In about a month, High Contracting Parties to the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons will again consider the humanitarian and ethical problems posed by fully autonomous lethal weapons. As I’ve written before, this issue in on the UN agenda due to a savvy and well-organized network of “humanitarian disarmament” NGOs. This coalition is keen to reconstruct governments’ interpretation of how to balance military utility with humanitarian concerns when it comes to emerging technologies of violence. Yet with the landmine and cluster munitions campaigns considered some of the landmark successes in global civil society advocacy, it is fascinating how little of the transnational advocacy networks scholarly literature focuses in empirical or theoretical terms on the humanitarian disarmament sector.
Nothing throws this into sharper relief than teaching a graduate seminar in human security, and attempting to blend “transnational advocacy” week with a humanitarian disarmament focus. Aside from seminal articles by Richard Price and Nina Tannenwald, plus my own now-very-dated piece and a scattering of analyses by Clifford Bob and Noha Shawki, one is hard pressed to find good theory-driven treatments of TAN politics that utilize empirics from the area of disarmament rather than human rights, development, humanitarian affairs or the environment. And I have yet to see TAN articles that address the reconstituted nuclear ban campaign, or developments around incendiary weapons or explosive violence.*
Thankfully, two recently published articles offer both an up-to-date overview of this advocacy landscape and suggestions for how to fill this analytical gap. Continue reading