We invite comments and discussion about this paper, which may be submitted below.
Responding to COVID-19 in a principled and inclusive way requires consideration of the different risks the pandemic poses to vulnerable, marginalized and at-risk individuals and communities, and planning to mitigate those risks. A recent paper, collaboratively developed amongst experts who share humanitarian disarmament as a guiding approach, outlines specific risks and offers suggestions for ensuring we build a better future.A Humanity & Inclusion briefing paper identifies the difficulties COVID-19 poses to at-risk groups, particularly in conflict- and humanitarian-crisis affected areas. It also shows how the tenets of humanitarian disarmament can inform a “principled and inclusive response.”
We invite comments and discussion about this paper, which may be submitted below.
COVID-19 has forced the international community to embrace digital diplomacy, including for humanitarian disarmament. This shift to digital platforms has opened up new possibilities while highlighting distinct challenges. Digital diplomacy could end up creating a more inclusive and effective method of informing diplomatic decision making, or not. Respecting social distancing impedes development of the good working relationships necessary for success. At the same time, the spread of digital diplomacy is an opportunity to strengthen informal connections while maintaining our formal responsibilities.
With the right approach, it is possible to mitigate the challenges and take advantage of the potential for increased transparency and inclusivity. We cannot let COVID-19 stop progress towards humanitarian disarmament so the international disarmament community needs to find ways to work effectively in our temporary isolation.
Civil society, especially within global humanitarian disarmament coalitions, has worked for decades making decisions across continents without the benefit of frequent shuttle diplomacy. Drawing on the community’s breadth of knowledge, a group of civil society experts has prepared a guide to “Digital Diplomacy Dos and Don’ts.” The two-page document offers advice for how to make the best use of the current situation and to think about ways to build towards the future.
The Dos and Don’ts paper was drafted by Susi Snyder of PAX and Erin Hunt of Mines Action Canada based on conversations with Bonnie Docherty of Harvard Law School’s Armed Conflict and Civilian Protection Initiative, Camilo Serna and Natalia Morales of the Colombian Campaign to Ban Landmines, Jeff Abramson of the Forum on Arms Trade, Chris Loughran of The HALO Trust, and Alma Al-Osta of Humanity and Inclusion.
We invite comments and discussion about these "Dos and Don'ts" which may be submitted below.
2018, for some reason, was a turning point for international diplomatic recognition of gender dimensions of weapons and disarmament policy. After years or even decades—or in WILPF’s case, a century—of feminist advocacy for governments and activists to take gender into account in their work, we seem to breaking new ground.
In March, the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva collaborated with WILPF, Small Arms Survey, and the Gender Mine Action Programme on a one-day training for disarmament diplomats about including gender perspectives in their work. In April, WILPF coordinated with the Canadian mission in New York on a meeting that brought together the women, peace and security (WPS) and disarmament diplomatic communities to exchange on the same subject.
In May, UN Secretary-General António Guterres launched his new disarmament agenda, Securing our Common Future. It includes a section on “Ensuring the equal, full, and effective participation of women,” and there are several references throughout the document to the gendered impacts of weapons, gender-sensitive arms control, or women’s participation in disarmament, including urging states to incorporate gender perspectives in their national legislation and policies on disarmament and arms control.
In June, the Third Review Conference to the UN Programme of Action on small arms and light weapons (UNPoA) adopted a report with groundbreaking references to armed gender-based violence, the gendered impacts of small arms, and women’s participation in disarmament. The document builds on gains made in 2012 and 2016 to alleviate the overall gender blindness of the UNPoA. The International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) Women’s Network coordinated input and advocacy amongst civil society groups and diplomats for the inclusion of these elements in the outcome document, including through the civil society Call to Action on gender and small arms control.
In August, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) considered gender issues for the first time, in a side event hosted by the government of Canada, International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC), Mines Action Canada, Project Ploughshares, and WILPF on the relationship between gender and fully autonomous weapons. Participants addressed gender diversity and equality in disarmament negotiations and discussions; gender norms in relation to the development and use of weapons, gendered impacts of existing weapon systems; and the importance of feminist foreign policy approaches in relation to disarmament and arms control.
