What’s the Peloponnesian War Got to Do with Killer Robots?

•29 August 2014 • Leave a Comment

In an article Cayman Mitchell and I wrote for e-International Relations, we reflect on how ancient debates about the Pelopponesian War offer surprisingly fresh insights into global policy debates about high-tech weapons. By making comparisons to Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata, we show campaigners have resisted states’ claims to ‘know best’ about security matters. They have pushed officials to answer questions about the necessity and risks of killer robots as well as the underlying social norms (including gendered ones) that guide global security policymaking. We argue that we need not be grateful for the ‘protection’ of killer robots, as realists would have us believe; we may instead mimic Lysistrata and humanize the very structure of protection in the 21st century, saving ourselves from killer robots’ de-humanizing violence.

Read our article here.

What Shape Is a Minefield?

•28 August 2014 • Leave a Comment

One of the persistent misperceptions of minefields is that they are like a flat, rectangular, clearly-bounded football field. I’m not exactly sure who to blame: perhaps Hollywood, perhaps the computer game Minesweeper, perhaps simply the word “minefield”. But reality is far more complex.

A minefield often replicates the shape of the conflict that produced it. Contemporary battlefields are rarely like the neatly divided board of the game Risk or chess. Ambushes, improvised explosive devices, remote aerial attacks and the shifting allegiances of fragmented factions mean there are no clear divisions between “safe territory” and the “war zone”.

For more of my reflections on the shape of minefields, read this article I wrote for MAG America’s latest newsletter.

John Oliver on America’s Shocking Nuclear Carelessness

•17 August 2014 • Leave a Comment

To learn more on what you can do to help abolish nuclear weapons, click here.

Staten Island’s tainted edge (Geologic City report #3)

•1 August 2014 • Leave a Comment

Matthew Bolton:

Doug Weir over at the International Coalition to Ban Uranium Weapons sent me this alarming review of the lingering effects of Manhattan Project-era uranium storage in Staten Island, New York, by the “Friends of the Pleistocene.” It’s a reminder that the human impact of military waste is not limited to former war zones, but can impact the “home front.” For more on the politics of military waste in New York City, see my post on the munitions abandoned in waters below the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island.

Originally posted on FOP:

The Bayonne bridge is the fourth longest steel arch bridge in the world, and was the longest at the time of its completion in 1931. It connects Staten Island to New Jersey. Last week FOP headed for the Bayonne for our Geologic City project, but we hadn’t come to document the bridge.

In 1938, a three story Archer Daniels Midland Company warehouse stood in the shadow of the Bayonne with an address of  2377-2387 Richmond Terrace. Typically the warehouse stored vegetable oil. That year the buildings took on a new purpose when a ship carrying 1200 tons of raw uranium ore from the Belgian Congo unloaded 2,007 steel drums into its secret Staten Island destination.  According to Waterwire, not even the Staten Island Borough President at the time knew of its arrival.

The Staten Island uranium warehouse was arranged by Edgar Sengier. Sengier was a Belgian businessman and director…

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Obama’s New Landmine Policy: Change I Can Believe In, Tentatively

•9 July 2014 • 1 Comment

Without much fanfare last week, representatives of the State Department announced subtle but crucial changes to the US government’s stance on landmines, distancing itself from the unilateral tone of Bush-era policy.

The new policy will halt US production or acquisition of antipersonnel landmines, reduce stockpiles and begin “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.” The Pentagon has also clarified the number of landmines in its stockpiles – 3 million (contrary to earlier estimates of 10 million) – and released details on its ongoing destruction efforts.

“The US has finally come out of the shadows in indicating it intends to join the landmine treaty, and let’s hope it will move ahead rapidly to come on board,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, one of the leading members of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines.

To read my analysis of this important policy change, read my guest blog on the international relations blog Duck of Minerva.

Bosnian Flood Landmine Danger Reveals Need for Reinvigorated Demining Effort

•22 May 2014 • Leave a Comment

Matthew Bolton:

To answer all the queries I’ve been getting about the tragic situation in Bosnia with the massive flooding, I wrote this piece for the blog of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines:

Originally posted on Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog:

Dr. Matthew Bolton Assistant Professor of Political Science, Pace University, and Landmine Monitor Researcher

Over the last few days, I have been getting many questions from journalists and friends alike about the reports of the Bosnian floods possibly dislodging landmines.

