Exploring Nonviolent Alternatives
By Gene Sharp
Summary written by Conflict Research Consortium Staff
Citation: Gene Sharp. Exploring Nonviolent Alternatives. Boston: Porter Sargent, 1970, 162 pp.
Exploring Nonviolent Alternatives examines potential for techniques of nonviolent resistance to replace reliance on violence as the means of final resort in conflict.
Exploring Nonviolent Alternatives will be of interest to those seeking alternatives to violent conflict. This work is divided into seven chapters with an introduction. In his first chapter Sharp discusses briefly the limitations of several traditional methods of dealing with national and international conflicts. Traditional methods include use of democratic institutions, removal of causes of conflict, compromise, negotiation and arbitration, avoidance of provocation, even war and revolution. Each of these approaches is undesirable or insufficient in some regard. Sharp then describes uses of nonviolent action in Cuba, Norway under Nazi occupation, colonial India, El Salvador in 1944, and in Montgomery, Alabama. Sharp suggests general areas were such nonviolent action may be effective.
Chapter Two examines the techniques of nonviolent action. Nonviolent actions seeks to "deny the enemy the human assistance and cooperation which are necessary if he is to exercise control over the population." Nonviolent actions fall into three broad categories. Nonviolent protest include such events as sit-ins, marches, vigils, and "humorous pranks." Nonviolent noncooperation refers to boycotts, strikes, and "mutiny." Nonviolent intervention has elements of the first two categories, but challenges the opponent more directly by nonviolent obstruction and invasion. Nonviolent action brings about change via three mechanisms: conversion, accommodation, and nonviolent coercion. Sharp sketches the history of nonviolent action, discussing Gandhi in particular.
Chapter Three explores the possibility of national defense without armaments. Sharp begins by arguing that defense capacity is not the same as military power, and that military occupation does not entail political control. Instead Sharp suggests a model of civilian defense. "Civilian defense aims to defeat military aggression by using resistance by the population as a whole to make it impossible for the enemy to establish and maintain political control over the country." Past uses of civilian defense are examined. Sharp suggests way to implement civilian defense, and assesses its effectiveness as a deterrence to military aggression.
Chapter Four provides an overview of needed research in the study of nonviolent action. Sharp suggests particular issues for investigation, and groups these issues under five general headings: nonviolent techniques, internal nondefense uses, civilian defense, consequences of nonviolence, and the nature of threats and conflicts. Chapter Five follows by listing eighty-five cases wherein nonviolent action was used effectively in response to a wide variety of grievances. Chapter Six is contributed by William Watson, and outlines an eight part series of courses in civilian defense. Courses would examine the method and dynamics of nonviolent action, the topic of civilian defense, the history of resistance, the moral and political bases of nonviolence, the relation between violence, aggression and self-defense, the politics of defense, the post-military society, and techniques of nonviolent confrontation. Chapter Seven concludes this text with a selected reading list for further study of nonviolent action.
Exploring Nonviolent Alternatives is an intriguing investigation into the past uses and future potential of nonviolent action.