Small Wars Journal

Individual Resilience: A Precondition for Open Defense

Mon, 08/01/2022 - 8:45pm


Individual Resilience: A Precondition for Open Defense

By Thomas Matyók, Srečko Zajc, and Maj Fritz


A safe and secure environment still matters to Human Security.

Events in Ukraine demonstrate people’s willingness to take up arms, fight, and do all that is necessary to protect themselves, their families, communities, and country. When states fail to provide security, individuals step forward and security networks develop. Pictures of men accompanying loved ones to a safe border then returning to the fight provide compelling evidence of people’s willingness to protect what is theirs; physically, mentally, and spiritually. The development of new technologies, energy sources, and Artificial Intelligence (AI), etc. may have make daily life a bit easier, but they have done little to change people’s desire to live freely, safely, and securely. Comfort alone is not good enough for a meaningful life. Freedom is. Ukraine is resilience in action and the conflict provides a laboratory for the study and advancement of individual resilience and Open Security in the 3rd Millennium. Open Security is all-of-society defense against all possible threats, internal and external, to Human Security. Open Security is self-organizing and resists formal coordination, command, and control. A way of thinking of Open Security is as a living organism. Biology, not management, explains Open Security systems.   

Individual citizens and local groups prepared for collective action are taking on critical security roles that were once the domain of state agencies such as the military, police, and emergency healthcare. The gaps left open by overwhelmed state agencies are being filled by volunteers from throughout civil society. We contend that it is this ‘invisible army’ that is understudied and only recently appreciated as part of a Total Defense strategy. Total Defense during Cold War was a systematic combination of military and non-military capabilities, under government command with diversified roles for individuals, local communities, and the state. Nordic states such as Sweden and Finland have similar models. After joining NATO, or entering the European Union, most of the new member states left the model of Total Defense and substituted it with Collective Defense. The emerging global security environment demands a new concept of Total Defense, not the same as the old approach to security; rather, a new model adjusted to evolving dynamic situations where yesterday’s answers are inadequate for addressing today’s questions. The future will be Open Security, a combination of Civil Defense and Military Defense that self-organizes as necessary to meet threats in changing contexts.

Citizen volunteers in Ukraine, outside of formal channels, prepared themselves for a possible military invasion by Russia. Since 2014, civilian volunteers created informal networks, logistical routes, financial, and material supply lines that could be actualized when needed to counter threats from the East. That preparation now has individual and self-organized networks of volunteers supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the National Guard, and Territorial Defense units in meeting the threat.[1]  Civil Defense is one half of Open Defense and Military Defense provides the other half. Ideally, a State’s Defense Strategy will be a fair combination of both.  The military alone cannot meet the demands of hybrid and asymmetric warfare. Civil society must be trained and prepared to operate with military forces synchronizing actions and exploiting opportunities. Military forces are employed when and where their strengths are needed. Civil Defense and military activities supplement each other as needed. Military and civil society occupy the same space and act in concert.

During periods of peace and stability, it is the function of government to provide opportunities for the military and civil society to learn each other’s language and approaches to security that prevent misunderstanding and unnecessary competition when conflicts arise. Civil Defense is being trained and prepared to work collaboratively with the military, when necessary, to provide a safe and secure environment for the advance of Human Security.

The war in Ukraine demonstrates how military training, equipment, and command-and-control systems do not necessarily ensure tactical, operational, and strategic advantage. Members of civil society, too, engage in activities to defend themselves and their communities when threatened. Citizens take actions that alter the operational environment often uncoordinated with state activities. People rally to their country. As a country is imagined in conflict, people make that imagination real. Television interviews are replete with individuals in Ukraine affirming how much they value their country. Love of country is a combat multiplier difficult to determine quantitatively and as a result can be left uncalculated. Individuals’ love of country and sense of place are not often part of a military calculus. Citizens can be viewed by military actors as obstacles to military action or as something to be protected. The Protection-of-Civilians construction positions civil actors as observers or by-standers to a conflict, not participants.

The conflict in Ukraine speaks to civil society’s role in contributing to Human Security as well as offering a deeper understanding of the evolution of warfare. From the start, development of Human Security doctrine has suffered from “conceptual ambiguity.”[2] Our working definition of Human Security is the physical, emotional, and spiritual defense against threats to wellbeing and individual and societal resilience. Defense relies on resilience and resilience relies on defense in an ongoing reciprocal relationship. A society’s resilience relies on every single person and his or her ability to respond to, and counter, shocks to themselves and the social structure. Society is the aggregate of individual actions. Our purpose in this brief paper is to speak to what occupies the space between defense and resilience. The in-betweenness, the bridge, to Human Security through Open Defense.