I think this surprises people, perhaps because their conception of a minefield comes from computer game “Minesweeper,” in which a mine stays put until someone clears it. However, landmines are laid within a dynamic ecosystem. If they are buried, they can shift positions as soil freezes and unfreezes with the seasons. Soil erosion may expose a mine. Floods like those that have recently hit the Balkans can dislodge mines and wash them into new places.

The mine problem in Bosnia dates back to the war in the early 1990s. While many mined areas have been cleared since then, there are still an estimated 1,219km2 of land suspected to…

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Taking a Stand Against Gender Discrimination in Disarmament Policymaking

•19 May 2014 • 2 Comments

Last week, I attended the discussions on fully-autonomous weapons (“Killer Robots”) at the UN in Geneva as a representative of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (ICRAC). The deliberations, held in the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), represent the first dedicated diplomatic discussions of the dangers of automated violence — an encouraging landmark for the civil society Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

However, as Charli Carpenter and Sarah Knuckey pointed out in their excellent blog posts, the meeting was discouraging for its blasé and retrogressive gender dynamics. None of the 18 “expert” panelists called upon to testify before the states party were women, despite no shortage of women ably qualified to do so. Most of them were also from North America or Western Europe. Women who were experts were literally condemned to the margins — only allowed to speak in civil society statements from the back of the room or ‘Side Events.’ There were more subtle discourses too, with boosters of killer robots depicting the civil society campaign as hysterical, or claiming that robotic weapons would avoid soldiers’ “emotional responses” to war (which are supposedly a bad thing) and would be more “rational.” Read Heather Roff’s challenge to this discourse here.

All this is, of course, a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which committed states to include women in global policymaking on peace and security. Article 36, a founding member of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, released a statement today condemning the exclusion of multiple gender identities from global policymaking on peace and security, saying:

In response to the all-male expert selection at the CCW last week, women involved in the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots gathered to discuss ways to advance the participation and visibility of women in meetings on disarmament, peace and security. One suggestion from this group was that men should refuse to participate in all-male panels at meetings within this field.

As part of this effort, Article 36 is compiling a list of people working in the field of peace and security – particularly disarmament, arms control and the protection of civilians – who benefit from their male gender and have committed not to speak on panels that include only men.

Read Charli Carpenter’s take on our statement, here.

Back as undergraduate in the 1990s, I read the fantastic essay by Carol Cohn, picking apart the everyday casual misogyny of nuclear weapons experts. I naively assumed that such blatant gender discrimination in the weapons policymaking arena would at least be more subtle by now. Unfortunately, however, we’re still fighting Second Wave battles in the world of disarmament, asking the basic question of Cynthia Enloe: “Where are the women?”

Those of us who benefit from our conformity to cisgender male gender norms* have an obligation to call attention to the injustice of the privileges it affords us everyday. I have signed the Article 36 statement and call on all others in the disarmament community who benefit from being identified as men to add their support. For we must fight for the process of achieving disarmament to be as just as the outcomes we are also fighting for.

In the words of the civil society statement on disarmament “ways of work” at last year’s UN General Assembly First Committee meeting:

We are frustrated by the failure of the disarmament machinery to meet expectations—both of our governments and our publics—of addressing the security concerns of the majority. These failures undermine the UN’s legitimacy as a problem-solving body. … [T]his structure is anachronistic. The entire system must be reformed. …

Member states should incorporate a gender perspective into their disarmament and arms control- related programmes and policies. They should also discuss and identify ways of strengthening and improving the resolution on women and disarmament, such as by including strengthened language on incorporating a gender perspective in disarmament-related programmes and policies and by recognizing progress in other elements of the UN system.

To read the Article 36 statement on gender discrimination and add your name to the list of supporters, click here.


*To be “Cisgendered” means that your experience of your gender matches comfortably with the biological sex you were assigned at birth.


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