Science for Nonviolent
Published in Science and
Public Policy, volume 19, number 1, February 1992, pp.
Martin's publications on peace, war and
Organised nonviolent struggle, as an alternative to
military methods, can be greatly aided by appropriate scientific
research and technological development.
Ralph Summy gave helpful comments and Steve Wright provided numerous
valuable suggestions for examples to be included in this
It is often noted that between one
quarter and one half of scientists and engineers worldwide are
engaged in military-related research and development. Critics argue
that these scientists should be working instead on nonmilitary
projects in food production, health, transportation, education and a
host of other topics .
For scientists, the choice seems
to be between research for war and research for something else
unrelated to dealing with conflict. It is uncommon for those who
oppose military research to be able, through their scientific
investigations, to promote some alternative means for promoting
Many of the things done by
scientists in the peace movement do not require scientific training:
holding meetings, writing letters, lobbying, joining rallies. Many
concerned scientists do, often, write articles and information sheets
about technical topics such as nuclear and chemical weapons. Still,
this seldom has much direct connection with their ongoing research.
When scientists take a stand against weapons of mass destruction,
their impact stems more from the symbolic value of being scientists
than from laboratory research.
One exception to this pattern was
the boycott by many scientists of participation in work related to
the Strategic Defence Initiative. But the idea of a boycott of star
wars research was not accompanied by an equally well-defined idea of
One of the reasons why it is
difficult to replace "science for war" with "science for peace" is
that most strategies for peace rely on strictly diplomatic or
political measures which pay no special concern to science. Peace
treaties, disarmament proposals, common security measures and world
government rely largely on the talents of diplomats, negotiators,
politicians and, sometimes, social scientists. There are a few cases,
such as the Pugwash movement, in which scientists and engineers use
their specialist skills to help develop arms control measures. But
most natural scientists are left to sit at the sidelines and wait for
There is, though, one alternative
to war that has a significant potential role for scientists and
technologists: social defence [2-7].
This can be defined as nonviolent community resistance to aggression
as an alternative to military defence. Social defence is also known
as nonviolent defence, civilian defence and civilian-based
There are numerous methods for
nonviolent struggle, including petitions, marches, rallies, strikes,
boycotts, sit-ins and alternative institutions .
These methods can be used to directly oppose a military invasion or
coup, by directly hindering the aggressor. But perhaps more important
is the role of nonviolent action in undermining support for the
aggressor, whether that support is in the country under threat, in
the home country of the aggressor, or among the troops
To obtain some feeling for what a
nonviolent resistance would be like, it is useful to turn to
historical examples. In 1923, French and Belgian troops occupied the
Ruhr because of a failure by the German government to pay reparations
imposed at the end of World War One. Military resistance was out of
the question; the German government called for nonviolent resistance.
Support from the German people was widespread, and the occupiers were
faced by noncooperation from coal miners, civil servants, shopkeepers
and many others. In spite of brutal repression, this resistance was
maintained until called off by the German government, whose economy
was in collapse. Even so, the resistance had a degree of success.
Public opinion in France and Belgium was outraged by the atrocities
carried out by their troops. The occupiers withdrew in 1925 .
In August 1968, Soviet and other
eastern bloc troops carried out a massive invasion of Czechoslovakia,
hoping to quickly set up a puppet government and smash "socialism
with a human face". There was no resistance from the Czechoslovak
military, nor from Western countries. However, there was an amazingly
effective spontaneous nonviolent resistance, from the political
leadership down. People talked to the invading soldiers (who had been
told they were there to stop a capitalist takeover) and undermined
their loyalty so quickly that many had to be rotated out of the
country in a matter of days. The radio network continued to broadcast
messages of resistance, and jamming equipment being brought in by
rail never reached its destination due to calculated action by rail
workers. Unfortunately, the Czechoslovak leadership did not realize
the power and dynamics of the nonviolent resistance and made unwise
concessions in Moscow, leading to an end to the active phase of the
resistance. Nevertheless, it took fully eight months before a puppet
government could be installed. Furthermore, the nonviolence of the
resistance made the justice of the Czechoslovak position perfectly
clear to all observers, and greatly contributed to disillusionment
with the Soviet model in communist parties around the world.
