Nonviolent Civilian Defense to Counter Russian Hybrid Warfare

Written by Maciej Bartkowski, Ph.D.

In January 2015, the Lithuanian Ministry of Defense published a manual for the Lithuanian people to use in case of a foreign invasion. It notes that “citizens can resist aggression against their country not only through armed [struggle]. Civilian-based defense or nonviolent civil resistance is another way for citizens’ resistance against aggression. (…) This method is especially important for threats of hybrid war.”

The Lithuania manual statement captures the essence of this study: recognition of the threat to European countries of unconventional warfare launched by Russia, understanding of the limitations inherent in armed response, and acknowledgement of the potential of nonviolent resistance in countering aggressive hybrid war.

This study has been directly informed by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine where Russia and Russian backed rebels have waged a hybrid war of territorial conquest. This hybrid warfare has included elements of nonviolent collective actions. In response, the Ukrainian government launched an armed counterinsurgency with predictably costly results. Ukraine would have been better served by an approach similar to that outlined by Lithuania.

Russia has exploited civilian nonviolent actions in Ukraine and elevated them to the status of instruments of contemporary warfare in its latest military doctrine. For their part, NATO and its democratic member states need to give a serious consideration to the idea of genuinely grassroots, civilian nonviolent defense strategies. This study offers suggestions on how this can be done and what relevant nonviolent strategies might be.

Civilian nonviolent defense offers important short and long-term strategic advantages over traditional military strategies in defending people and territory. It exploits the political vulnerabilities of the adversaries. In particular, it looks for ways to undermine the essential pillars that sustain opponents and their war machinery while minimizing costs for the society under attack. Furthermore, national civilian nonviolent defense can instill a significant degree of civic empowerment, self-organization, decentralization, and civic solidarity–elements necessary for a successful post-war democratization.

GOV1501_WhitePaper_Bartkowski Click here to read the full White Paper (PDF).