The remarkable success of the global campaign to ban Anti-Personnel (AP) landmines during the end of the 1990s has sparked considerable speculation about the future of disarmament and government-NGO cooperation. More specifically, analysts who watched the landmine campaign unfold have increasingly asked how that success can be transferred to other issues, especially the mounting global crisis that relates to the proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALWs). By comparing the cases of AP landmines and SALWs, I will argue that, while many of the factors that were vital for success on the landmines issue are also present in or applicable to the problem of SALWs, there are also a number of important differences between the two cases which show that the SALWs campaign will have to be reframed in order to simplify the issue and offer clear avenues for action if it is to experience similar success to the landmine campaign. It is my view that, fundamentally, coping with the SALWs crisis will be more complex than was dealing with AP landmines, and thus success will likely have to be incremental. However, if the issue is reframed such that clear initial steps can be presented and enacted, there is no reason we cannot begin down the path of reducing the death, instability, and destruction currently being wrought around the world by the proliferation of SALWs.

NOTES ON TERMINOLOGY

Before beginning my analysis, there are a few points on terminology that should first be addressed. While I understand that there exists a broad variety of landmines, including varieties not covered by the convention, my use of the term is intended to refer only to those types that were. The term ‘small arms and light weapons’ (SALWs) is very broad and covers innumerable types of small and readily-available armaments to the extent that one scholar’s definition is simply “weapons that can be carried by an individual” (Renner, 1997, p. 10). The breadth of this category certainly presents considerable difficulties, both for analytical purposes as well as attempts at policy and regulation, an issue I shall later turn to, but at the outset it should be noted first that in my use of this term I am excluding landmines since my purpose is to examine the two issues separately. Also, while I understand that relatively common civilian firearms such as small handguns, hunting weapons, and so forth are often placed into this category, my focus will be primarily on what could be considered ‘military arms,’ that is weapons such as AK-47, Uzi, and M16 automatic machine guns, as well as various types of grenade launchers and so forth, that do not tend to be legally accessible to civilians and whose primary use is likely to be military. While I do not intend to imply that other weapons do not pose problems, and I recognize that even some of these weapons can be legally purchased by civilians in the United States, it is my understanding that these types of weapons dominate in most SALWs-based conflicts.

A last note on terminology concerns my use of the term ‘global civil society’ (GCS) which I use along similar lines to Price’s use of the term “transnational civil society,” which he defines as “a set of interactions among an imagined community to shape collective life that are not confined to the territorial and institutional spaces of states (1998, p. 615). In the context of the landmine and SALWs campaigns, GCS action has generally taken the form of NGO networks, and thus I will use the terms NGO networks and GCS interchangeably. In my use of the term global I mean only beyond the borders of one’s nation, as I recognize that there is ample room for dispute with regard to how truly global these networks are or can be.

AP LANDMINES

While some groups, most notably the International Committee of the Red Cross, had been examining the problem of AP landmines since at least the 1970s (see, for example, Price, 1998, p. 619), the issue came to a head in the mid 1990s and gained support and momentum at an almost unbelievable rate. Jody Williams, the campaign’s leader, has written that “When the International Campaign to Ban Landmines ICBL was formally launched in October of 1992, few imagined that the grassroots movement would capture the public imagination and build political pressure to such a degree” (Williams, 1998). As information began to come out about the scope of the landmine crisis, statistics such as the fact that at mid 1990 removal rates of 100,000 landmines per year, removing only existing landmines would take 1,100 years (Price, 1998, p. 618) seemed to make clear the urgency of an international effort to combat the problem. What differentiates the landmine issue from other humanitarian crises, however, is that in this case the cries of NGO networks for state action were rapidly heeded, and rather than yet another case of international inaction, the landmine issue saw a core group of supportive states emerge in 1996 whose work, alongside the ICBL, “culminated in the signing of a comprehensive ban treaty by 122 states in December 1997” (Price, 1998, pp. 618-9). In just over five years, the objectives of the ICBL had been largely realized, making the campaign against AP landmines a striking contemporary success story of GCS activism.

