Tag: transnational campaigns

From Kingdonian to Weberian Activism: A Shifting Stance

One of the great things about being done with my book project is that I can begin blogging and writing a little more openly regarding the issues I’ve been tracking empirically over the past seven years, in the same way I have often weighed in publicly on political subjects I’m not studying directly. The latter type of activity is referred to by Patrick Jackson and Stuart Kaufman as “Weberian activism“: informing policy debates by educating stakeholders and the public about the relevant empirical relationships underlying pressing policy decisions and global processes. In my view, this is the gold standard to which academic bloggers and commentators should aspire. Continue reading


The “Fear” Factor in “Killer Robot” Campaigning

robotlogoOne 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


In Weapons Advocacy as in Health, Prevention is Better Than Cure

A heavily attended side-event today was the Norwegian Red Cross‘ panel discussion “Looking Back to Look Forward: The Cluster Munitions Convention and What it Means for Limiting the Impact of Other Weapons Systems.”

Richard Moyes, coordinator of the International Network Against Explosive Weapons, presented a compelling address about the importance of regulating the use of explosives in populated areas, and putting the burden of proof on states to document the humanitarian costs of the weapons they use in conflict zones. University of Sheffield’s Noel Sharkey presented on the dangers of trends toward increasingly autonomous weaponry. And Peter Herby, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Arms Unit, had a clear message for delegates and NGOs that tied together these specific calls for action: states need to do more to properly review the humanitarian acceptability of weapons – cyber-weapons, non-lethal incapacitants, autonomous weapons, nano-weapons, bio-weapons and others – before they are widely deployed.

States have long been required to do so under Article 36 of the first 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, but according to Herby as few as 12 signatory governments have established mechanisms for actually reviewing new weapons before they are deployed. And nor is there any independent body responsible for overseeing those reviews, as exists other areas of global governance. More typically, weapons development proceeds apace until some outcry from civil society, as is now beginning to happen in the case of autonomous weapons.

But this outcry is often too slow in coming: civil society has historically been likelier to condemn weapons already in widespread use than new weapons whose effects are uncertain. The reason is simple: it’s much easier to conduct ‘remedial’ campaigns on issues where widespread humanitarian harms have already been documented, as a combination of testimonial and statistical evidence of a problem is often a prerequisite for creating a sense of urgency around an issue. Thus campaigns against landmines, cluster munitions, incendiaries and explosive violence have emerged in recent years only after decades of mounting and evident civilian harms.

Nonetheless, as Herby emphasized today, “prevention is better than a cure.” And as he pointed out, pre-emptive bans are not unheard of nor necessarily infeasible: two important examples are the ban on exploding bullets promulgated by Russia in the nineteenth century at the behest of military specialists; and the ban on blinding lasers negotiated in 1995, before the widespread deployment of these weapons. In the case of nuclear weapons in particular, Herby said:

“The only option is prevention. This is an area in which we need to make efforts because remediation will be too late.”

Richard Moyes of Article36.org, an NGO dedicated to humanitarian disarmament, echoed Herby’s sentiments regarding nuclear weapons in a response to an ICAN representative’s query on how to move forward to a nuclear ban:

“You can feel a sense of momentum already in that direction, a fairly clear concept of a treaty prohibition on nuclear weapons is starting to take holds in a number of people’s minds. I think we can take confidence from the CCM that we can learn from communities that worked together on that. And I think we can learn from the overall standard-setting initiatives here as well, that we need to take it into our own hands to establish the standards we want to see in the world, not sit beholden to those who hold over our heads weapons capable of killing thousands of people in an unacceptable way. We as a community can start to address that, states without nuclear weapons can start to address that, we don’t need to wait to have nuclear armed states on board to articulate a treaty prohibition on these weapons. We need to make clear those weapons of mass destruction need to go the same way as chemical and biological weapons, landmines and clusters, subject to a straightforward prohibition on their use, stockpiling and production.”


An AIDS-Free Generation? HIV Is Not A Fad

The International AIDS Society conference began Sunday in DC, the first time the conference has been held in the United States since 1990 because of the now-lifted travel ban on HIV+ people coming to the U.S. That means that 25,000 activists, researchers and clinicians have converged on DC and what seems like a fanciful goal – an AIDS-free generation. Given that donor foreign assistance budgets are increasingly constrained around the world, what gives advocates such hope that a renewed push against AIDS will be successful? For a disease that lacks a cure, does an AIDS-free generation means an “end” to AIDS?

