Defence Without Armies

There are real and practical alternatives to armed defence. Social defence is a non-violent strategy which has been studied widely, and practised in many instances.

Social defence is based on widespread political, economic and social non-cooperation in order to oppose military aggression or political repression. It uses methods such as boycotts, refusal to obey, strikes, demonstrations, and setting up alternative governments.

Social defence is based on the principle that no regime - whether democracy or military dictatorship - can survive without the passive support or nonresistance of a large fraction of the population. Social defence, relying on resistance by large sections of the population, is the non-violent equivalent of guerilla warfare.

Choosing to create the structures and skills for social defence would cost far less than we now spend on weapons, leaving the money free for more socially useful projects. It would actually reduce the threat of invasion, since an unarmed country could never be seen or presented as an “aggressor”, and in the case of invasion the invaders would have little or no international support. Further, the skills and structures for social defence can also be applied to deal with many other emergencies; a country relying on social defence would also be a country in which all the citizens were prepared to cope with flood, fires, economic collapse and civil disorder, as well as external threats.

Techniques of non-violent resistance are many, and always flexible and varied. Besides strikes and demonstrations, besides underground printing presses and radio transmitters, responses can be developed for nearly every group in society. Factory workers can learn how to disable or halt production with minimum damage, if that is appropriate in their situation. Or they can refuse to produce certain products that would be useful to the aggressor, wile continuing to produce, say, clothing. Government employees can “lose'' files; people can `misunderstand' any orders given to them by the aggressors. Even members of the invading armed force can take part in the resistance (and, when the resistance is non-violent, defection of members of the military is common), again by `misunderstanding' or refusing to carry out orders, and by passing on information to resistance members.

Canada is in many ways an appropriate country for an experiment in social defence. Our defence establishment now exists not to protect the Canadian population, but to be a testing ground, early warning system and forward defence for the United States. We would surely be healthier and more secure if we gave up that role, and prepared ourselves to act non-violently in the event of invasion or civil disruption.

Why, then, has social defence never been tried as a planned, prepared strategy? Because it is at odd with our present political and economic system. It advocates shared control as a replacement for the military defence hierarchy; it depends on local self-reliance and decentralized structures of society rather than centralized government and economy and top-down control. It means training citizens in self-reliance, and fostering creativity and the willingness to disobey immoral orders; and that not what most existing government want from their citizens.

But, just as social defence would be put into practice, not by a centralized government but by many individuals, so individuals can begin to create the possibility. Information on social defence can be printed and distributed, workshops can be held. Time could be set aside in schools to discuss ways that students can help in locally based resistance, for instance.

We could also try to create a domestic Peace Brigades, who could intervene non-violent in situations like the Oka crisis of last summer, and perhaps prevent violent from breaking out or from escalating. We can also use the techniques of non-violent social defence against destructive or immoral policies of our own government.

A world without armies is not only a dream, it is a very practical possibility; if we begin working to make it happen.

The Activist, with Social Defence Project



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