While the accomplishments of the groups, states, and individuals involved should not be disregarded in any way, the campaign’s success was based on the coming together of an incredible number of factors. An attempt at applying the strategies for success from this campaign to the case of SALWs requires both analysis of what these factors actually were, and also of their applicability to the case of SALWs. As the two cases have considerable common ground, it is not surprising that a great many of the specific elements that contributed to the success of the ICBL may also hold promise for a campaign to alleviate the problem of SALWs, and it is to these common factors I shall now turn.

ELEMENTS OF THE LANDMINE CAMPAIGN SUCCESS APPLICABLE TO SALWS

Discussions about disarmament and weapons proliferation have long been a subject of various agreements and conventions between states, however it has not generally been considered acceptable territory for GCS action (e.g. Price, 1889, p. 613). A number of scholars point to the ability of the NGO network involved to frame the landmine problem as an area of humanitarian concern, rather that only a military one, as vital to the ICBL’s success since it legitimized civil society mobilization on the issue (ibid, p. 638 and Brinkert, 2004, p. 10). It seems clear that the SALWs problem would also fit into this humanitarian framework, since the issue is about humanitarian impacts at least as much as about the weapons themselves. On their website, International Alert points out that SALWs “have a destructive impact that reaches far beyond their use by armies at war… They make it possible for children to fight at the front-line… are used indiscriminately to kill, injure and intimidate civilians… and undermine efforts at post-conflict peacebuilding” (International Alert, see also Renner, 1997, p. 11). In addition to both types of weapons causing humanitarian crises, they also raise similar problems with regard to their impact on peacebuilding and NGO aid provision, as well as on the lives of civilians.

Williams and Goose explain that “the need for a ban on AP mines emerged from the fieldwork of NGOs who found themselves working in communities trying to survive, quite literally, in the middle of minefields” (1998, p. 25). When the presence of landmines began to interfere with aid provision, the organizations involved came to realize that both themselves, as well as the war-torn societies they were working to rebuild, could be more successful if the landmine problem was addressed. In a similar vein, NGOs have pointed to SALWs as a barrier to aid provision (see International Alert), and as Peter Lock argues, “the advocacy for restraining the flow of light weapons was… a reflection of the direct experiences of UN forces around the world, because it was often small arms which threatened UN peace missions” (1998, p. 334). Both of these problems, then, came to the attention of GCS at large through organizations that had first-hand understandings of the difficulties these weapons present.

The last major element I will consider that contributed to the humanitarian approach to the landmine issue is the impact of landmines on civilians, which is another commonality between mines and SALWs. Several scholars have highlighted the way landmines contradict established international laws of combat, namely the principle of discrimination, as important to the success of the ICBL. Discrimination dictates that civilians not be the target of military attacks (Price, 1998, p. 628), and yet as Cameron, Lawson and Tomlin explain, AP landmines are “indifferent to the distinction between civilians and soldiers” (1998, p. 2) which means that they clearly do not meet the demands of discrimination. While SALWs are slightly more complex in this regard, since they can be used discriminately, they tend not to be and at this point, from the use of SALWs, “the civilian population has suffered far more casualties than the fighting forces themselves” (Lock, 1998, p. 334). It seems evident that the targeting of civilians in both cases cements them firmly within the realm of humanitarian action, and therefore of legitimate concern to GCS.

Another set of commonalities exists between landmines and SALWs that relates to the appropriateness of global action in addressing the problems they present. If either problem were viewed as ‘indigenous,’ that is, as only stemming from local circumstances, it would be far easier to deny that global action is needed to address them. However, the spread of both types of weapon is highly related to the international impacts of the Cold War. Cameron et al. point out that in many circumstances, tens of thousands of mines were provided free or at a very low cost “by superpowers and their allies waging what was supposed to be a “Cold War’” (1998, p. 2). Provision of SALWs occurred in a very similar fashion during the Cold War, when "governments saw no reason to control the export of small weapons provided the recipient was… not too alien to the respective ‘ideological cartel.’ The lavish supply of small arms was seen as a contribution to the stability of proxy regimes. Even insurgent groups claiming to bring a country into the ‘cartel’ of the supplier had good chances of receiving huge stocks of arms" (Lock, 1998, p. 336, see also Renner, 1997, pp 32-2). Not only was the proliferation of both types of weapons largely due to Cold War politics, but owing to similarities in the weapons themselves, the very same weapons being used today were often transferred during this period, since both can be remarkably long-lived, and continue to kill for decades after their creation (on landmines see Cameron et. al., 1998, p. 2, and on SALWs see Lock, 1998, p. 336). The problems of both weapons strongly relate to the Cold War arms race, and thus insofar as these ‘global causes’ of the landmine problem were important to that campaign’s success, so too could the case be made for SALWs.

