Civilian-Based Defense Association
The following essay is from the November 1982 issue of the newsletter published by the Association for Transarmament Studies (which is now known as the Civilian-Based Defense Association).

Civilian-Based Defense: A Short History

by Philip Bogdonoff

This article briefly documents the history of an alternative defense system which has been under development for several decades. Its purpose is to provide a perspective, not only on the history and work that is behind this idea, but on the growth of a movement for the abolition of war. Those who are interested in pursuing the history in greater depth are encouraged to delve into the articles and books mentioned here.

Roots of the theory of nonviolent resistance can be traced back to the writings of Thoreau and Tolstoy and even earlier. The germination of the idea of a nonviolent alternative to war begins, perhaps, with William James' essay in 1910, The Moral Equivalent of War. James felt that the virtues instilled by the military, like honor, courage, discipline, and efficiency, must be maintained and proposed a national peacetime service requirement. More directly, Bertrand Russell, in "War and Nonresistance" (Atlantic Monthly, August 1915), proposed that concerted nonviolent resistance be used against a possible German invasion of England. After World War One, Walter Lippmann replied to James with "The Political Equivalent of War" (1928) and argued that "It is not sufficient to propose an equivalent for the military virtues. It is even more important to work out an equivalent for the military methods and objectives." What is needed for "the abolition of war" are "other ways of deciding those issues which have hitherto been decided by war..."

Gandhi began writing about the possibilities of national defense by nonviolent resistance in 1931. He recommended a nonviolent defense policy to Switzerland in 1931, to Abyssinia in 1935, to Czechoslovakia in 1938, and to Britain in 1940. The Congress Party in India rejected his proposal for a nonviolent defense in 1939, and again in 1940. One of Gandhi's principal contributions was perhaps his insistence that nonviolent resistance was not a passive, acquiescing technique -- it required courage and discipline and strength.

Richard Gregg suggested nonviolent resistance as a "substitute for war" in his 1934 classic, The Power of Nonviolence, and made direct comparison between military strategy and nonviolent strategy. A "plan of campaign against all war and all preparation for war" was given by Barthelemy de Ligt in his 1935 book, The Conquest of Violence. In 1937, Kenneth Boulding, in a short pamphlet, Paths of Glory: A New Way with War, published by the Friends Book Centre, London, developed the general need for a substitute and offered "non-violent resistance" as an alternative. He also addressed briefly some of the problems he foresaw would be associated with transarmament (possibly the first use of this word).

Jessie Wallace Hughan (If We Should Be Invaded: Facing a Fantastic Hypothesis, 1937) and Krishnalal Shridharani (War Without Violence, 1939) also published material on nonviolent responses to foreign aggression. Gandhi, too, continued to publish relevant material (e.g., "Can India Be Defended? New Weapons Against the Invader!", Liberty, August 1940).

Most of these early treatments are characterized by moderate to extensive amounts of criticism of military defense and their proposals for civilian defense are generally limited to merely advocating the idea.

In April 1957, a "blow-up" occurred in Britain. A highly esteemed military man, fourth lineal descendant of a family of naval officers, proposed that Britain should renounce the use of nuclear weapons, strongly limit its conventional military forces, and prepare for "nonviolent resistance." It was a startling proposal coming from such quarters and it created quite a bit of discussion. Stephen King-Hall's book, Defense in the Nuclear Age, appeared in March of 1958. His critique of military defense and nuclear weapons had a large impact coming from an expert and authority on military strategy.

The effect of King-Hall's proposal and the subsequent discussion represented a turning point in the development of the civilian-based defense concept; politicians and the military became involved as never before; the rationale presented for the policy tended to shift from moral reasons to strategic and military reasons; and the idea began to be considered as an alternative to the current nuclear defense theories.

More works followed. Johan Galtung, in Defense Without a Military System (1959), after another systematic critique of military defense, went on to ask what should be defended? and how? Galtung developed eleven strategic principles for civilian defense in a more scholarly approach than the previously mentioned works.

Quincy Wright, et al.'s anthology, Preventing World War III: Some Proposals (1962) included three chapters on civilian-based defense in a comprehensive volume which contains many different approaches written by many authorities in the field. The idea of a civilian-based defense began to be taken more seriously.

In 1962, an action-group in Stuttgart, W. Germany, which included Theodor Ebert, now a professor of political science in Berlin, wrote a pamphlet dealing with nonviolent struggle and outlining a "nonviolent civilian army." The pamphlet offered the most thorough treatment yet of the preparation and organization necessary for civilian-based defense.

