On December 19th, 1996, the small country of Lithuania became a world leader in the field of nonviolence. After waging nonviolent struggle to regain independence and end Soviet occupation in 1991, Lithuanians had learned the power of active nonviolence . . . and as their new independence government began to draw up policy around defense and military, they brought their hard-won lessons to the conversation. They consulted with Gene Sharp on the concepts of civilian-based defense, and, five years later, when the parliament passed official legislation detailing defense and security policy, they became the first nation in the world to formally include nonviolent civilian-based defense among their defense strategies.

While Lithuanians maintain an armed military, they also build, train, and maintain the capacity of the populace to use nonviolent action, noncooperation, civil disobedience in the event of an invasion or occupation of another nation, or the usurpation of power by a coup or internal power-grab. To prepare the citizenry, one national institution trains all civil servants in particular policies of nonviolent resistance within the framework of defending the public offices or administration offices. Another institution works closely with churches, schools, and society to prepare the populace to resist and non-cooperate if necessary. In addition to these on-going trainings, a few years ago, when the Lithuanians were growing concerned about Russian aggression along their border, the Lithuanian government issued a nationwide pamphlet on how to use nonviolent resistance in the event of an invasion.

One researcher wrote, “With the preparation of a civilian-based defense policy, Lithuanians are examining how to make their country ‘politically indigestible.’  In the event of an attack, concentrated and coordinated forms of mass civilian

resistance will be brought to bear on the attackers.”

Civilian-based defense draws upon many historic examples of nonviolent struggles, including from Norway and Denmark’s resistance to Nazi occupation. History provides basic concepts on how to undermine and thwart an oppressor or occupation government. By developing these ideas and training the Lithuanian population in the ability to nonviolently incapacitate any would-be occupying power, Lithuania is creating a deterrenceto potential invaders. This is the basis of all military defense strategy: to show that one’s nation has the necessary force to rout out or cause major problems for anyone foolish enough to invade or attack.

On top of this, Lithuania has drawn up an agreement with Latvia and Estonia (two other Baltic states that also won their independence from the Soviet Union through the use of nonviolent struggle) to cooperate trans-nationally with forms of civil resistance to protect the rights and sovereignty of each of the three states.

Many questions remain for the Lithuanians about defense and strategy, especially around how/when to use nonviolent civil resistance in relation to their armed forces or NATO forces. But, their work in advancing the theory and practice of civil resistance is critical as we all seek a path toward a global culture of peace and active nonviolence. Their bold experiment offers an example to all other nations (including our own) about how to achieve one of the primary stated goals of the military – defense of the nation – with nonviolent methods. In Lithuania, the official policy for implementing nonviolent civilian-based defense is when the military has been conquered or forced to surrender by an invading army. In the event that the country becomes occupied, it is up to the people, wielding nonviolent action, to defend and protect the nation. Yet, it begs the question, “If nonviolence works as a last resort . . . why wouldn’t it work as a first?”

This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.


Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com

Learn more about Civilian Based Defense here.  

Learn more about Lithuania’s Civilian Based Defense Strategy here.

Photo Credit: A panoramic view of the Old Town of Vilnius (Capital of Lithuania) looking south from Gediminas Tower By Diliff – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37944099