Virtually every scholar who has examined the success of the anti-landmine campaign has pointed to the importance of the network that formed over the course of the campaign. Williams says, “A core strength of the Campaign… is that the IBCL is a true coalition made up of independent NGOs” (Williams, 1998, see also Price, 1998, p. 622 and Cameron et. al, 1998, p. 5). Some of the groups involved lent a considerable amount of prestige to the cause, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), whose participation showed the humanitarian nature of the problem (Price, 1998, p. 621), and UNICEF, whose support was “very important in increasing the institutional legitimacy of the campaign” (Williams and Goose, 1998, p. 28). Not only was the participation of NGOs vital in mounting the movement against landmines itself, but the pressure they were able put on governments has also been cited as a major factor behind the participation of so many states (Cameron et. al, 1998, p. 10). Network building was clearly vital for the success of this campaign, and this is yet another factor common to the SALWs issue, where coalition building between NGOs such as BASIC and the Ford Foundation is already underway and expanding (Lock, 1998, p. 334). As implied by the importance of NGOs in gaining state support, the governments who came to support the campaign were also vital to its success.

The participation and support of key states such as Canada, Belgium, and Germany has been considered integral to the ICBL’s success (see, for example, Price, 1998, p. 614, Cameron et. al, 1998, p. 5, and Williams and Goose, 1998, p. 25), and the actions specifically of Lloyd Axworthy, then Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, who issued a challenge at a 1996 meeting for states to return to Ottawa and sign a comprehensive ban treaty the following year, has been considered so crucial that the campaign may not have seen similar success without it (Cameron et. al., 1998, pp. 6-7, Williams and Goose, 1998, p. 34). Some 30 of the governments that supported the anti-landmine treaty have already joined the Small Arms Consultative Group (Biting the Bullet, 2003, p. 5) which means the cooperation of states could easily be as important in the fight against SALWs as is was for landmines. One success of the ICBL seems to offer considerable promise, and that is the avenues it developed for cooperative work between NGOs and states, which marks a considerable shift from their traditional relationships as adversaries (Brinkert, 2004, p. 8). I see no reason to doubt that similar cooperation could develop in addressing the problems of SALWs.

One aspect of the formation of these coalitions of states warrants additional attention, and that is the breadth of participation. Price shows how the participation of South Africa helped quell fears of so-called ‘Northern’ domination and thus increase the legitimacy of the campaign in Africa (1998, p. 634), and goes on to argue that the participation of many of the world’s most mined countries in the developing world meant that “unlike some international norms such as those embodied in human right instruments, the treaty has support where it is needed most” (1998, p. 640). This strength too will be shared by the movement against SALWs, which has already gained the support of numerous officials in Latin America (Renner, 1997, pp. 55-6) and has become regional policy in a number of African contexts to the extent that African states seem to be leading the charge (Lombard, 2000). If avoiding Northern domination contributed to the strength of the anti-landmine movement, I can only believe this will be even more important in the case of SALWs.

