Social defense

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The concept of social defense was developed in the 1960s and 1970s as an alternative to war and military attempts to resolve conflicts. According to a much-cited definition, the focus is not on defending a territory, but rather the structures of civil society against military attacks in another country (or against the actions of coup plotters).

Historical development

Among other things, the foundations of civil disobedience developed by Henry David Thoreau and the non-violent resistance of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King were built upon . The battle against the Ruhr , the resistance in Denmark and Norway against the German occupiers during the Second World War and the resistance after the Warsaw Pact troops marched into the Czechoslovakia on August 21, 1968 (see Prague Spring ) were also linked . However, this does not mean that the examples mentioned or other examples were already about "social defense" in the sense of the theoretically worked out concept.

In the 1980s, methods of nonviolent action were used by the German peace movement and ecology movement , often combined with considerations of what a society should actually look like in order to be able to assert itself against possible attacks by means of social defense.

Basic assumptions

Social defense is based on the value principle that human life and the structures of a community are more important than political and historical spheres of influence. It is less worthwhile to preserve historically grown hegemonic borders than the social structure of a society and its institutions. The disadvantages that arise in the exercise of power by occupiers are more bearable than the sacrifices in human life and buildings that military defense entails. Foreign rule is better than mutual destruction (especially in times of nuclear stalemate).

Social defense is based on the assumption that an aggressor wants to derive the greatest possible benefit from his attack, namely in the sense of using the resources and manpower of the occupied country ("rational goals"), so the effective control of the country is important to him not in its destruction.

Social defense is based on the goal that in any case the immense destruction and devastation that typically arises in a military conflict must be prevented. Hence, military defense is not appropriate. The prevention or avoidance of arbitrary occupation through the deterrent effect of a determined civil society remains an important goal.

“The aim is therefore a consciously managed social self-assertion, in that the affected people in the political, social and economic institutions make it difficult for those with non-violent forms of action to control the structures and institutions of the country and - ideally - make it impossible for them to intervene militarily or take power would like to."

- Michael Schmid

It is not the attack that is punished, but the occupation.

Social defense is based on the following basic attitudes (according to Michael Schmid):

  • every person is respected as a person, including the opponent;
  • it is the injustice that is combated and not the person who practices or supports it;
  • the belief that everyone is capable of change;
  • the willingness to take suffering on oneself in order to get out of the spiral of violence and counter-violence, also to underline the credibility of one's own cause;
  • in the case of non-violent action, the goal and means must match.

Recommended behaviors

While military defense usually wants to keep the price of admission as high as possible for an aggressor, the population defending itself non-violently brings a high price of accommodation. From the outset, social defense should therefore have a “warning effect” that prevents the opponent from attacking.

Possible actions range from being kind to the aggressor's soldiers through discussion, strikes , symbolic actions, civil disobedience to active sabotage. This includes humorous actions and actions by the communication guerrilla or the clown army .

Social defense seeks peaceful means, not the use of force.

Accompanying and preventive measures are very important, e.g. B. educating the world public, crisis prevention, programs for social and ecological justice.

Examples, possibilities and limits

1968 in Prague showed z. For example, what effect it can have on soldiers if they are not confronted with an armed opponent, i.e. an opponent who is a threat to themselves, but rather unarmed people who are ready to discuss.

Other examples are the peaceful “orange” revolution in Ukraine and the civil disobedience of the citizens of Iraq to US-British occupiers.

One of the limits of the SV is where an attacker is only interested in the territory with its natural resources and does not have to take any account of the ethical convictions of their own population or the global public. The Quit India movement in colonial India was not least aimed at the British population.

A prerequisite for a successful SV is that the population and the decision-makers share the value system of the SV theory, because the more people involved support it, the more likely it will succeed. The willingness of the population to remain peaceful under an arbitrary occupation has its limits. Charismatic speakers and individual and mass psychological processes can lead to violence against aggressors breaking out in an unorganized way. The willingness to react less violently to the occupiers is enough for the situation to escalate. The situation in Palestine since 2002 and in Iraq since 2004 are examples of this.

Wherever a territory including the people living on it, especially their labor, is to be conquered, the costs of an occupation can be driven up just as much with nonviolent methods as with acts of violence against the occupier. This not only entails costs for the occupiers, but also risks for the occupied, as attackers can also react to SV methods with violence and destruction. However, the SV assumes that the probability and severity of destruction decreases the less violence is opposed to it.

People and organizations supporting the idea

In order to further develop and spread the concept, organizations and people from the peace movement founded the Bund für Soziale Defense in 1989 .

Pioneers of the concept of social defense in Germany included Theodor Ebert , Dieter Senghaas , Eva Senghaas-Knobloch , Dieter S. Lutz and the staff of the book series Friedensanalysen published by Suhrkamp-Verlag . Wolfgang Sternstein , Christine Schweitzer and Barbara Müller , among others, took part in the further development . In the USA, Gene Sharp and Adam Roberts , among others, played a key role in the development of this concept, in Scandinavia Johan Galtung , Andrew Mack and Anders Boserup . The contributions by the Australian Brian Martin are also interesting.

The concept achieved political relevance through its reception in the party Die Grünen , in whose party and election programs it was temporarily included.


  • Maja Bisig u. a .: Social defense. A non-violent alternative to the military defense of Switzerland. No. 5 of the series of publications of the Swiss Peace Council. Zurich 1976.
  • Theodor Ebert : Social Defense. Forms and conditions of civil resistance. Waldkircher Verlag, Waldkirch 1981.
  • Wolfram Beyer: Pacifism. In: Lexikon der Anarchy: Encyclopaedia of Anarchy. Lexique de l'anarchy. - Edited by Hans Jürgen Degen. - Bösdorf: Verlag Schwarzer Nachtschatten, 1993–1996. Online in ALex .
  • Barbara Müller u. a .: On the topicality of social defense. Socio-Publishing, Osnabrück 2006.

Web links

See also: civil disobedience , nonviolence , nonviolent action , conflict research , conflict management , mediation , civil conflict management , peacekeeping , peace research , Federation for Social Defense , pacifism