I’ll elaborate below, but let me preface this post by saying that the turn to treatment over the past decade has been a tremendously amazing representation of global collective action and moral generosity. However, the
storm clouds of the economic downturn and some portents in pharmaceuticals markets have me worried that these gains could be upended by spendthrift donors and new development fads. (On another note, this is the second IAS conference running where my paper was rejected. What does a scholar have to do to get on the agenda? Seriously. Harder than APSA.)

Seizing upon recent studies that suggest that antiretroviral treatment can help prevent the transmission of HIV (one study found a 96% reduction in transmission risk),  activists are encouraging a scaling up of treatment as prevention. What this means programmatically is a little unclear, though advocates have identified the goal of putting 15 million people on treatment by 2015. Today, July 24th, activists will be doing their part to put this front and center on the agenda of the policy community through a major protest action.

The Good News

Lazarus Effect: Before and After ARVs

If funding were not constrained, that might be doable. UNAIDS estimates that more than 8 million people are now on treatment in low and middle income countries, up from just 400,000 in 2003. 6.2 million of them are in Africa which has experienced an incredible scale-up of therapy such 56% of those estimated to be sick enough to need treatment now have access to it.

(These estimates may be somewhat problematic as the proportion of people “lost to follow-up” can be shockingly high a year or two after people are put on the treatment rolls, perhaps as much as 70% in some projects but certainly not that high for all).

UNAIDS also announced that last year the world community spent $16.8 billion on AIDS in low and middle income countries and that half (!) of that money is coming from affected countries themselves. South Africa, the country with the largest number of HIV positive people, has assumed 80% of the costs of treating its citizens since Jacob Zuma took office and reversed the denialism that had previously undermined the country’s AIDS policy under Thabo Mbeki. 

And, in other good news, CHAI, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, released a study that found that average cost of treating a patient in low and middle-income countries for a year has fallen to $200. This isn’t just about driving drug prices down (which has happened thanks to CHAI even for newer, second-line ARVs) but it’s also due to efficiencies in supply chain management of getting the drugs to the clinics and in task-shifting so that trained local health care workers can carry out some essential duties.

The U.S. Contribution
As Tom Hart of the ONE campaign reminded us, the United States has led the way:

Thanks largely to support from Americans of all stripes – Democrats, Republicans, religious leaders, college students, public health officials and the business community – 8 million HIV-positive people around the world now have access to life-saving treatment.

The United States is the largest international donor to global AIDS efforts, and for this, the American people should be proud. George W. Bush, whatever his flaws as president (and there were many), deserves enormous credit. Indeed, the former president is spending his energies these days taking on other global health challenges like cervical cancer.

Take a look at the data for last year. In 2011, if you look at al international donor disbursements, the United States contributed an astounding 59.2% in 2011. With that money, PEPFAR says it is supporting 4.5 million on treatment and is poised to support 6 million on treatment by the end of 2013. 

(Note: When the USG says support, it does not mean that PEPFAR supports 100% of the treatment costs. Activist Brooke Baker suggested it was actually about 50%. 
Looking at this PEPFAR study, it really varies by country. For example, in middle income countries, PEPFAR only paid $139 of the $1017 in per patient treatment costs. For first-line therapies, the estimated average PEPFAR contribution was $305 of the $708 in annual treatment costs.)
The Not So Good News
The not so good news is that there were still an estimated 2.5 million infections last year. And, though that is down by 20% since 2001 and there are lots of countries where the rate of new infections has fallen even faster, the prevention agenda has to be much more front and center.

And, notably, donor funding for HIV/AIDS remained flat at 2008 levels. If this goal of 15 million by 2015 is to be met, an additional $2-3bn in resources would be needed per year to reach $22bn by 2015. This also comes at a time when the United States may be facing a huge budget fight over sequestration that could lead to across the board cuts for major programs. Obama’s proposed 2013 PEPFAR budget was already 3% lower than the previous year, the House and Senate topped it up a little bit. If the politics play out wrong, AIDS funding and treatment goals could suffer.