In October, the Canadian mission to the UN organized a push to increase gender references in resolutions at the UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. Working with other governments and civil society groups, they managed to achieve language in 17 resolutions that advocates for women’s equal participation, recognizes gendered impacts of weapons, or urges consideration of gender perspectives more broadly. This accounts for 25 percent of all First Committee resolutions in 2018. Six of these resolutions included gendered language for the first time, while three improved the gendered language. For comparison, in 2017, 15 per cent of resolutions made gender references. This figure was 13 per cent in 2016 and 12 per cent in 2015. The number of First Committee delegations speaking about gender and disarmament in their statements also continued to increase this year. Namibia on behalf of 56 states dedicated a whole statement to this topic, urging examination of how “underlying assumptions about how gender shapes [delegations’] own work and the dynamics of joint disarmament efforts.”
Also in October, the Latvian ambassador, who will preside over the Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Arms Trade Treaty, announced that the conference and its preparatory meetings will focus on the gender-based violence provision of the Treaty as a special theme. This will provide an opportunity in 2019 to advance consideration of how to implement this aspect of the ATT, including using guidance and case studies published by groups like WILPF previously.
In addition to these forum-based efforts, the UN Institute for Disarmament Research joined the governments of Ireland, Namibia, and Canada to form the Disarmament Impact Group as an output of the International Gender Champions. The Group aims to “support the disarmament community in translating gender awareness into practical action across the range of multilateral disarmament processes and activities.” Meanwhile, academic sources like Critical Studies on Security and the Oxford Handbook on Women, Peace and Security, news sources like The Nation, and public speaking forums from TEDx to the London School of Economics featured articles and talks about feminism, gender, and weapons. This has signaled an opening of academic and activist spaces for increased consideration of these issues.
So, why has all this happened so quickly? In reality, it hasn’t. It is built on a firm foundation of activism and analysis. Feminist disarmament activists and academics, particularly those with groups like WILPF and the IANSA Women’s Network, have been writing and campaigning on gender and disarmament for decades. UN agencies and some governments have been working to mainstream gender in their programming for a long time, certainly since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000. This has led to concrete outcomes at international disarmament diplomacy forums in recent years: the first UN General Assembly resolution on women, disarmament, non-proliferation and arms control in 2010; the inclusion of gender-based violence in the Arms Trade Treaty in 2013; the recognition of the gendered impacts of nuclear weapons and encouragement of women’s effective participation in disarmament in the Non-Proliferation Treaty Chair’s summary and the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017.
External factors are also at play. The #MeToo movement has arguably awoken new acceptability and credibility of previously hidden or shamed perspectives and experiences. Women, trans, queer, non-binary, and non-conforming folks, as well as men who have experienced sexual and gender-based violence have collectively created new spaces to amplify these realities and demand change.
At the same time, several governments have begun pursuing what they term “Feminist Foreign Policy”. While it is debatable whether or not the foreign policies outlined by these governments can yet be truly described as feminist, it is a welcome development for government offices to be considering feminism not just a valid but an imperative approach to their international engagement.
In disarmament forums, momentum certainly seems to be on our side. There is a growing acceptance among a diverse range of governments, international organizations, and civil society groups about the reality that weapons have gendered impacts, and that women’s participation in disarmament is important. This is good progress, and imperative to making change in this field. But it’s not enough.
The work ahead
For one thing, the demand for women’s equal, effective, or meaningful participation—while necessary and welcome—is insufficient for truly making change in weapons policy. Our current situation is dire. Trillions of dollars are being spent on militaries and technologies of violence while poverty, inequality, and climate change threaten our collective security and safety. Disarmament, as a policy and practice that leads us away from militarism and towards peace, requires new understandings, perspectives, and approaches to weapons and war. It requires the effective and meaningful participation of survivors of gun violence, of nuclear weapons use and testing, of drone strikes, of bombardment of towns and cities. It requires the effective and meaningful participation of marginalized communities—LGBT+ folks, people of color, those at a socioeconomic disadvantage, people with disabilities.
Diversity is not about political correctness. It is the only way we are ever going to see change in the way that we confront issues of peace and security. Where we have achieved the most disarmament progress in recent years—banning landmines and cluster bombs and nuclear weapons, for example—we have engaged with diverse communities and put humanitarian perspectives over the profits of arms industries or the interests of powerful governments. This is not just about including women, especially women who come from the same or similar backgrounds as the men who already rule the table. It’s about completely resetting the table; or even throwing out the table and setting up an entirely new way of working.
Disarmament requires that we change the way we think about and confront war and violence as social and economic institutions, and we can’t do that just by giving some privileges to those who do not challenge the thinking or the behavior of those who have the most privilege. Diversity is not for its own sake, but for how it impacts what is considered normal, acceptable, and credible. Confronting norms, especially gendered norms, around weapons and war is imperative to making progress on disarmament.