One factor that has widely been viewed as important for the success of NGO campaigns is “securing powerful allies” (see Keck and Sikkink, 1998, p. 23). In addition to the support of a great many NGOs and states, the ICBL garnered support from numerous other prominent and internationally renowned figures including Princess Diana, Pope John-Paul II, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, and the UN Secretary-General (see, for example, Price, pp. 620-1, 623), whose support seems likely to have played a major role in attracting attention to the cause. The awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to ICBL-leader Jody Williams in 1997 drew still further attention, and this Nobel-link may also prove valuable for the SALWs campaign, as it is being spearheaded by former Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Oscar Arias (Renner, 1997, p. 56). Other powerful allies for the landmine campaign came from within the media, which is another very important source of support for GCS activities since “to reach a broader audience, networks strive to attract press attention and sympathetic journalists may become part of the network” (Keck and Sikkink, 1998, p. 22). The New York Times, Washington Post, and Economist all came out in support of the ICBL (Price, 1998, p. 621), though it has yet to be seen if they will similarly support the SALWs campaign.

The final aspect of the success of the ICBL that I believe is applicable to the SALWs issue is the form state participation took, where international consensus, which seemed unlikely, was abandoned altogether in favour of a strong agreement among a strong group of states in hopes that this would generate enough international pressure against AP landmines that the convention would still be meaningful. States “self-selected” for participation in the Ottawa Process to draft and sign the convention, understanding that a requirement of their participation would be their willingness to accept the fundamental tenants of the convention (for further discussion of “self-selection,” see Brinkert, 2004, p. 7). In this way, states such as the US who wanted to see a compromised version of the convention were unable to stall the process, since they were simply excluded (Williams and Goose, 1998, p.44) and an agreement was rapidly generated and signed. Cameron et. al. note that “coalitions of the willing” tend to produce results far faster than traditional multilateral diplomacy (1998, p. 13), and this was likely an important factor behind the rapidity of the Ottawa Process, the outcome of the anti-landmine campaign. It seems highly likely that a number of states will also be recalcitrant when it comes to taking substantial action against SALWs, however the lessons of the Ottawa Process dictate that this need not spell failure, and that through a coalition of the willing, regulations could be generated and enacted that could then serve as a powerful international precedent for restricting the flow of SALWs.

CHALLENGES UNIQUE TO SALWS

As I have shown, many of the factors that contributed to the success of the anti-landmine movement potentially serve as positive omens for tackling SALWs, since they are also present in or applicable to this issue. However, there remain a number of barriers to a successful campaign, and these barriers represent a number of divergences between the two issues based on the differences both between the weapons themselves and the complexities involved in addressing the crises they have caused. The first of these differences is based on the military utility of the weapons in question, since the ability of the ICBL to call into question the usefulness of landmines has been considered a key to the campaign’s success. The ICRC conducted a study on the effectiveness of AP landmines and the resulting report, written by a former British Army officer, “concluded that mines were not as indispensable or even as useful as often assumed” (Price, 1998, p. 632). This report, alongside one issued by Human Rights Watch which revealed that even US Army studies have “often been critical of landmines when evaluating whether they are more helpful than harmful in combat” (ibid), helped ossify anti-landmine sentiments to the extent that when it came to the issue of banning landmines outright, it was presented as a straightforward moral choice (see Cameron et. al, 1998, p. 6) where the humanitarian costs of continued landmine use seemed to far outweigh the benefits of continued use given the limited military utility of the weapon. No such argument is readily available when it comes to SALWs, since they “contribute to the legitimate defence of states and international stability” (Karp, 2000, p. 5) and are generally considered a vital element of both national defense and civilian policing forces (see Lombard, 2000).

Because of their questionable utility, use of AP landmines was quickly delegitimized (e.g. Karp, 2000, p. 9), but when it comes to SALWs I believe this is one of the decisive issues that differentiates them from landmines: regardless of the number of ways or contexts in which they can be illegitimately used, SALWs will always also have legitimate uses and applications, and therefore attempts to regulate them cannot be as clear-cut as an outright ban. While the banning of landmines created a general norm against their use, to the extent that even non-signatory states feel pressure not to use them and to develop alternatives (see Price, 1998, p. 636), the question of whether a similar norm can develop around SALWs is more complex. Currently, there are virtually no international norms dictating the appropriate use of SALWs (Renner, 1997, p. 55) and this is almost unsurprising since, as Karp argues, “any effort to control or ban a weapon has to begin with a universal principle, preferably a principle that makes use inherently unacceptable and possession onerous” (2000, p. 10), and as I have shown, SALWs do not meet these criteria as a result of their legitimate uses. It seems possible that some norms regarding appropriate use of SALWs could be developed, but doing so may be quite difficult given the normative complexity and nuance that would have to be involved.

