This is one of six essays in the May 2018 report "Addressing Non-State Actors: Multiple Approaches" (see full report). Each essay is the independent work of its author.
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.