By Paul Emile Anders
This article was published in the National Catholic Reporter, May 5, 1989.
[An additional comment, 4 April 2011: I gratefully acknowledge the help of Betsy Kingsbury in the preparation of this reprint. The recent largely nonviolent struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere in the Middle East show the effectiveness of civilians in nonviolently promoting political freedom. They can also resist invaders as the Lithuanians did against the Soviet army in the early 1990s. Erica Chenoweth, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, wrote in the New York Times (11 March 2011), “a study I recently conducted with Maria J. Stephan, now a strategic planner at the State Department, compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; we found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies” (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/10/opinion/10chenoweth.html?_r=1&scp=3&sq=nonviolent%20study%20violent&st=cse). Jonathan Power writes, “Basil Liddel Hart, the military genius second only to Carl von Clausewitz, who had the job of interrogating the German generals after the end of World War II, wrote that the generals confessed that they found non-violent or passive resistance, as they encountered it in parts of France and Denmark, much more difficult to deal with than guerrilla resistance movements. The latter they could repress mercilessly, the former often outwitted them” (http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=non-violence-is-new-strategy-2011-03-01)]
[The 1989 article starts here.] The wars in Iran and Iraq, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, Cambodia and the Western Sahara have given way to ceasefires in some cases. In others, hostilities may well end soon. A deadly cycle seems to be winding down.
The protractedness and indecisiveness of much recent fighting and its cost in casualties and material and environmental destruction should occasion some consideration of civilian-based defense as a promising alternative.
What is civilian-based defense? Consider this scenario.
It is the year 2000. An invading army sweeps across West Germany, meeting no military resistance. The occupiers issue orders to the conquered.
The West Germans ignore the orders, go about their business and obey their own officials. The invaders get the silent treatment. The Germans refuse to give them supplies, which seem to disappear.
The civilians know what to do because several years previously the government decided on this policy and trained them. The antiagression Embargo Pact, concluded in 1995, takes effect and many nations sever trade with the invading country, impound its assets and deport its students.
The invader gets tough, but his brutality against the unarmed Germans turns world opinion further against him. Many of his soldiers desert. Back home the invader's population grows disillusioned. A new government takes office and orders the army of occupation home.
Tactics like those against the imaginary invasion form a strategy called civilian-based defense or social defense. Finland, Austria and Yugoslavia have already adopted elements of it. Yugoslavia's defense policy, for example, includes such unarmed resistance as boycotts and non-cooperation.
Civilian-based defense could help countries like the Bahamas and Costa Rica, which have no armies. Other countries could use it along with a military defense and eventually rely on it entirely.
To many hardheaded people, this will seem like the ultimate pipe dream. However, Norway, Denmark, France, West Germany and the Netherlands-- all in NATO-- have officially or semiofficially considered it.
Like other defenses, it has shortcomings, but they are less severe than those of military force. So long as we rely on militery technology, we are likely to have nuclear weapons. These could kill much of or all life on the planet. Also the growing destructiveness of nonnuclear weapons makes future wars impractical.
In addition, in many countries, the military has supported repressive governments. This obviously will not happen if civilian-based defense replaces the military.
Civilian-based defense adopted in peacetime would discourage invasion. What army wants to occupy a country whose population is trained in nonviolent resistance? For months the Soviet army, for example, was unable to achieve its aims in tiny Czechoslavakia when the Czechs -- though untrained-- nonviolently resisted the 1968 invasion.
Civilian-based defense presents an invader with a dilemma. To control the invaded country whose people are not cooperating, he must coerce them, maybe by jailing or killing some of them. To keep his soldiers loyal and his alliances intact, he wants to seem reasonable, but when he uses violence against unarmed opponents, he looks cruel and he loses support.
Citizens have often opposed the repression of their own governments successfully and nonviolently, as the Marcos government in the Phillipines and American officials who opposed integration in the 1960's can attest. The next step-- a big one is using it to defend against foreign aggression. A country could phase in civilian-based defense, gradually phasing out its reliance on the military.
Organized civilian-based defense takes dedication and more effort of more people but less money than the military. It requires that civilians be willing to put their lives on the line. It takes courage to oppose guns with boycotts, work stoppages and the silent treatment. But civilian-based defense is less risky than war, even for civilians. As the National Conference of Catholic Bishops said in 1983 about nonviolent defense, "Before the possibility is dismissed as impractical or unrealistic, we urge that it be measured against the almost certain effects of a major war" (The Challenge of Peace, section 223).
In an age of nuclear, chemical and bacteriological weapons, war becomes apocalyptic. Efforts to save the home country militarily could lead to committing mass suicide. With civilian- based defense, ordinary citizens such as grandfathers, nuns, housewives, you and I, and not just young men, defend our country. We can win using nonviolence, whether Europe, Costa Rica or the United States.