Nonviolent resistance can also be
a potent tool against military coups, a problem for which the
military is obviously the cause rather than the solution. In 1961,
there was a coup in Algeria led by generals who were opposed to moves
by de Gaulle to grant independence from France. There was a
spontaneous show of opposition in France -- an invasion from Algeria
was not out of the question -- including a symbolic one-hour strike
supported by ten million workers. Even more effective in thwarting
the coup was noncooperation by members of the armed forces in
Algeria. About half the bomber force left the country as pilots
simply flew out and didn't return. Some soldiers withdrew cooperation
by just staying in their barracks. Others reported for duty but
caused inefficiency by failing to pass on communications, losing
files and so forth. The coup collapsed after four days without a shot
having been fired against it .
These historical examples, a
sample of many available, cannot prove the effectiveness of social
defence. They are, though, indications of possible methods of
struggle using nonviolent action. Most importantly, in each of these
cases the resistance was spontaneous: there was no advance planning
for nonviolent struggle. To judge social defence by spontaneous use
of nonviolent action would be like judging military defence by uses
of violence in which there was no military production, no military
training and no advance planning.
It is at this point that research
and development for nonviolent resistance become important. In any
systematically planned program of social defence, science and
technology have an important role to play .
It is useful to consider a number of different areas.
Often one of the main aims of an
aggressor is to take control of industry. Therefore it is important
for managers and/or workers to be able to shut down production. This
was certainly a goal of many resisters to the Nazis in occupied
Europe, 1939-1945. But what if the aggressors torture the workers or
their families to force them to keep production going? One solution
is to design manufacturing systems to include vital components which,
if destroyed, cannot easily be replaced. Spares could be kept in a
safe place, such as another country. Torture would not help to
replace the components, and would become pointless.
In some industries, a better
strategy might be to decentralise production so that it would be
difficult for an aggressor to "take control" easily. It might be
desirable for small-scale operations to be easily disabled but also
to be easily reenabled.
On the other hand, in some cases
the aggressor may wish to destroy industrial facilities in order to
subjugate the population. In such cases, it would be important to
develop systems that are resistant to sabotage by
There are a host of industrial
design problems requiring research and development. It should be
clear that these problems cannot be addressed as isolated technical
puzzles. The meshing of technical and social domains is crucial, and
close consultation would need to be made with workers and
Food, energy, shelter,
Against a ruthless aggressor, pure
and simple survival becomes important. Basic services need to be
maintained. Although few aggressors have tried to starve a population
into submission, it is important to be prepared.
Large-scale monocultures are
vulnerable to disruption. A more resilient food system would include
many local gardens and food-bearing trees. Relevant research here
includes seed varieties robust to lack of fertilisers and pesticides,
nutritious diets from wild natives, and methods for long-term storage
Centralised energy supplies, such
as power plants, are highly vulnerable. Small-scale renewable energy
systems are much more resilient. As well as continuation of current
studies of such systems, there needs to be investigation of systems
that could be maintained in the face of hostile action. Easily
repairable systems would be highly desirable. Similar considerations
apply to shelter and transport.
Social defence is based on
nonviolent action by the defenders, but there may still be violence
by the aggressors. (Many proponents of social defence argue that
nonviolence by one side reduces the likelihood or severity of
violence by the other side.) For example, in the intifada, many
nonviolent Palestinian resisters have been severely beaten or killed
by Israeli troops.
In such a situation, it becomes
important for there to be medicines and medical techniques that can
be easily administered by non-specialists. There need to be
strategies to maintain health in the face of occupation, food
shortages, curfews, harassment and other contingencies. As well as
physical health, psychological well-being is crucial.
It is also useful to be able to
determine whether torture has been used, and to authoritatively show
this to a wide audience. Demonstrating the violence of the aggressor
is an enormously powerful tool.
One of the first things commonly
done in a coup d'etat is to occupy radio and television stations.
Communications are crucial to legitimacy in modern society. If social
defence is to work, it must both have effective communications
systems of its own and be able to disrupt the communications of the
aggressor. The radio played a vital part in the resistance in
Czechoslovakia in 1968. In the Iranian Revolution -- a largely
nonviolent overthrowing of a heavily armed and brutal regime -- the
clandestine circulation of revolutionary cassette tapes played an
In general, person-to-person
network communications systems such as telephones, short-wave radio
and computer networks are more resilient and useful to a resistance
than are one-to-many communications systems such as television. It is
crucial to maintain communications with people in other countries. In
the cases of the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975, the
military coup in Poland in 1981, and the Beijing massacre in 1989,
attempts were made to cut off communications with the "outside
world". In the latter case, supporters of the pro-democracy movement
in China maintained overseas communications through fax machines and
computer networks. In Fiji, the widespread use of short-wave radio
for inter-island communication meant that non-government
communication could not be cut off in the wake of the military coups
Knowledge of what is "really going
on" is usually extremely damaging to the aggressor. Genocides are
usually carried out in secrecy ,
and publicity is a potent tool against them. Scientists can aid in
this by exposing the use of technologies for repression in other
countries and the role of outside corporations and governments in
aiding this repression .