As this difficulty with norm development implies, SALWs present what I view as a generally more complex problem than landmines. In their discussion of factors that contribute to successful GCS campaigns, Keck and Sikkink say, “in order to campaign on an issue it must be converted into a “causal story” that establishes who bears responsibility or guilt. But the causal chain needs to be sufficiently short and clear to make the case convincing” (1998. p. 27). The problem as I perceive it with the causal chain involving SALWs is that it is too complex. I personally would tend to view governments who, for example, make their second-hand armaments available very cheaply and in huge numbers as responsible for a bulk of the damage those weapons do, since once weapons are sold, “given the plethora of legal and illegal trading networks… there is virtually no telling under whose control they will end up” (Renner, 1997, p. 6) and thus the states that make the weapons available cannot ensure their legitimate use. However, unlike landmines, small arms still require a human operator, which means that the causal chain is lengthened and increased in terms of complexity by the portion of responsibility that could be attributed to the individuals operating the weapons. Illegitimate use of SALWs depends in part on the actions of the person employing the weapon, whereas there is almost no possibility of legitimate landmine use, since any landmine, once laid, could potentially harm a civilian. Building a compelling argument that governments bare enough of the responsibility for the problems caused by SALWs to justify an international response will be a substantial barrier to a successful campaign to restrict SALWs.

Not only, however, do SALWs present a more complex problem than landmines, but they also involve the interests of states in considerably different ways. Most governments found it reasonably straightforward to agree to the landmine ban, since doing so did not contradict any “major national interests” (Karp, 2000, p. 9), but distinct from landmines, SALWs “still arouse a countervailing sense of national interest” (ibid, p. 9) and so states are more likely to be conflicted over participation in small arms controls. Not only are weapons and gun control occasionally contentious issues in the domestic political sphere, but they also involve aspects of foreign policy, since arms transfers can be used to support or oppose a great number of regimes or insurgencies. Lock writes that “governments of all sorts continue to promote their perceived interests by sponsoring covert arms transfers” (1998, p. 336), and since arms transfers would be very likely targets in any attempts to regulate SALWs, states may well oppose such regulation on the grounds that it contradicts their national interests. This difficulty, combined with the problems of military utility and legitimate use, norm development, and causal complexity, seems to offer substantial reasons for doubt with regard to the future of small arms regulation, however none of this reduces the urgent and very real need for such regulations. In this context, the question then becomes one of how to move forward in a way that still seeks meaningful progress but avoids some of these problems, and it is to this question I shall now turn.

REFRAMING SALWS – THE NEXT STEPS FORWARD

Within the scope of my task here, it would be impossible to offer a comprehensive plan for small arms regulation, and so my goal instead shall be to highlight several specific aspects of the SALWs problem that I feel could become the subjects of immediate action. Moving forward must, I believe, involve reframing the SALWs campaign in ways that emphasize the possibility of meaningful action and future success despite the complexity of the issue, and one way of doing this may be to focus on certain elements of the problem that seem more susceptible to coordinated GCS and government action. Keck and Sikkink advise that “An effective frame must show that a given state of affairs is neither natural nor accidental, identify the responsible parties, and pose credible solutions. These aims require clear, powerful messages” (1998, p. 19) and these are the criteria I shall attempt to follow in presenting some possibilities for reframing the SALW campaign.

