The Duck of Minerva

Networks in Arms

22 May 2012

This video is part of an advocacy strategy launched by a new NGO, Article36, whose focus is the humanitarian control of weapons technology. The organization takes its name from the provision in the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions that requires governments to consider the humanitarian impacts of new weapons.

Article 36 operates from a principle that practical, policy and legal controls over weapons should be founded on publicly transparent and evidence-based analysis. Such controls should aim for prevention of unintended, unnecessary or unacceptable harm, and should be open to ongoing review. The standards of analysis should be the same whether the population likely to be put at risk by specific weapons is domestic or foreign and whether the weapons are intended to be lethal or for coercion. 

Launched only last year by seasoned humanitarian advocates Richard Moyes and Thomas Nash, Article36 is already developing a track record in the disarmament/ humanitarianism areas through its work on explosive weapons. I caught up with Moyes and Nash last week in New York, where they were lobbying governments to curb use of explosives in populated areas in advance of the June Security Council meeting on Protection of Civilians. This work is conducted on behalf of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW) – a new civil society partnership that includes NGO heavyweights Oxfam, Save the Children and Human Rights Watch. But in addition to coordinating INEW, Article36 is working in partnership with a number of other campaigns in the broad area of weapons and human security. In doing so, its staff pack a wealth of advocacy expertise and interpersonal connections to the wider human security network, from their earlier experience in the Cluster Munitions Coalition and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

I will have more to say about this organization in future weeks, since (of particular relevance to my book project on advocacy networks) it has now become the first international NGO to officially call for a ban on autonomous weapons. For now, however, I just have a few thoughts on how the organization is positioning itself within global civil society and why this is interesting theoretically. In particular, Article 36’s establishment fills an important structural gap in the human security network: the absence of a hub NGO in the area of humanitarian arms control. 

The wider human security network exhibits a good bit of activity around humanitarian concerns with certain weapons, but networks tend to form around specific weapons in isolation: the International Network Against Small Arms, the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, and the International Campaign to Ban Depleted Uranium are examples. Because these campaigns specialize in one or another specific weapon and compete for resources and agenda-space they tend to be disconnected from one another. Moreover they vary greatly in their connected-ness to wider civil society networks. (The landmine, cluster and small arms communities enjoy close ties to human security organizations partly because their causes have attracted the support of human security “superpowers” like Human Rights Watch. But the nuclear and anti-DU community enjoy ties with the peace and environmental networks instead. Strong networks around pain weapons and autonomous weapons have yet to emerge.)  So in network terms, the humanitarian disarmament community lacks cohesion because it lacks a hub. This explains why much of the work on arms control is instead being done not by humanitarian advocates but in the security sector, and often with insufficient attention to humanitarian law. 

Now, Article36 has constructed itself as a multi-issue NGO operating at the nexus between weapons and humanitarian affairs. As such, the organization symbolically and practically ties together these disparate networks around specific weapons through a master frame: humanitarian harm caused by certain weapons. It also yokes smaller networks conceptually both by establishing connections to multiple weapons campaigns, and through cross-cutting work on procedural issues not limited to specific weapons, such as casualty recording and regulating the arms trade. Finally, Article36 staff are positioned to link the more isolated sub-networks to the wider human security movement through their interpersonal ties to major human security hubs such as Human Rights Watch‘s Arms Division, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UN Office for the Coordinationof Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. 

Under this “humanitarian harm caused by certain weapons” rubric, it may also be able to promote a number of weapons issues that have been percolating through civil society channels but have not broken into the human security mainstream, like pain weapons, and toxic remnants of war. This savvy, self-invented structural location at the interstices both among more isolated single-weapon networks and between them and the wider human security network will likely provide Article36 with a unique position of influence internationally. Just as Global Witness both set the agenda on conflict minerals and created a new ideational location in transnational society by occupying the conceptual space between security, human rights and the environment, Article36 may be able not only to kick-start campaigns around neglected weapons, but also reconstitute network ties within the area of humanitarian arms control itself.