It is a frustratingly difficult challenge to understand events as they occur. Analysis often benefits from the addition of time and distance. But this difficulty of nearness to the crisis in time and space should not prevent us from attempting an examination that can provide immediate insights into the complexities of Human Security, as well as construct a space within which to conduct further analysis. We propose that theory and practice are intertwined informing each other in an ongoing association. We propose a theory-practice interface where theory informs practice and practice informs theory in an ongoing attempt to build context specific responses to Human Security challenges.

In conducting a participant-observer analysis of conflict in real time it is important to take into the field a mental model, a starting point. The principles outlined in General Sir Rupert Smith’s groundbreaking text, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, outlining confrontation, conflict, and combat is used to frame our analysis of the importance of the in-between in understanding Human Security.[3]

For a deeper understanding of Human Security, it is crucial to recognize how in the 3rd Millennium a mental model built on a peace-war binary is outdated. It prevents us from understanding the complexities and all-domain nature of Human Security in an age of conflicts without conclusion. It is in-between confrontation and conflict where Human Security is crafted.

The thinking that led world leaders to believe that an era of peace began with the collapse of the Soviet Union demonstrates the inadequacy of peace-war binary thinking: if we are not at war, we are at peace. Rather, Russia and the West entered a period of prolonged confrontation. An unmanaged, or poorly managed, confrontation can develop into a conflict and if not addressed properly, eventually evolve into combat. We can see that progression in Ukraine. The West perceived the period between the 1990s and today as one of peace while Russia understood itself to be at war.[4] This misunderstanding on the part of the West was arrived at irrespective of the facts. Yugoslavia fragmented and conflicts manifested as genocide and ethnic cleansing. Thousands of internally displaced persons and refugees became the norm. Russia entered Georgia, the Eastern portion of Ukraine, and annexed Crimea. But many in the West continued to think that what was happening did not look like war as we knew it from movies and television. So, we must be at peace. President Biden considered limited incursions as something below the threshold of war. A World War II model of war became the reference point. We could not imagine war any other way.

It was misguided to think that following the collapse of the Soviet Union the world entered an era of unrestrained peace. Rather, it continued a lengthy confrontation that followed the end of World War II understood as the Cold War.  A war that never ended, one that merely shifted from combat to confrontation and conflict, now back again to combat.[5]The outcome of failing to recognize how confrontations must be managed with more than wishful thinking is clearly observable in Ukraine. Western leaders took their eye off the ball. The lack of focus has contributed to a loss of faith in governments and leaders to provide safe, secure, and stable environments.

 Human Security is people-centered, multi-sectoral, comprehensive, context- specific, and prevention-oriented.[6] Rearranging our conflict mindset is inefficient and similar to the resetting of our digital world. We must critically relook our past models of behavior and risk following new ones not imagined at individual and collective levels before.  For Human Security initiatives to succeed, citizens must take an active role. Providing Human Security cannot be left solely to governments. The Joint Civil-Military Interaction (JCMI) research and Education Network presents an approach to Human Security that includes Civil Society, the Military, Government, and Academia in a Unity-of-Aim to building societal resilience.[7]

Governments and military talk of resilience, but it is citizens who are stepping forward to create it. Ukraine is a contemporary example of Civil Defense in action. Bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington, D.C. can fail to completely recognize the significance of current events. Cloistered in elite enclaves they ignore the principle that without Human Security for all there is no Human Security for anyone.

Ukraine deals with many internal contradictions. To support his special military operation, Putin used language, as an aspect of cultural unity with Russia, to support his invasion. He created a fiction that he was obliged to protect ethnic Russians from the Ukraine government. This was also the case in Georgia: protect the Russians from government oppression. Putin’s approach is not about Human Security.  It is about conflict for conflict’s sake. Human Security in Ukraine was shattered.

In the space between peace and war where resilience is crafted, we cannot blame only Ukrainians for the current situation: NATO and the EU held out a carrot that they would become allies and member states, but was it simply a cheap promise that Putin took as a real threat for his deadly excuse for special military action? Did we ask ourselves are NATO, the EU, and the institutions of peace that were developed following World War II a real threat to Russia, or to anyone? These threats, in the language of autocrats and dictators, always mean ‘He across the border, that man of color, that woman of another god’. It is not unheard of for psychopaths and sociopaths who possess real power in their hands to move, guide, and lead thousands of people into a catastrophe.

The Cold War eventually became a Hot War because the on-going cold one was denied so often that the denial led many to ignore the facts. Have we learned so little from the past? Have the institutions of the European Union (EU) paid attention to Human Security? Or, have EU bureaucrats focused on establishing a biopolitical technocracy focused on controlling citizens lives to the exclusion of Human Security?

