One of the more specious criticisms of the “stopkillerrobots” campaign is that it is using sensationalist language and imagery to whip up a climate of fear around autonomous weapons. So the argument goes, by referring to autonomous weapons as “killer robots” and treating them as a threat to “human” security, campaigners manipulate an unwitting public with robo-apocalyptic metaphors ill-suited to a rational debate about the pace and ethical limitations of emerging technologies.
For example, in the run-up to the campaign launch last spring Gregory McNeal at Forbes opined:
HRW’s approach to this issue is premised on using scare tactics to simplify and amplify messages when the “legal, moral, and technological issues at stake are highly complex.” The killer robots meme is central to their campaign and their expert analysis.
McNeal is right that the issues are complex, and of course it’s true that in press releases and sound-bytes campaigners articulate this complexity in ways designed to resonate outside of legal and military circles (like all good campaigns do), saving more detailed and nuanced arguments for in-depth reporting. But McNeal’s argument about this being a “scare tactic” only makes sense if people are likelier to feel afraid of autonomous weapons when they are referred to as “killer robots.”
Is that true? Continue reading
I have a new article in the journal International Organization entitled “Vetting the Advocacy Agenda.” It tries to explain why some issues get noticed by transnational campaigners and others don’t, using weapons advocacy as a focal point of study. Key argument: it matters which organizations take up the issue; the global agenda is as much a function of structural relations within advocacy networks as of relationships between advocacy groups and states. You’ll need an institutional subscription to access the article online, or you can read the proofs version here. Abstract below.
While a number of signiﬁcant campaigns since the early 1990s have resulted in bans of particular weapons, at least as many equivalent systems have gone unscrutinized and uncondemned by transnational campaigners. How can this variation be explained? Focusing on the issue area of arms control advocacy, this article argues that an important inﬂuence on the advocacy agenda within transnational networks is the decision-making process not of norm entrepreneurs nor of states but of highly connected organizations within a given network. The argument is illustrated through a comparison between existing norms against landmines and blinding laser weapons, and the absence of serious current consideration of such norms against depleted uranium and autonomous weapons. Thus, the process of organizational issue selection within nongovernmental organizations and international organizations most central to particular advocacy networks, rather than the existence of transnational networks around an issue per se, should be a closer focus of attention for scholars interested in norm creation in world politics.
I’ll have some findings on that latter written up in book form in the next year or so, Gods willing.(This of course means the larger project is still in progress, so feedback on this short early version quite welcome.)