Moreover, the economic crisis in Europe has already had some effect on European donations for global AIDS efforts, particularly in Germany and the Netherlands which have seen their contributions slump since 2009. Countries like Italy have never really given much. Outside of Europe, Japan is another rich country that has been miserly on AIDS (though maybe given Fukushima we can cut them a little slack).

AIDS-Free Generation
So, what’s all this talk about an AIDS-free generation? Basically, I think activists are excited to think that with a combination of early treatment, other prevention strategies like male circumcision and universal mother to child therapy, that the next generation will be AIDS-free.

Secretary Clinton affirmed these ideas in a speech on Monday where she promised an additional $150 mn for targeted interventions alone these lines. She said:

It is a time when, first of all, virtually no child anywhere will be born with the virus. Secondly, as children and teenagers become adults, they will be at significantly lower risk of ever becoming infected than they would be today no matter where they are living. And third, if someone does acquire HIV, they will have access to treatment that helps prevent them from developing AIDS and passing the virus on to others.

I think what the USG and other donors are hoping is that with rising efficiencies in service delivery and increasing middle income country assumption of the costs of treatment that you can get more for less. However, even with improved efficiencies in the supply chain, I fear that drug prices (at least for first line older drugs) don’t have that much more to fall. Without some infusion of new money, you don’t get much more for little or no new money. You may get less than you want with less than you need.

Should We Spend More Money on AIDS? Yes.
Last night, the World Bank hosted a vigorous debate that had UNAIDS’ Michel Sidibe and Columbia’s Jeff Sachs in support of more funding for AIDS and CGD’s Mead Over and Roger England taking the opposing position.

Over’s position was basically similar to the one Bjorn Lomborg has adopted on climate change, that there are lots of other problems that are equally deserving of attention and where money would go further in saving lives. Now, I know Over has a nuanced position about the need to focus on prevention (which I’m all for), but I fear that economists are a little tone deaf to both the politics and the nature of the disease itself. It’s not as if there is a pot of $25 bn for a bunch of different health interventions and we can choose which ones make most sense.

People mobilized on AIDS because millions were dying, overflowing hospitals and treatments existed that could keep them alive. Other diseases don’t have as capable political boosters. And many other health issues like malaria and TB, even primary health, have ridden AIDS’ coattails.

Moreover, as Laurie Garrett noted on twitter, for communicable pandemic diseases, you do need specialized funds. You can’t partially address this challenge and then let the situation revert to larger and larger numbers of new infections.

And for those 8 million people on treatment (or however many it actually is), we have made a commitment to treat them for the remainder of their lives. If donors and governments renege on such a promise, that is a death sentence and morally unconscionable. However, just treating the people who have it now and doing nothing for those who need it or little more on prevention is not sustainable.

While all of the rhetoric about treatment as prevention is compelling, there are some huge logistical and financial challenges. Putting people on treatment early offers immense promise to break transmission but my understanding is that you have to catch it early when people still have high viral load levels and have a higher risk of passing on the virus to their partners.  The current approach basically forces people to wait until people they already have had the virus for a while and are sick enough to meet certain thresholds. If you only have a limited amount of money, you would want to get the healthier HIV+ people on treatment early for prevention purposes, but morality dictates that you treat those who are really sick. I don’t have answer other than more money for that.

All of this does mean that going forward we have to think strategically about how best to achieve the desired ends given that we have millions on treatment and too many millions of new infections. I still have yet to see what the realistic plan is to break the back of AIDS in a generation, but that’s where we have to go.


The Kony2012 Experiment

So Kony 2012 has been labeled the fastest-growing viral video of all time. While it’s not clear how many of those “views” included actually watching the whole video, Invisible Children has certainly made an impact. The film has been criticized and satirized for inaccuracy, narcissism and counter-productivity… though not by everyone.

After a week of observing the debate, I have three thoughts.

1) The message is about the power of social media, not about Kony. I went for almost 72 hours following the Kony2012 coverage before actually finding 20 minutes to watch the film. When I did, I was surprised. It was obvious to me that the video does not intend to, nor claim to, educate people about Kony per se. What it does is make an argument about the power of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and the emerging transnational social fabric that suggests a power shift in favor of concerned citizens – whatever their issue. The film begins and ends with this broader message, not with Kony: see the first two minutes then click to 27:00.

