Civilian Based Defense

Presentation by Gene Sharp at Whittier College (Date?)
Notes Prepared by Russ Faure-Brac
April 26, 2014

  • The wielding of power by groups and nations is inevitable. We need a functional substitute for war: a way to exercise power that is less destructive to society and human values.
  • Sharp rejects the traditional answers such as disarmament, world government, socialism, even pacifism, declaring, “None of these are adequate today to address our problems in these extreme forms which they have taken.”
  • We can no longer afford to wait for some indefinite time in the future when human nature will change for the better.
  • Sharp insists that right now, building on our natural abilities to be stubborn, obnoxious and incompetent, we can develop nonviolent strategies for national defense.
  • Adoption of civilian defense by the United States, if it ever happens, is a very long way off. Americans would first need to accept a narrower definition of national security.
  • Sharp heads a project called Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, the first of its kind in the world. A new organization in Omaha called the Association for Transarmament Studies is trying to facilitate research, discussion and public education about CBD in the U.S.
  • We may be able to give up military weapons for the same reason we gave up bows and arrows—not because they are wicked and immoral—but because we have discovered a better weapons system. Sharp said that if nonviolent struggle becomes recognized as a superior method for defending people, then the military “will just gradually fade away like the old soldiers.”
  • Sharp does not really advocate transarmament for any nation at this point. What we need first, he says, is hardheaded research by both governmental and nongovernmental institutions to determine its feasibility. Then studies can be done to develop and refine strategy and tactics to increase its effectiveness.
  • Sharp and US bishops disagree on one key point. The bishops state that the objective of nonviolent resistance is “to seek the good of the other. Blunting the aggression of an adversary or oppressor would not be enough. The goal is winning the other over, making the adversary a friend.” Sharp, the pragmatist, would counter that the only goal of nonviolent action must be victory. Converting the opponent is all well and good if it should occur, but there are times when this may be impossible, and we must not rule out the more common forms of victory: accommodation and coercion.


Q: Without a military, how could the U.S. project its power globally in order to preserve its supply of resources?     A: It could not. Preparations for Civilian Based Defense (CBD) would have to include developing a high degree of self-sufficiency through stockpiling and other means.

Q: How could we defend our allies with CBD?     A: We could not. They would have to learn to take care of their own defenses.

Q: If a country adopts CBD, won’t it be vulnerable to nuclear attack?     A: Perhaps, but there is no defense against nuclear weapons, and it is the nations with large offensive militaries that are most likely to be targeted. Nations with CBD would threaten no one.

Q: Do you think we will see the end of war in our lifetime?     A: Maybe not in mine, but there will definitely be some exciting developments in the next few years. Hypothesis: The smaller Western European countries will take the lead in adopting CBD. A nation would first develop a limited CBD capacity alongside their military. Then, as citizens become more comfortable and proficient with CBD, the military could slowly be phased out. This process is called transarmament.

The Netherlands has already approved funding to study certain aspects of what they call “social defense,” while the Swedish Cabinet has authorized a commission to prepare a plan for incorporating nonviolent resistance into Sweden’s defense program. Sweden may adopt a limited civilian defense plan within two or three years, and there could be several cases of full transarmament in the next twenty to thirty years.

Q: How would a nation prepare for CBD?      A: Prevent the mass bewilderment, uncertainty and passivity that often occur during an invasion. Train citizens in nonviolent tactics so they would be able to function without a centralized leadership. Create a corps of defense workers to coordinate different aspects of the resistance – stockpiling of food, fuel and other essentials. Draw up contingency plans to relocate some of the population to rural areas. Implement mutual nonviolent defense treaties between nations for international boycotts and embargoes.

Before converting to CBD, a nation with highly centralized industries would probably need to disperse its production facilities, making it more difficult for adversaries to gain control of the economic infrastructure. A country adopting CBD would eliminate the traditional conflict between guns and butter. Imagine a future world in which a defense build-up consists of improving social welfare programs for minorities!

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