As a feminist disarmament activist, I have come to believe that more than anything else, the association of weapons with power is one of the foremost obstacles to disarmament. This association comes from a particular—and unfortunately, very dominant—understanding of masculinity. This is a masculinity in which ideas like strength, courage, and protection are equated with violence. It is a masculinity in which the capacity and willingness to use weapons, engage in combat, and kill other human beings is seen as essential to being “a real man”.
This type of violent, militarized masculinity harms everyone. It harms everyone who does not comply with that gender norm—women, queer-identified people, non-normative men. It requires oppression of those deemed “weaker” on the basis of gender norms. It results in domestic violence. It results in violence against women. It results in violence against gay and trans people. It also results in violence against men. Men mostly kill each other, inside and outside of conflict. A big part of this is about preserving or protecting their masculinity—a masculinity that makes male bodies more expendable. Women and children, obnoxiously lumped together in countless resolutions and reports, are more likely be deemed “innocent civilians,” while men are more likely be to be considered militants or combatants. In conflict, civilian men are often targeted—or counted in casualty recordings—as militants only because they are men of a certain age.
We are all suffering from the equation of violence and power with masculinity. It prevents those who identified as men from being something else—from performing gender differently. It prevents all of us as human beings to promote or explore strength, courage, and protection from a nonviolent perspective. It makes disarmament seem weak. It makes peace seem utopian. It makes protection without weapons seem absurd.
It also makes it impossible to achieve gender justice. It keeps men and women in binary boxes based on their biological sex. It maintains a strict hierarchy between these boxes, in which men are tough, rational, and violent, while women are weak, irrational, and passive. In this narrative, men are agents; women are victims. (And reinforces the idea that there is nothing outside of this binary.)
The norm of violent masculinity will continue to cause suffering and reinforce inequalities until we get serious about doing something differently. This is a project of dismantling the patriarchy, which is a big project, but it starts with the language we use, the people we include in discussions, and the norms we are willing to challenge.
For 2019, let’s stop using the term “women and children”. They are not the same legally or politically. They have different needs and abilities. Let’s talk about the different impacts of weapons based on gender and age, instead of womenandchildren on one side and men on the other. Let’s talk about gender diversity in disarmament, instead of just the equal participation of women and men. Let’s get away from binary language to something more inclusive. Let’s also include survivors and those impacted by weapons, war, and violence. Let’s think about what we consider credible or powerful, and why we think that way.
As more and more governments and organizations become interested in taking up gender, and as feminists around the world from all walks of life smash down barriers outside the disarmament field, let’s not waste the opportunities ahead of us. An intersectional feminist approach to disarmament is imperative, and we have all the tools we need to achieve it.
Ray Acheson is the Director of Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
Using Non-State Initiatives to Address Non-State Actors: Lessons from the Humanitarian Disarmament Approach
Over the past two decades, an approach now termed “humanitarian disarmament” has had increasing success in creating multilateral instruments that ban some of the world’s worst weapons, most notably landmines, cluster munitions, and nuclear weapons. At first glance, treaty-making would appear to have little relevance to non-state actors, who functionally have rejected the authority of their state. Yet, the humanitarian disarmament approach, when perceived more broadly and examined more closely, has had and continues to offer lessons for addressing non-state actors. The key is reframing the discussion as being about human security and using the power of civil society-led initiatives to create change.
This short essay looks more closely at efforts to: (1) convince armed non-state actors to abide by international agreements (namely the Mine Ban Treaty via deeds of commitment); (2) end production of banned weapons (primarily via the Stop Explosive Investments campaign related to cluster munitions); and (3) stop weapon creation by pre-emptive efforts led by scientists, industry and others (as relates to killer robots).
At the core of humanitarian disarmament is defining security at a human level, rather than using more traditional assessments of security based on a state’s domestic strength or power relative to another state. By defining security based on human needs, members of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines in the 1990s were successfully able to argue that victim-activated antipersonnel landmines were inherently indiscriminate, harming civilians long after hostilities ceased, and should no longer be used. The Mine Ban Treaty, which was one result of their efforts, is today one of the world’s most successful international agreements—with use of factory-made antipersonnel mines now limited to only a small handful of states and non-state actors. The Convention on Cluster Munitions was concluded in 2008 and built on the same principles of banning an indiscriminate weapon. Humanitarian disarmament principles also guided the discussion around the unacceptable human consequences of nuclear weapons use and helped the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) lead the world to conclude the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and garner the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017. Efforts to implement the first of these treaties have already resulted in significant destruction of weapons stockpiles, clearance of contaminated land around the world so it could be put to productive use, assistance to victims, and declines in new casualties.[i]
While these three treaties are the best-known examples of the humanitarian disarmament approach, additional efforts are ongoing to address current and potential future use of weapons in indiscriminate ways. For example, the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) is working to tackle the use of weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas because they inflict instant and ongoing human suffering. As the name suggests, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots seeks to prohibit autonomous machines from being developed and used, highlighting the dangers of lethal weapons that act without human control. And the Control Arms campaign, in continuing to promote effective implementation and universalization of the Arms Trade Treaty, focuses on addressing the humanitarian harm caused by the arms trade.
