The Duck of Minerva

Post-Hiatus Killer Robot Blogging and Other Related Questions

12 June 2013

campaignMany of you know that I’ve been traveling (and blogging) much less this past year while completing my book manuscript on neglected advocacy campaigns (and steering a daughter through a tough junior year). However one trip I managed to make recently was the April 22 NGO Conference for the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which preceded the public launch of the campaign at Parliament. Humanitarian disarmament groups see this as the “next landmine campaign,” and with Nobel Peace winner Jody Williams leading the charge along with disarmament elites at the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch and a growing coalition of NGOs and sympathetic states, it seems as likely as any previous ban campaign to succeed.

Certainly the issue’s sudden proliferation throughout global civil society since Human Rights Watch published its report Losing Humanity confirms the argument in my 2011 IO article that adoption by organizations central to issue networks account for why some catch on and others don’t. But this evolving story also renders obsolete the case study on autonomous weapons in that article, which was at the time of that writing presented as a “neglected” issue in comparison to landmines and blinding lasers. Fortunately a more comprehensive and up to date case study on the origins of this campaign, which includes in-depth interviews with entrepreneurs and advocacy elites as well as participant-observation in movement events right up to the April 22 launch, will appear in my forthcoming book on global agenda-setting to be published next year. (More on that soon.)

Whether or not it this treaty campaign succeeds (and whether or not you think it should – some disagree on this point), the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots will raise many interesting questions about humanitarian law,  advocacy campaign tactics, and global norm development around emerging technologies. Is there or should there be a precautionary principle on weapons development in international law? Does the use of pop culture metaphors help or hurt campaigns over serious human security issues? How will efforts to ban autonomous weapons interact with separate campaigns around the regulation of drone warfare? Are robust global weapons norms most effective when expressed in treaty law? When codified with or without the acquiescence of the veto players?

I look forward to weighing in on some of this in the next months as I gradually return to more regular blogging. And given my long hiatus, readers are also invited to suggest additional topics they’d like to see me write about. Meanwhile, have a terrific summer.