There are a host of important
areas in computers and communications worthy of development for
social defence: nonjammable broadcasting systems; cheap and
easy-to-use short-wave radio; miniature video recorders; encrypted or
hidden communications via computers, telephone and radio; ways of
destroying or hiding computer information. Some relevant systems
already exist but are not widely available or known.
The psychology of aggressors and
resisters also needs attention. The use of humour -- for example,
taken up by the mass media as a human interest story 
-- is one way to undermine respect for authoritarian regimes or
policies. Studies in the psychology of obedience and resistance need
to aim at insights that can be readily learned and applied by
A well prepared system of social
defence would be a powerful deterrent to aggression. It would be
difficult to subjugate a society which had a decentralised industrial
system that could be easily disabled by the workers, which was
self-reliant in food, energy and transport, and which had a dense and
effective communications system. Add to this regular training --
including simulations -- in nonviolent action, systematic learning of
foreign languages, and cultivation of support among sympathetic
groups in a variety of countries, and the society would be difficult
indeed to conquer.
None of this will be possible
unless people believe the society is worth defending. Military
defence can be used to defend a dictatorship, but social defence will
only work if the people are committed to it.
Social defence, defined as
nonviolent resistance to aggression serving as an alternative to
military defence, provides a possible agenda for scientific research
and technological development. So far, though, almost nothing has
been done along these lines.
One reason is that the idea of
social defence is new: as a comprehensive package, it dates from the
1950s. Since then, it has been developed by peace researchers, been
widely debated (especially in European peace movements), and been
adopted by, for example, the German Green Party. But most governments
have been uninterested, in spite of a few official reports. Social
defence, after all, is a challenge to their power.
A social defence research and
development programme would be quite inexpensive compared to existing
military R&D. Yet, while money has continued to flow for
military-related research, there has been little money for science
and technology for nonviolent resistance. At the beginning of the
1980s, the Netherlands government courageously initiated a social
defence research programme, although funding for only one of the many
planned projects was eventually provided .
Social defence is not guaranteed
to be successful, any more than military defence is guaranteed to be
successful. But because military methods have so often led to
disaster, surely alternatives are worth developing. Social defence
has promise, but it has not yet been tried. Scientists and
technologists have a role to play in helping bring about such a
1. Seymour Melman,
The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion
(Montreal: Harvest House, 1988).
2. Anders Boserup
and Andrew Mack, War Without Weapons: Non-violence in National
Defence (London: Frances Pinter, 1974).
Geeraerts, ed., Possibilities of Civilian Defence in Western
Europe (Amsterdam: Swets and Zeitlinger, 1977).
4. Gene Keyes, "Strategic Non-violent Defense: The Construct of an Option,"
Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 4 (1981), pp.
King-Hall, Defence in the Nuclear Age (London: Victor
6. Johan Niezing,
Sociale Verdediging als Logisch Alternatief (Assen,
Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1987).
7. Gene Sharp,
Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-based
Deterrence and Defense (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger,
8. Gene Sharp,
The Politics of Nonviolent Action (Boston: Porter Sargent,
Sternstein, in Adam Roberts, ed., The Strategy of Civilian
Defence: Non-violent Resistance to Aggression (London: Faber and
Faber, 1967), pp. 106-35.
Windsor and Adam Roberts, Czechoslovakia 1968: Reform, Repression
and Resistance (London: Chatto & Windus, 1969).
11. Adam Roberts, "Civil Resistance to Military Coups," Journal of Peace
Research, Vol. 12 (1975), pp. 19-36.
Galtung, Peace, War and Defense: Essays in Peace Research, Volume
Two (Copenhagen: Christian Ejlers, 1976), pp. 378-426.
13. Leo Kuper,
Genocide (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1981).
14. Steve Wright, "The New Technologies of Political Repression: A Case for Arms
Control?" Philosophy and Social Action, Vol. 17 (July-December
1991), pp. 31-62.
Johansen, "Humor as a Political Force, or How to Open the Eyes of
Ordinary People in Social Democratic Countries," Philosophy and
Social Action, Vol. 17 (July-December 1991), pp.
Group on Research into Non-violent Conflict Resolution, Research
into Non-Violent Conflict Resolution and Social Defence: A Detailed
Research Programme (Amsterdam: Netherlands Universities' Joint
Social Research Centre, 1986).