Convincing Non-State Actors to Abide by International Norms: Landmines and Deeds of Commitment
From a traditional security perspective, directly approaching armed non-state actors can be dangerous and is always fraught with the challenge of appearing to take the side or assessing the validity of an actor’s deeds. From a human security perspective, however, there is value in making sure that armed non-state actors behave as responsibly as possible. Educating and attaining commitments from armed non-state groups can in some instances prove possible and useful.
One of the best known efforts was originally organized as the Non-State Actors Working Group of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, but later became a separate organization named Geneva Call. Geneva Call engages armed non-state actors to adopt unilaterally the “Deed of Commitment” (officially “Deed of Commitment for Adherence to a Total Ban on Anti-Personnel Mines and for Cooperation in Mine Action”), by which armed non-state groups publicly sign and pledge to adhere to the norms embodied in the Mine Ban Treaty. Today, Geneva Call lists 52 armed non-state actors as having signed the deed of commitment relevant to landmines. A total of 63 have signed at least one of what are now three deeds (the others are related to protection of children, and sexual violence and gender discrimination).[ii]
This effort and other similar ones, while controversial, are examples of how the humanitarian disarmament approach to promotion of international agreements can have relevance to and impact the actions of non-state actors (as well as states).
[Please see essays in this publication by Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, and Maria Pia Devoto and Camilo Serna Villegas, for additional successful examples of reaching out to and working with non-state armed groups on landmine-related efforts.]
Ending Weapons Production: Stop Explosive Investments and Cluster Munitions
In 2009, the year after the conclusion of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the first “Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions: A shared responsibility” report was published and the Stop Explosive Investment campaign launched. The report raises awareness about financial institutions that invest in cluster munition production, identifying both a “Hall of Fame” to recognize financial institutions that stop doing so, and “Hall of Shame” for those who do not. The campaign also identifies and encourages states to adopt legislation banning such investment. The latest report, published in May 2017, continued to identify new institutions for its Hall of Fame; additional countries and institutions have since stopped investment or stated that they would.[iii]
Ultimately, this has successfully pressured some cluster munition producers to discontinue making the weapons. A key example is found in the actions of U.S. companies Textron and Orbital ATK that are not barred by U.S. law from producing cluster munitions, but have reiterated they would not do so even after U.S. policy changes last year walked away from government commitments to destroy certain stockpiles.[iv] In March 2018, Orbital ATK sponsored an issue brief, which read in part “there is broadly supported consensus among the world’s nations that CM [cluster munition] does not belong in modern military arsenals.” It explicitly cited the disinvestment campaign as creating risk for companies and as contributing to the wisdom of moving away from cluster munition production.[v]
Using financial pressure to change behavior is, of course, not unique to humanitarian disarmament campaigns. But approaching human security challenges with these tools in mind brings recent developments on gun control efforts in the United States into new focus. In the wake of the outcry and advocacy after the February 2018 student shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, many major financial institutions, stores, and other non-state entities took measures that stopped the sale of assault-style weapons, barred gun-purchasing transactions, cut ties to the National Rifle Association, or took other actions that broadly supported gun control.[vi] This apparently spontaneous effort indicates the power of treating a weapons-related issue from a human security perspective and building financial and other pressure to convince non-state actors (broadly defined) to act differently.
Killer Robots: Actions by the Scientific Community To Pre-empt Weapons
Within the traditional state-based international arms control system, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) is the current home for discussion about the creation and use of machines that can autonomously identify and use lethal force against humans. Called lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) within that structure, but more popularly termed “killer robots,” these weapons have been condemned by many who believe that machines should not be making life or death decisions and fear the human security consequences of doing so. While definitional issues of what constitutes “meaningful human control” continue to animate discussion at the CCW, 26 states have now agreed with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots’ conclusion that these weapons should be prohibited, as of the latest round of CCW meetings in April 2018.[vii]
A key fear associated with the development of killer robots is their likely use by non-state actors, in part because they could be inexpensive and ubiquitous. Many scientists, artificial intelligence (AI) experts, and industry members, who have been key voices promoting the agenda against killer robots, have explicitly raised these concerns. A 2015 open letter against autonomous weapons, which as of early May 2018 had been signed by nearly 4,000 AI/robotics researchers, reads in part:
Unlike nuclear weapons, they require no costly or hard-to-obtain raw materials, so they will become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass-produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market and in the hands of terrorists, dictators wishing to better control their populace, warlords wishing to perpetrate ethnic cleansing, etc.
