A New Philosophy of Defense

Making Europe Unconquerable: The Potential of Civilian-based Deterrence and Defence

by Gene Sharp
Ballinger, 250 pp., $14.95 (paper)

Professor Gene Sharp of Southeastern Massachusetts University has given several years of study to the possibilities of deterrence and resistance by civilians as a conceivable alternative, or partial alternative, to the traditional, purely military concepts of national defense that have so long prevailed and continue to prevail in European countries. He has restricted the range of applicability of his researches and reflections to Europe, and has directed them, within those limits, primarily to the neutral countries such as Austria and Finland. But his study is intended to apply, at least hypothetically, to such other countries, now members of one or the other of the great nuclear alliances, as might in some distant future succeed in detaching themselves from the alliance in question and thus find themselves compelled to devise an independent defense policy that makes sense with regard to the military and political realities of the present day. The question addressed in this book is essentially this: Where is the peace-loving, nonaggressive, and nonaligned country to find the maximum security against outside interference and domination in a world where war itself, and therefore the traditional preparations for war, have lost so much of their rationale as instruments of national policy?

The answer in the NATO establishment (and perhaps also, although with diminished conviction and enthusiasm, in the Soviet one, too) would be: in the nuclear deterrent, of course. Either, one would say, you have your own nuclear arsenal, or you ally yourself with someone else who has one.

Mr. Sharp challenges (quite correctly in the opinion of this reviewer) the validity of this supposed alternative. Not only is the nuclear deterrent by its very nature dangerously unstable but it is not really a means of defense. In the concept of nuclear deterrence, Mr. Sharp notes, “the capacity to defend in order to deter has been replaced by the capability to destroy massively without the ability to defend.” Beyond this there is, for any country wishing to go the nuclear road, the necessity of choosing between the development of a nuclear arsenal of one’s own, at vast expense and in defiance of the international effort to restrict proliferation, and the acceptance of an alliance with some existing nuclear power—a relationship bound, as experience has shown, to raise the unanswerable question about whose interests, those of the protector or those of the nominally protected, are eventually to prevail in a moment of crisis so brief as to be responsive only to the impulses of the computer.

Finally, as Mr. Sharp also points out, to create a nuclear arsenal or to accept someone else’s missiles on one’s own territory is to increase immensely, from a point of near zero to a very high level, the danger that in any sort of a nuclear conflict one’s own country will become a likely target. Mr. Sharp could even have strengthened his case, in this respect, by pointing out that the Soviet leaders have repeatedly and specifically affirmed that they would …

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