I read Kony as simply an illustrative example of this broader argument used by this particular organization. And I also wonder if the video is meant to be partially satirical. The fact that the most context we really get about Kony and Uganda is in the form of a dialogue with a 5-year-old struck me as more of an object lesson for advocates about the general attention-span and substantive knowledge of their audience than a serious attempt to educate anyone about the conflict or Kony itself.

2) The campaign is an experiment. Invisible Children has taken a lot of heat for presumably buying into their own causal hypotheses… that social media will raise awareness, that awareness will translate into the policy impacts, that those policy impacts will result in Kony’s arrest. But I don’t think the film makes those claims per se, but lays them out as hypotheses. The campaign is explicitly framed as an experiment in the power of social media. The audience is invited to test IC’s hypotheses through by action or inaction. It’s certainly true that IC hopes for a certain outcome, but their effort seems to be less to capture Kony and more to carve out a new strategy for transnational campaigning that is neither the landmines model of NGO coalition-building nor the top-down elite R2P model of expert diplomacy nor the conflict diamonds model utilizing the mainstream media. So I think this should be read as an experimental effort to test a new advocacy strategy for launching human rights “boomerangs” rather than a substantive effort to raise awareness of Kony or to enact a policy goal. In that sense, the real audience is transnational advocacy groups.

3) The video’s value is its ridiculousness. While every single critique of Kony2012 is valid, this is precisely what makes it such a remarkably effective teaching tool both about Uganda and about critical media studies – and part of what made it, so far, an effective awareness-raising tool. Part of why it went viral was precisely because of the backlash. Invisible Children would have been less effective had they aimed for nuance – both because the message would have been lost on the uninformed and because it wouldn’t have provoked the backlash. What is heartening about this episode is the rapidity with which educators and pundits – not to mention human rights claimants – responded to the video with correctives, satire and clarifications. If we read this video as a catalyst rather than as the message itself, it served its purpose brilliantly. Whether that was IC’s intent or a happy accident, who knows. But other activists can perhaps learn something from this: if the purpose is simply awareness-raising of a meme, sloppy information can do that as well or better than facts and nuance.

If the purpose is credibility and fund-raising, though, that may not follow – which is also extremely heartening, especially given the unintended side effects of campaigns like this. And the jury is certainly out as to whether the purpose of policy change is served by either approach. Then again, considering that the only policy change called for here is “don’t stop what you’re already doing” it’s not clear that this was ever an over-riding goal of the campaign.


“Not in Anyone’s Backyard”: Andrew Yeo on the “No Bases” Network

This issue of International Studies Quarterly includes an article by Andrew Yeo on the emergence of an advocacy network against foreign military bases. Aside from the minor fact that Yeo omits reference to an important recent contribution to the literature on basing politics, I found his process-tracing of the No Bases Network fascinating. Here’s the abstract:

“Providing an overview of the emergence, characteristics, trajectory, and potential limitations of the transnational anti-base network, this article focuses on two broad questions relevant to transnational politics. First, what processes and mechanisms enabled local and transnational activists to form the international No Bases network? Second, how did activists juxtapose existing local anti-base identity and frames to emerging transnational ones? Following existing transnational movement theories, I argue that the global anti-base network slowly emerged through processes of diffusion and scale shift in its early stages. The onset of the Iraq War, however, injected new life into the transnational anti-base movement, eventually leading to the inaugural International Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Bases in 2007. Although loose transnational ties existed among anti-base activists prior to 2003, the U.S. war in Iraq presented anti-base activists the global frames necessary to accelerate the pace of diffusion, scale-shift, and brokerage, and hence, the consolidation of a transnational anti-base network. Paradoxically, however, even as No Bases leaders attempted to forge a new transnational identity, anti-base activists, as “rooted cosmopolitans,” continued to anchor their struggle in local initiatives.”