High profile signers of the letter, such as Elon Musk and the recently deceased Stephen Hawking, bring international attention to the topic.[viii] The issue is also raised among the global industrial elite, such as at annual World Economic Forum gatherings in Davos. Recently, national open letters signed by AI experts, in places such as Australia, Belgium, and Canada, have called on their governments to support a ban on killer robots. A fictional video depicting these concerns, “Slaughterbots,” produced by a professor at the University of California now has had more than 2.5 million views on YouTube.[ix] In April 2018, more than 3,000 Google employees signed a letter opposing work on weapons after learning about Google’s involvement in AI technology that could improve drone targeting,[x] and controversy erupted at a South Korean university over possible collaboration with companies to make killer robots.[xi] Ultimately, actions being taken by civil society, including among those who could be responsible for creating killer robots, are building a stigma against the weapons and could serve to pre-empt their use even before states decide exactly what they want to do.
A key lesson to learn from these diverse examples is to rethink the challenge of non-state actors. While state-based activity has its place, so too do efforts by civil society-led initiatives that directly engage or impact upon non-state actors, some armed and some responsible for producing arms. The creative work being done in support of humanitarian disarmament is grounded in concern about human security, which is often a better lens for thinking about security challenges. Many successes have been made to date, and a diverse array of approaches continue—all meriting greater attention and support.
Jeff Abramson manages the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor for the ICBL-CMC (International Campaign to Ban Landmines-Cluster Munition Coalition), is a non-resident senior fellow at the Arms Control Association, and coordinates the Forum on the Arms Trade.
[i] See the latest editions of the Landmine Monitor and Cluster Munition Monitor for details on the use of these weapons, casualties caused by them, assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated land, and other related information, www.the-monitor.org.
[ii] “Deed of Commitment” and “Armed Non-State Actor” webpages found under the “How we work” section of the website, Geneva Call.
[iii] “Worldwide Investments in Cluster Munitions: A shared responsibility.” PAX, May 2017. The Stop Explosive Investment website details more recent developments, including: “Japanese companies divest from cluster bombs” December 2, 2017; and “Italy bans investments in cluster bombs producers,” October 4, 2017. Note, a similar report, “Don’t Bank of the Bomb,” first published in 2013 uses the same approach to identify investments in nuclear weapons production, and now supports the new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
[iv] Textron spokesperson reconfirms that it will not make cluster munitions in John Ismay, “U.S. Will Keep Older Cluster Munitions, a Weapons Banned by 102 Nations,” New York Times, December 1, 2017.
[v] “Modernizing the U.S. Munitions Arsenal,” Government Business Council, underwritten by Orbital ATK, March 2018.
[vi] See for example: Brad Tuttle, “All the Companies Cutting Ties With the NRA After Deadly Florida School Shooting” Time, March 1, 2018; Kate Taylor, “Here are all of the retailers that have stopped selling assault-style rifles and changed firearm policies following gun-control activists' protests,” Business Insider, March 2, 2018; Stacey Samuel, “National Teachers Union Cuts Ties With Wells Fargo Over Bank's Ties To NRA, Guns,” National Public Radio, April 20, 2018.
[vii] Find a list and recap of latest meeting at “Convergence on retaining human control of weapons systems,” Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, April 13, 2018.
[viii] “Autonomous Weapons: An Open Letter From AI & Robotics Researchers,” Future of Life Institute.
[ix] An overview of these and other developments in 2017 is found in “National campaigning against killer robots,” Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, December 7, 2017.
[x] Scott Shane and Daisuke Wakabayahsi, “‘The Business of War’: Google Employees Protest Work for the Pentagon,” New York Times, April 4, 2018.
[xi] David Gilbert, “A South Korean university is building killer robots — and AI experts are not happy,” VICE News, April 5, 2018.
The "Looking Ahead Blog" features comments concerning short- to medium-term trends related to the arms trade, security assistance, and weapons use. Typically about 500-1000 words, each comment is written by an expert listed on the Forum on the Arms Trade related to topics of each expert's choosing.
March 11 (2015)