Conservative estimates claim that there are around 500 million firearms in the world, or about one for every 12 people (Renner, 1997, p. 19), which means that SALWs proliferation is such that the world “can fight wars for another twenty years at present levels without resupply from current production” (Lock, 1998, p. 337). In this context, I would suggest that the argument could clearly be made that there are simply too many guns in the world, and thus that practical solutions could initially focus on reducing the number of SALWs through a number of measures. The first measure I propose would build off the South African decision in 1999 to “destroy its stockpiles of surplus small arms rather than sell them on the open market, as was done previously… A process has been initiated to destroy 260,000 surplus assault rifles” (Lombard, 2000). States wishing to be a part of the “coalition” regulating small arms could agree to destroy their surplus weapons and could also institute buy-back programs to be enacted in post-conflict situations, where weapons would be bought and destroyed, thereby reducing the degree to which post-conflict areas act as “a latent source of illegal supplies” (Lock, 1998, p. 339). In addition to destroying excess weapons, there are also actions that could be taken to reduce and better control SALWs transfers without infringing too greatly on state interests.

While eliminating weapons transfers altogether seems unlikely, at least for the present, I believe that a ban on the resale of low-cost second hand SALWs would mark a substantial contribution to SALWs regulation. As a result of huge arms surpluses at the end of the Cold War, millions of small arms have been “shed aggressively onto a second-hand market” (Lock, 1998, p. 337) as a result of what Renner terms a “narrow-cost-benefit analysis” (1997, p. 36) in favour of resale over dismantling. In combination with buy-back programs, prohibitions of arms resale would greatly reduce the number of inexpensive SALWs available in the world market, and I believe represents a small enough sacrifice in terms of government revenues that many states may be willing to support such a prohibition. Another type of restriction on legal transfers of SALWs could also be very productive, since currently, “legally transferred SALW can be misused in human rights abuses and repression” (biting the Bullet, 2003, p. 15). I would advise the adoption of the transfer controls suggested by Oscar Arias’ campaign, which would prohibit transfers to countries that do not meet specific criteria such as “with human rights standards and international law, respect for democratic norms, adherence to international arms embargoes and military sanctions, participation in the U.N. arms register… {and not being engaged} in armed aggression” (as quoted in Renner, 1997, p. 56). Prohibiting transfers of second-hand armaments and transfers to states where illegitimate use seems likely are both measures that I feel would make a substantial contribution to addressing SALW proliferation while also overcoming some of the problems posed by the legitimate uses of SALWs.

The final immediate recommendation I would put forward is that states do all that is possible to tighten the security around their own weapons stocks, since theft from government supplies has been a major source of arms in a number of situations (see Renner, 1997, pp. 33-5). In China, criminal groups have gained access to weapons through poor security surrounding government stockpiles (ibid, p. 36), and even in the United States, reports have come out that “small arms parts… are being systematically stolen from the Pentagon’s repair shops and warehouses” (ibid). If theft from government supplies is this commonplace in countries that have among the strongest governments in the world, I can only imagine that the situation must be even more dire in a great number of countries, and thus that better control of legitimate SALWs supplies could be yet another relatively simple yet effective way to mitigate the small arms crisis. While I do not suggest that the actions I have detailed would solve the problem entirely, I do believe they could have an impact that is both meaningful and immediate, and that measures such as these would overcome many of the difficulties a more comprehensive campaign might encounter. Fundamentally, it seems to me that inaction is the greatest threat to any SALWs campaign, since it may suggest that the crisis is not urgent or is unmanageable, both of which I believe to be untrue. Further, even intermediate steps such as the ones I have outlined could begin the development of norms regarding the use of SALWs, something I view as vital.

CONCLUSION

The GCS campaign to ban landmines culminated in astounding success and generated optimism for the future of civil society participation in disarmament. Indeed, the problem of small arms and light weapon proliferation has much in common with the landmines issue, and thus many of the lessons learned in the landmine campaign could be applied to fighting SALWs. There are, however, a number of differences between the two cases, some of which represent substantial barriers to the likelihood of a successful small arms regulation campaign. In order to overcome these barriers, the issue of SALWs will require a different, and more incremental, approach than did landmines, but there are steps that can be taken immediately to ensure that this global crisis receives the attention it needs, and that the nations of the world begin to do their part in reducing the massive instability and destruction caused by small arms.

Submitted to Dr. Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom, the University of British Columbia, Department of Political Science, Poli464
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