In the mid 60s, Gene Sharp began to discuss the need for a functional substitute for war, assuming that conflict is inevitable and plays a positive role in society. Sharp used and analyzed historical cases to back up his theories. He also criticized the idea of a combined civilian and military defense, arguing a pure civilian, nonviolent defense was more effective.

In September 1964, Gene Sharp, Adam Roberts, April Carter, Theodor Ebert, and others convened what was to become a landmark research conference at Oxford on "civilian defense." They invited many eminent figures to present papers on a variety of subjects, including: "Forms of Military Attack" by Alun Gwynne Jones, then military correspondent of the London Times, later Lord Chalfont and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs; "The Coup d'Etat" by Lieutenant-Colonel D.J. Goodspeed, military historian; and "Aspects of Totalitarian Systems" by Professor Ernest Bramsted, a well-known researcher on totalitarianism. Some of these and other papers were later edited by Adam Roberts into a book and published in 1967 as The Strategy of Civilian Defense (and in 1968 in an American edition, Civilian Resistance as a National Defense. The book contained many historical examples and some early efforts at consideration of strategy and transarmament.

It was also during this year that efforts were made to change and define the vocabulary. The term "civilian defense" began to be deliberately employed. And "transarmament" was substituted for "disarmament" to indicate that the idea was not to leave a country defenseless, but to change from one type of defense system to another.

In September 1967 a follow-up to the Oxford conference took place in Munich, arranged by the Association of German Scientists. There were more focused contributions on the problems of transarmament, and some consideration of the possible effects of the policy in the international arena. Theodor Ebert proposed that a working party on civilian defense be established within the Association. Later, this working party was established.

The spontaneous resistance offered by the Czechs and Slovaks to the Warsaw Pact invasion in August 1968 caused considerable fallout in this field of investigation. Many books and articles were published in response and more serious interest began to be given in official government circles to the concept of civilian resistance.

The Strategy of Civilian Defense reappeared in paperback with a new introduction dealing with the events in Czechoslovakia. The report from the Munich conference was also issued in a second edition, and a Norwegian anthology of case studies (Gleditsch, 1965) appeared in an enlarged edition in Sweden. Since 1969, Theodor Ebert has been editor of Gewaltfreie Aktion (Nonviolent Action), a quarterly publication on nonviolence and nonviolent defense. And in 1969, one of the hitherto most developed books on the subject of civilian defense was published in Sweden (Tryggve Hedtjarn et al., 1969, The Politics of Peace--Civilian Defense). The book attempts to present a thorough view of the problems of defense and the possible role of civilian defense from a perspective of radical social criticism.

More governments became interested in civilian-based defense. The Norwegian Defense Research Establishment issued a study on the possible role of civilian defense within the total security policy of Norway in Non-Military Defense and Norwegian Security Policy (Johan Jorgen Holst et al., 1967 [Holst later became Minister of Defense for Norway, 1986-1989]). In Denmark, the Minister for Disarmament and Culture asked the Institute for Peace and Conflict Research in Copenhagen to conduct a survey of the literature on civilian defense, which was published in English in 1974 as War Without Weapons, by Anders Boserup and Andrew Mack. The Swedish Ministry of Defense supported a research program at the Department for Peace and Conflict Research at the University of Uppsala.

Major academic conferences were held in Finland (Tampere, October 1970) and Sweden (Uppsala, 1972). Later conferences were organized in Belgium (Brussels, 1976), Norway (Oslo, 1978), and Omaha, Nebraska, USA (1978 and 1982). [There have been many more since.]

Perhaps the most significant and illuminating publication in this field has been Gene Sharp's three-volume The Politics of Nonviolent Action (1973). This work has become the reference on methods and dynamics of nonviolent action, categorizing and describing 198 distinct methods that can be used when waging a nonviolent struggle, including a civilian-based defense campaign. Sharp's Social Power and Political Freedom (1980) also advances the theory of nonviolent resistance by providing the analysis needed to understand key issues and concepts in the use of nonviolent struggle.

The movement and theory for a civilian-based defense has grown considerably, and yet it is clear that much must be done before war is abolished. What is needed now is a coherent set of national and international strategies which will point the way towards the adoption of this policy by one or more (and eventually many) countries in the near future. As dismal as the outlook for world peace may seem, history is being written yet and we have a great opportunity to influence its course.

Copyright © Philip Bogdonoff, 1982.