Invest in Unarmed Civilian Protection, Not Militarism

by Charles Johnson, CAPA Organizing Director |

Militaries and military alliances are said to protect us. Meanwhile, they facilitate the global spread of weaponry, destruction, displacement, regime change–all while ignoring the rulings of the International Criminal Court. Even the most record-setting military spending doesn’t prevent attacks, invasions, or mass shootings. In fact, it tends to reinforce and replicate them. Investing in armed protection doesn’t keep people safe.

Still, many of us hesitate to back divestment from military: “If weapons go away, safety goes away, right?” Incorrect. While divesting from military, we can invest in proven safety models like Unarmed Civilian Protection (UCP), a weaponless framework which is an effective alternative to armed protection.

UCP has grown worldwide for three decades, recognized by the UN as a viable conflict response since 2015. Essentially what UCP is: nonpartisan teams of paid, trained specialists enter deadly conflict zones unarmed, and de-escalate with strategic methods based around presence. UCP may seem paradoxical–how can unarmed people walk into war zones?–but protects more effectively than militaries, more effective even than armed peacekeeping forces like the UN’s Blue Helmets.

Unlike armed protection, UCP gives primacy to local community members. UCP teams enter by invitation and increase safe space for communities to do their own work of peace and justice. In places where UCP methods like Protective Presence operate, local efforts of de-escalation, mutual understanding, and peacebuilding grow. While militaries seek to one-up each other in destruction and propaganda, UCP methods like Monitoring and Relationship Building create contacts on all sides and power levels, to hold parties accountable when their words or actions contradict grassroots reports.

We may think “It would never work in conflict X, Y, or Z”– yet decades of evidence shows UCP works even in escalated conflicts, amid assault rifles and artillery. And people in escalated conflicts are seeking protection that truly uproots violence, instead of merely attacking its branches. In a recent statement, the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement notes:

“We need to stop … the insane throwing of taxpayers’ money into the furnace of the war machine instead of solving acute socio-economic and environmental problems…. We demand global de-escalation and disarmament, the dissolution of military alliances, the elimination of armies… We demand open, inclusive and comprehensive negotiations on peace and disarmament … with the participation of pro-peace civil society actors.”

Such peace-forward goals become possible where UCP operates.

UCP is emerging as an idea whose time has come; think of the growing “WE KEEP US SAFE” refrains heard in the U.S. since the 2020 George Floyd uprisings. Trained nonviolent teams can keep communities and nations safe. See also: Nonviolent Peaceforce, active in 5 nations; Cure Violence Global, in 20 nations; Peace Brigades International, Violence Interrupters, Safe Streets, M.A.S.K. of Chicago, LIFE Camp of NYC, and hundreds more. One of UCP’s main benefits is that it counters “good vs. evil” narratives, giving offenders paths back to society. Some of the most skilled UCP leaders are former combatants who’ve realized unarmedprotection is more practical, sustainable, and uplifting.

It’s true that the scale of UCP remains small; UCP groups have a tiny fraction of the funding and recruitment of armed forces, while receiving more protection requests than ever. It’s time this proven, safe, sustainable model enters the public discourse, mass media, and government policy, so we can divest from destructive conflict resolution methods and invest in constructive ones. In the words of Ruth Wilson Gilmore: “Safety is about presence, not absence. It’s about building life-affirming institutions.” We must invest in UCP.

This piece was first published on the website of West Suburban Peace Coalition, receiving first place in its 2022 Peace Essay Contest. West Suburban Peace Coalition (, based in Glen Ellyn, IL, has been holding its annual peace essay contest since 2013 as part of its continuing mission to promote peace in Chicago’s western suburbs and beyond. For further information contact Walt Zlotow,

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