I liked this article because it’s a great substantive example of what I look for in my work: interesting ideas that could be converted to international norms and have attracted supporters but have not yet hit the mainstream human rights/human security/disarmament agenda. Yeo is interested in network emergence and identity; I’m more interested in how a network mobilized around a new idea like this manages to market itself to the mainstream NGOs who most have the ear of governments and the UN. This one’s the kind of “aha” case I like to find – something that makes intuitive sense but I hadn’t thought of or heard articulated before.

(Or does it make sense? In Empires of Trust Thomas Madden argues that the regional security provided by a hegemon’s military presence outweighs the negative externalities of military bases. Interesting counterfactual.)

Well, whether it is a good idea or not in “human security” terms, this is a network with an idea that one could imagine being promulgated as a global norm as easily as the idea of banning landmines, only you don’t hear mention of it at the global level: it’s an issue not yet “on the agenda” the way many other global problems are. And Yeo’s analysis of the Iraq war as a focusing event that triggered the consolidation of disparate domestic networks into a transnational movement suggests an obstacle this network need to overcome in order to attract support from large NGOs and achieve anything like real international norm change: the perception that this is really an anti-US movement instead of a movement to address a problem that’s inherently global.


More Random Thoughts about Celebrity Activism

A while ago there was some discussion on this blog about the definition of “celebrity” activism for the purposes of empirically studying the entertainment industry’s role in advocacy campaigns. A question was raised about what constitutes celebrity status, what constitutes activism, how much the two co-constitute one another in these cases.

Jeff Skoll weighed in on this last week in his comments at the Global Philanthropy Forum 2008 Annual Conference in San Jose. Skoll, who founded the Skoll Foundation to create independent films on social topics, believes the definition of “celebrity” can include former political leaders, if they get involved in the entertainment industry. From the conference blog:

“Calling former Vice President Al Gore ‘the George Clooney of Climate Change,’ Jeff reminded us that what was once a nerdy power-point delivered by Gore to scientific audiences when I worked with him in government, was now transforming public attitudes, alerting all to the climate crisis.”

I’m not sure I agree that Clooney and Gore are really the same type of actor wielding the same type of power just because they’ve both appeared in influential films. They come from different institutional locations, Clooney uses his prior celebrity status to do activism, Gore’s celebrity status was constituted in part by his activism. (That is, was he a celebrity before the film?) Even their films are different – Clooney does blockbusters, Gore did a documentary. Does this suggest a continuum of celebrity activists with variation that may also affect the influence they have?


The Glitterati Strikes Again

Steven Spielberg has withdrawn from his role as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics to protest China’s policy towards Darfur. Seemingly, yet another example of “celebrity activism” around human security issues.

I blogged about this before. As I continue to think about the role of celebrity activism in human security campaigns, I’ve been pondering who actually counts as a celebrity? Performers clearly do. But what about other well-known members of the entertainment industry – writers, producers? What about well-known figures who perform public, rather than media roles? In a digital world, where do the lines blur between political, cultural and religious “celebrities”? Also, is there an analytical difference between celebrity “activism” and “celebrity activism”?

An example of the former conundrum. The transnational advocacy literature sometimes refers to Princess Diana’s role in championing the landmines issue. But was her role more analogous to that of Bono re. debt relief? Or more analogous to Hilary Clinton’s championing of attention to sex trafficking? Was Diana a celebrity in the movie-star sense or a political figure in the statesperson sense? What about Al Gore? Is he a former president or a movie star? Few would doubt that his “celebrity” activism has drawn new attention to climate change as an issue. And are religious figures such as the Dalai Lama or Pope genuine “celebrities”? Are you a “celebrity” if you are not routinely featured in the tabloids?

And what do we mean by activism anyway when it comes to celebrities? There is personal activism, where a celebrity uses his or her renown as soft power in their own civic work – as the LiveAid events depicted in the Nickelback video suggest. And then there is the embedding of activism into media outputs produced by celebrities themselves – such as the video “If Everyone Cared” itself or the film “Blood Diamond.” Are these activities really comparable? Should they not be disaggregated somehow in order to gauge the relative influence of celebrities in global politics?

Some careful attention to the actual role of celebrities in transnational campaigns – for better or worse – is long overdue by IR scholars. But there are conceptual problems to deal with first. Who can offer a parsimonious definition of “celebrity” or of “celebrity activism” that might guide rigorous research on the subject?


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