Nonviolent Civilian-Based Defense / Civilian Peacekeeping Forces

Nonviolent Civilian-Based Defense (CBD) deploys a powerful coercive force that does not require military action and shifts power away from the elite and into the hands of citizens. Unarmed civilian peacekeeping provides an effective, more sustainable, and potentially transformative alternative to militarized peacekeeping.

  • Approximately 1 hour per discussion (up to 2 hours)
relevant sections of “a global security system: an alternative to war”
  • Explore the viability of civilian-based defense and unarmed civilian peacekeeping as alternatives to war and military-based defense
introducing study and action partner:Tiffany Easthom

Tiffany Easthom is the Executive Director of Nonviolent Peaceforce. Prior to her current role, Tiffany served as Program Director for Nonviolent Peaceforce’s Middle East program, Country Director in South Sudan and prior to that for Sri Lanka. Tiffany holds a BA in Justice Studies and a MA Degree in Human Security and Peacebuilding from Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She also studied peacebuilding in the field in Uganda and served as Country Director for Peace Brigades International in Indonesia.  You can read Tiffany’s full bio here.

Discussion Guides

Two discussion topics/guides are presented below. Each discussion should take approximately 1 hour. You are invited to do both and follow any sequence relevant to your purposes. If you are to choose one discussion we strongly encourage you to start with “Discussion 1 (Essential).”

Discussion 1 (Essential): Civilian Peacekeeping / Unarmed Civilian Protection

In preparation for this discussion watch the featured video (above) and read the corresponding sections of AGSS.  (Total 60 min)

“It is a common assumption that only armed military or police can do the work of peacekeeping, however unarmed civilians have been successfully ‘keeping the peace’ in situations of violent conflict all over the world, and their numbers are increasing.”  – Nonviolent Peaceforce

  • Can civilian peacekeeping forces and unarmed civilian protection be as effective as militarized peacekeeping? Why or why not?
  • Can civilian peacekeeping forces and unarmed civilian protection be brought to scale?
  • How might civilian peacekeeping forces and unarmed civilian protection lead to more sustainable solutions to conflict?
Additional Resources
  • Nonviolent Peaceforce has assembled a list of the many ways in which unarmed civilian protection is getting recognized and included in various resolutions, documents, and guidelines from the UN and some of its member states. Check out their list here.
  • This paper summarizes the important discussions, issues and findings of the Workshop with the title “Good Practices in Nonviolent, Unarmed, Civilian to Civilian Protection” that Nonviolent Peaceforce organized in Manila, 7-9 December 2017.

Discussion 2 (Going Deeper): Civilian-Based Defense: Defense without War

In preparation for this discussion read the corresponding sections of AGSS and watch the interview below with Gene Sharp.

“The path to the abolition of war may lie through the substitution of nonmilitary means of defense, if these exist, can be created or refined, and if they are, or can be made to be, at least as instrumentally effective as military means of defense have been and are now.” – Gene Sharp

Civilian-Based Defense (CBD)…”indicates defense by civilians (as distinct from military personnel) using civilian means of struggle (as distinct from military and paramilitary means). This is a policy intended to deter and defeat foreign military invasions, occupations, and internal usurpations.” This defense “is meant to be waged by the population and its institutions on the basis of advance preparation, planning, and training.” – Gene Sharp

Watch the following interview with Gene Sharp from 1987. (You are encouraged to watch the entire video, but please watch the sections on CBD and transarmament from approximately 22:40 to 37:40).


Gene Sharp argues that some means of defense is necessary for the protection of people and nation states. The challenge, he presents, is to find a functional alternative to war and military based defense. Civilian-based defense fulfills that function. Many of the following questions come from Gene Sharp’s book “Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-Based Deterrence and Defense” (1985).

  • In comparing nonviolent struggle with military struggle for defense capacity the same criteria must be used for evaluating both.  What is the risk of each?  What is risked? What are the costs it if comes to an open clash?  What is the nature of failure and success in such a clash?  What are the possible gains in case of success? Losses?  Consider both a military and CBD response to an invading force using these basic criteria.  Which approach comes out ahead?
  • Can a national defense policy, for both small and large countries, be created by the capacity of the civilian population, trained, prepared, knowledgeable, to wield nonviolent struggle? Can this policy make consolidation and maintenance of control by an invading force or a cup d’état impossible?
  • Could such a policy be relevant to the present nuclear powers?
  • What are the possibilities and paths for transarmament (change over from military based defense to civilian-based defense)? Would a country that has gradually built up its capacity to wage CBD and phased down its military capacity be likely to be threatened or attacked (by conventional military means or via nuclear weapons)?
  • What training and capacity development would be necessary to create an effective Civilian-Based Defense force within a country?
  • Efforts advocating for CBD seem to have waned in recent years. The once active Civilian-Based Defense Association has been relatively dormant (World Beyond War reached out to the Association recently and confirmed they are still active, but engaged in limited activities).  Consider developing a strategy for public advocacy and organizing around CDB. Start by convening local discussions on the topic.
Additional Resources
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