of cases of both armed and unarmed campaigns within Nepal’s unique history of revolutionary struggle. I provide further empirical tests through the analysis of cross-national datasets. The findings have important implications both for movements who seek to maintain adherence to nonviolence as well as for global actors with an interest in promoting civil resistance as an alternative to armed conflict.