Machiavelli of nonviolence
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And Dr. Nagler regrets that his colleague sacrifices the power of conviction in his pursuit of the power of numbers. ``Gene's so concerned not to appear flaky,'' he says. ``He's afraid the policy people -- and it's the policy elite he's really aiming at -- will reject what he has to say without even considering it.''Skip to next paragraph
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Sharp defends his approach. ``I'm insisting on protection rather than trying to change the world,'' he says, adding that if it is ever to succeed, nonviolent action must work for ``people who don't necessarily believe as you do.''
In his most recent book, ``Making Europe Unconquerable,'' Sharp tries to convince ``nonbelievers'' that nations should look into nonviolent defense alternatives. He argues that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should be replaced by civilian-based defense (not to be confused with civil defense, often identified with the preparation of bomb shelters). Such a defense strategy, he explains, would prepare populations in noncooperation and defense so they would be nettlesome and perhaps ``unconquerable'' by an invader such as the Soviet Union.
The concept has caught on in Scandinavia, where several countries have integrated some civilian-based training into their weapons-based defense strategies. In West Germany last month, a leader of the anti-NATO, anti-nuclear Greens party emerged from the party's four-day congress and called for a sweeping system of ``weaponless social defense.''
But most political scientists -- including Sharp himself -- agree that the US will be one of the last countries to ``transarm'' -- to begin the crossover from weapon-based defense to civilian-based defense. The psychological hurdles to its acceptance seem much higher here, says Bruce M. Russett, a professor of international relations and political science at Yale University. He says the key question -- and limitation -- for such a defense strategy is, ``How much real social solidarity can be mustered in a society?''
That question needs more investigation, says Sharp. But he is set in his opinion on the current NATO policy of deterrence: ``The capacity to defend in order to deter has been replaced by the capacity to destroy without the ability to defend. We've been misled. Our offensive fixation has distracted us from the vital task of defense.'' That same fixation, Sharp says, has warped our reaction to terrorism. He concedes that no one has thoroughly investigated the role of nonviolence in addressing terrorism. But ``the whole concept that you deal with it by dropping bombs and retaliating is a bit of nonsense,'' he told Ted Koppel on ABC's ``Nightline'' program after the US bombing of Libya in April. ``It distracts attention from their grievances.''
Real grievances can be addressed only nonviolently -- from both sides -- Sharp contends. He suggests that part of the response has to include political sanctions, economic boycotts, and disruption of the offending government or group.
``Negotiations are not an alternative to violence,'' Sharp says. ``The negotiation process is one of peeking under the table to see how big a club the other guy has. . . . The capacity for violence is still there. But you have to have some other form of struggle.''
He says nonviolent resistance is the only practical alternative.