A pioneer program exploring nonviolent means of political struggle began this fall at Harvard's Center for International Affairs (CFIA).
The Program on Nonviolent Sanctions in Conflict and Defense hopes to analyze and refine nonviolent methods of meeting the challenges of dictatorship, war, genocide, and oppression.
Given sufficient resources, the privately funded research center will focus on specific problem areas, beginning with the Republic of South Africa.
"Our purpose is to learn how, and to what degree, nonviolent actions can serve as effective alternatives to violent ones," said Program Director Gene Sharp, an associate of the CFIA.
The nonviolent actions Sharp describes range from protests and propaganda to boycotts, strikes, and organized noncooperation.
"This is not pacifism," he explained "It is another system of fighting."
Sharp is a professor of political science and sociology at Southeastern Massachusetts University and an associate of the CFIA, where he has done most of his work since 1965.
The program will be funded through private contributions, grants, and other outside sources, with 1983-84 budget set at $100,000.
Sharp believes that nonviolent political acts have untapped potential, and at the research center he plans to pursue avenues that he feels are neglected by most of the world.
He presents India's fight for independence and the American Civil Rights Movement as illustrations of his principles in action.
Sharp also observed nonviolent weapons at work in Poland today. Through organized and concerted sanctions, he said, the Solidarity trade union "threatened the disintegration of the communist system."
"There will be future significant developments in Poland," he predicted, "and nonviolent forms of struggle play an important part."
Program activities will include research and preparing academic papers.
Thomas C. Schelling, Littauer Professor of Political Economics and the individual who brought Sharp to Harvard, said the academic community has given minimal attention to the field of nonviolent sanctions.
"I don't think most academics are credulous about it," he said, nothing that the inception of a permanent program at Harvard could change that.
"When Harvard takes on an innovation of this kind, it gets noticed. The establishment of this program is to some extent a formal recognition by Harvard that this is a legitimate field of study." Schelling added.
Professor Herbert C. Kelman, an overseer of the project, underscored the importance of Sharp's research. "Dr. Sharp's work is based on the realization that conflict is inevitable... To right injustice, it is necessary to engage in conflict," he said.
"We need ways of conducting struggle; we need ways of defense. But when nuclear war threatens mutual annihilation, we must find ways that are less destructive than the military option," Kellman added.