The wars in Ukraine and the Western Balkans − Have we learned anything from the past?

The war in Ukraine has made the West preoccupied with European security, and its potential negative impact on tensions in the Western Balkans. The war in Ukraine offers both parallels and contrasts with the 1990s wars in the Western Balkans, with an emphasis on the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The first obvious difference is that that the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was waged in a different era. The geopolitical situation and international relations at the time of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina were quite different from todays. The European Union in the mid-1990s was not what it is today, when it has at its disposal a greater number of levers to influence or punish an aggressor. The EU has almost twice as many member states than in the mid-1990s, which gives it much more influence and (soft) power. However, the efficiency of the European Union is today in part paralyzed by competing interests of its member states, which was the case also in the 1990s.

The wars are very similar to one another. In both cases, the aggressor attacks a neighboring country it refuses to recognize as an independent state and denies the nationality of its population. Both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ukraine are seen as artificially created countries and are denied the right to exist. In both cases, the aggressor justifies its attack with a need to protect the national minority that is jeopardized by the majority population (which negates the non-recognition of national identity and statehood of the attacked country). The offensive war is thus portrayed as a defensive and just war. The primary goal of the two wars is the same – to fully occupy and annex the attacked country. If the aggressor failed to do so, it would overthrow the authorities and install a loyal puppet government.

Both wars use the same tactics of attack which does not involve a conflict between two military forces but attacks on civilian targets. The aggressor surrounds cities, towns, and other populated areas and bombs and shells targets unselectively with the primary goal to break the spirit of the population in the attacked country. Both wars are characterized by war crimes, rapes, looting and, inevitably, genocide.

The two wars trigger similar reactions and responses from the attacked country. The population shows immense determination to defend itself, and the defender’s manifest high morale and achieve combat successes the aggressor has not anticipated. In both cases, we clearly see that armed forces are not enough to fight a war unless supported by the organized population, willing to defend.

Despite these similarities, the two wars differ in many aspects, with the most important being the response of the international community, especially the West.

At the beginning of the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the international community – the West – failed to offer political and military support clearly and undoubtedly to a newly-established, internationally recognized and sovereign state. From the military point of view, the embargo on the sale of arms to all republics of the former Yugoslavia, including the poorly armed Bosnia and Herzegovina, took away the right to self-defense.

From the political point of view, the international community categorized the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina as an internal conflict and civil war between three warring ethnic groups. It failed to recognize immediately the actual aggressor as an aggressor. It did not condemn the aggression; what is more, it put equal blame for the war on all three ethnic groups. 

Today, the international community immediately recognized the aggressor, and condemned the aggression clearly and undoubtedly. The West supports Ukraine both politically and militarily by supplying the country with arms and equipment needed for a decisive resistance against the stronger aggressor.

This leads to the question of why the West is today acting differently than during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Has the West learned anything from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

It would seem difficult to argue that the West has learned something from the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is therefore acting differently today. The fact is that the West interpreted the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a regional conflict and saw no threat in it. Also, it later turned out that the West, by launching a serious military intervention, could not only manage and contain but also end the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (and later in Kosovo). The Dayton Peace Agreement became possible only after the intervention from the West.

On the other hand, the West recognized Putin’s invasion of Ukraine as a serious threat to European security, which made the decision for political and military support to Ukraine easy and the only possible option.

This thesis is substantiated by rather lukewarm reactions from the West to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the declaration of separatist republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Crimea and conflicts in the Donbas area simply did not pose a direct threat to European security. And it was during this time that civil society began to prepare itself for war and develop networks that would assist the military in combat. Today, establishing Human Security has been left essentially to citizens. But rather than creating a solidarity among citizens, nationalisms and ideologies have established themselves. Citizens cannot be blamed for the rise of nationalism. It is the outcome of governments’ failing to focus on human rights protection in real situations. Human Rights are not achieved only in declarations.  The troubling aspect of Human Security is that Human Rights are for everyone irrespective of color of skin, religion, geography, national origin, etc. When dealing with migration the EU became very thin and short, more knife than bread, now governments are changing their course overnight. We can say EU governments have failed to be impartial when making decisions about immigrants and refugees. Unfortunately, they took a position favoring new immigrants and refugees as more acceptable with much more of a chance to be integrated smoothly into the Western community than old immigrants and refugees from other parts of the world. When vulnerable people are knocking on the door, we should not select them by any other criteria than their basic human needs and rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine demonstrate the weakness of governments in establishing Human Security. Security has been left to each individual to establish. Besides, looking at the broader picture, the developed world is showing little or almost no solidarity with developing parts when speaking about access to vaccines and tests. When we were starting to write this article, a declared level of solidarity with Ukraine was at a high level although it is expected that Ukrainians will do the main portion of the work, fighting, by themselves. In a month or two that high level lost a big portion of its power. We know from the past that partisan resistance (lightly armored, not well trained with a shortage in logistics) might need a lot of time to win, with too many victims and a destroyed environment. What is not missing, and it is so powerful, is Ukrainians high level of motivation or ‘heart on a right side’. Motivation, or battle morale, can be a winning weapon, only the price is unpredictable. Looking into the geopolitical glass ball we might predict a bit of a future: Ukraine will not be the same, Ukrainians will not be the same, Russia will not be the same, Europe will not be the same, the whole world will not be the same, and belonging to the alliance within a free world, or with Putin who destroyed the rule of ‘sacred state borders’ after WW II (when he took Crimea), does not matter. Simply put, everything has changed except our models for responding to the changes and challenges.

Civil-Defense is Resilience.

Citizens engaged in Civil Defense activities provide the fertile ground within which to cultivate a resilient society. Human Security is organically grown, not gifted. Civilians with guns in their hands, women’s hands making ‘Molotov Cocktails’, hackers attacking Russian communications, President Zelensky welcoming international fighters to come to Ukraine following the example of the Spanish Civil War (fascists were stronger because of the international support, but many later leaders of the resistance all over Europe were trained during the Spanish war) although we don’t know what the size will be of ‘international boots on the ground’, all this is individual defense because there is a need for human security for each individual.  The consequences have power far more than the end of aggression or war.

It is too early to arrive at any conclusions. It is too risky to predict an outcome when a dictator’s army is confronting citizens and occupying their country. The fog of war is dense and prevents us from seeing events clearly. But there is no excuse for not having recognized that the Cold War never ended.[8] A tyrant’s appetite is never sated. Invasion of Georgia, the Donbas, and the annexation of Crimea only whetted Putin’s appetite. And the West kept feeding him by standing idlily by while he gorged himself. The basic corporative way of functioning, ‘low prices, high profit’, made Europe dependent on Russia so much so that Putin had an easy task of pushing the Western World into a corner without any fast and elegant option to jump over the trap: he employed the two efficient weapons in his possession – military and economy. Whatever the European Union sanctions impacts, EU citizens will slowly and inevitably turn against Ukraine and Ukrainians. Common people do not understand the complexity of the geopolitical game that is played, and we should not blame them for pursuing their interests. States and elites pursue theirs.

Governments and militaries alone are insufficient to meet the attack of a determined aggressor. Civil society must step forward as it has in Ukraine.  And, it is the internet, along with ubiquity of mobile phones, that is facilitating the self-organization of civil society.[9] This self-organization takes defense away from government alone and places it in the hands of the public. Self-organizing civil actors are now able to set the conditions for defense dictating them to their governments. This leads to a redesign of the civil-military framework. Traditionally, it has been the role of civil society to support the military. This model is shifting to one where it is the function of the military to support the defense functions of civil society. We should not forget that the most advanced information sharing link is provided by SpaceX with their Starlink satellites –proof of how the military depends on civilian support and how Civil Defense and Military Defense are twins, if one is in trouble both are in trouble.

The time for concerted action was 2014 when Russia took over Crimea. It was also the time to exclude Russia from the rest of the world. Putin grew an appetite and now will not stop. We should not ask if World War III will start soon, because it has already begun, and we are engaged in a struggle of freedom versus authoritarianism. Only we grew complacent because we misunderstood peace and war in the 3rd Millennium where hybrid supplanted traditional warfare. We must prepare for a worst-case scenario, prepare our citizens to protect and defend themselves. The question is what level of resilience we can achieve in a short time? Even a low level of resilience is much more than no resilience at all. The Cold war is over, welcome Hot war! A danger is to underestimate a mad man, some said lost in the past in legends of greatness but maintaining a finger on a most deadly weapon of mass destruction.  We can say the Ukrainian government is good at strategic communication, but they failed in critical infrastructure protection. They did not enter into a 3rd Millennium warfare strategy; they remained in the 2nd Millennium, and those that argue Vladimir Putin is fighting using a 19th Century war tactics and strategy are wrong. He is a dangerous mixture of World War II tactics and 3rd Millennium strategy. Only one thing is certain: it is not simply a war for Ukraine, even if it appears that way, it is much more. It is a war for the concept of Human Security in the 3rd Millennium.

New multilateralism and human security.

We propose an enhanced understanding of Human Security as an organically developed peacebuilding strategy. Individual actors have an individual responsibility for defending civil society through collective action.  Resilience in an Open Defense eco-system is the future of Human Security in the 3rd Millennium. Let us explain further Open Defense: Military Defense is a static fortress designed in the past, rigid, and slow to adapt relying heavily on kinetic responses to threats. The military cannot move fluidly through social media to meet hybrid threats; nor can it battle climate changes, mass migrations, and pandemics without parallel actions by civil society. Efficiency and efficacy are tools key to achieving Human Security. The military is called to adjust its structure to embrace civil society as an equal partner in an Open Defense approach to Human Security.

Resilience is a consequence of a robust Civil Defense environment, but there is no Civil Defense without Military Defense, they must grow together supporting each other using or borrowing the best of the best from one or another. Open Defense is a universe that must be discovered as it exists only as a blurred vision. To see the world as an unfocused picture is leading to new catastrophes – our vision must be focused.  

What might be the right direction? When we include Civil Defense and Military Defense in Professional Military and Civilian Education on each level of education designed for a specific audience being sure that they will take away what they need to improve their individual and collective resilience.

In the past military was the leading agent in developing new tools that were used later employed in civilian life. Now civilian companies are developing new tools and ‘weapons of a hybrid use’ like cell phones, internet, social networks, and tools that in combination with a traditionally designed military are a winning combination for the future. This is Open Defense too. The traditional military is too slow and cumbersome to neat the fluid threats of hybrid warfare alone. Only in combination with civil society experts can a winning strategy be developed that will meet Human Security needs in the 3rd Millennium. Fortune aids the bold. We must be bold. Open Defense is the future in providing Human Security.





[1] Sarah Rainsford, “Ukraine’s Shadow Army Resisting Russian Occupation,” BBC News, July 29, 2022,

[2] Luke Johns, “A Critical Evaluation of the Concept of Human Security, E-International Relations, (July 5, 2014),

[3] Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World, (UK: Penguin Random House, 2019). 181-98.

[4] Rebekah Koffler, Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America, (Washington, D.C.: Regenery Gateway, 2021), xxxi.

[5] David Frum, “The Cold War Never Really Ended,” The Atlantic, July/August 2015,


[6] “Human Security in Theory and Practice: Application of the Human Security Concept and the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security,” Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Accessed March 10, 2022,

[7] Thomas Matyók and Sven Stauder, “Joint Civil-Military Interaction: A Unity-of-Aim Method for Peacebuilding,” in The Routledge Companion to Peace and Conflict Studies, eds. Sean Byrne, Thomas Matyók, Imani Michelle Scott and Jessica Senehi (New York: Routledge, 2020), 337-348.

[8] Frumm, “The Cold War Never Really Ended.”

[9] P.W. Singer and Emerson T. Brooking, Like War: The Weaponization of Social Media (New York: First Mariner Books), 24-52.



About the Author(s)

Maj Fritz graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice and Security, University of Maribor, Slovenia and holds a master’s degree in European Studies. He has been working for the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Slovenia since 1991. His interests and research include intelligence and security issues, peace operations, military outsourcing, hybrid threats and civil-military cooperation and interaction. He is a guest lecturer in Criminal Justice and Security, lecturing on the private security industry and international defense cooperation. Maj can be reached at:

Srečko Zajc was in his career journalist, chief editor, manager, secretary general of the national Red Cross society. He joined to the MoD in 2008 and developed Slovenian civilian contribution to the ISAF. Until September 2019 he served as Director General of the Defense Affairs Directorate. Main subjects: Defense plan, Critical Infrastructure Protection, resilience, civilian support to the military, civil-military cooperation, and interaction. In June 2019, the NATO CCOE awarded him with the CIMIC Award of Excellence. He is a member of Interacta Global Network.

Thomas Matyók, Ph.D. is Executive Director of the Joint Civil-Military Interaction Network and Senior Lecturer in Conflict Analysis and Resolution at Middle Georgia State University, USA. Tom conducts high-impact, policy-relevant studies regarding the strategic environment, its principle strategic challenges, and the relative balance of national and human security ends, ways, and means to contend with them. Tom also researches ways of merging design and conflict analysis and resolution methodologies to achieve a multi-dimensional understanding of conflict. Tom was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Konstanz in Southern Germany. He has published and presented on Civil-Military Interaction, Religion and Conflict, Negotiation, and Conflict Analysis and Resolution. He has taught Conflict Analysis and Negotiation at both the US Army and Air War Colleges and he was a Visiting Research Professor at the US Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI). Tom is a former Director of the US Air Force Negotiation Center. Email is: