Minefields to Minespace: Tracing the Changes in Remote and Automated Violence from Booby Traps and Landmines to IEDs and Killer Robots

•12 January 2015 • Leave a Comment
The US M18A1 Claymore Mine: an artifact of when militaries thought of war as having a simple division between the "Front" and "Rear".

The US M18A1 Claymore Mine: an artifact of a certain military discourse that divides war simply between the “Front” and “Rear”. Trends in contemporary conflict challenge this binary notion.

The academic journal Political Geography has just published my article on the changing ways remote and automated violence has been deployed over the last century. Here is an abstract of the article:

From minefields to minespace: An archeology of the changing architecture of autonomous killing in US Army field manuals on landmines, booby traps and IEDs

Since WWI, militaries and armed groups have used remote and autonomous explosive traps – landmines, booby traps and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – as a kind of deadly architecture to reengineer terrain inhospitable. Until recently, minefields remained analog, static, and fixed. But technological development and changes in the nature of war have made remote and autonomous violence increasingly mobile, dynamic, and robotic and, rather than being contained in a bounded Cartesian plane, diffused through the very spaces and flows that sustain civilian life. Such “unmanned” weapons are increasingly able to navigate, communicate with each other, identify targets and even kill with minimal human involvement. Mirroring broader changes in the spatial configurations of war, the architectural form of remote and autonomous killing is thus shifting from the two-dimensional minefield to multi-dimensional minespace. This poses challenges to those engaged in humanitarian efforts to demilitarize space. To illustrate these changes, the paper draws on Derek Gregory’s notion of “Everywhere War” and engages in a discursive “archeology” of the minefield as described by US Army mine, booby trap and IED warfare field manuals.

Gamechanger? Austria Pledges to Seek Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons

•10 December 2014 • Leave a Comment

At an international conference this week on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons in Vienna, Austria issued a pledge to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and “cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.”

“Anyone in Vienna can tell that something new is happening on nuclear weapons. We have had three conferences examining their humanitarian impact, and now with the Austrian pledge we have everything we need for a diplomatic process to start”, said Thomas Nash of UK NGO Article 36.

Nuclear weapons are the only weapons of mass destruction not subject to a global ban. The 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) commits states to “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to … nuclear disarmament.” The lack of progress toward that goal has become increasingly frustrating to the non-nuclear states that make up the majority of the world’s countries. Next year — the 70th anniversary of the A-bomb attacks on Japan —  there will be a major conference in New York reviewing the implementation of the NPT. Many states are looking for a way to get out of the nuclear gridlock.

Over the last few years a potential way forward has emerged from the humanitarian and human rights community, working with a range of small and middle powers. At conferences in Oslo, Nayarit and Vienna, states have begun talking about the potential humanitarian and environmental risks and impacts of nuclear weapons and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has catalyzed civil society momentum. Rather than waiting for the nuclear powers to disarm themselves, this has shifted the impetus for action to non-nuclear states and civil society. There is a growing realization that, like the processes on landmines and cluster munitions, they can move forward with stigmatizing nuclear weapons without the buy-in of those states that own them. We don’t usually wait from those who are the problem to ban their own behavior, so why would we wait for nuclear armed states to do so.

The emerging proposal is a prohibition on the use, stockpiling, development and transfer of nuclear weapons, as outlined in a recent report by Article 36 and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom’s Reaching Critical Will project. At the Vienna conference, 44 states called for such a prohibition and the “Austria Pledge” essentially called for the establishment of a negotiating process.

Nuclear weapons represent an existential threat to the globe. They are a threat to fundamental right to life. They distort our social systems, taking much-needed fiscal resources from health, education and other life-giving priorities. They entrench an international system that unjustly favors the great powers. They are an anomaly — the only WMD that is still not prohibited. They are impossible to use without violating humanitarian law. It’s time to ban nuclear weapons.

To learn how you can get involved in this effort to make the world a safer, more just and peaceful place, visit the website of ICAN.

Progress on Landmines in 2014

•10 December 2014 • Leave a Comment

The new Landmine Monitor* report has recorded “the lowest number of new casualties ever and the completion of clearance obligations in four states.” In other good news, Oman acceded to the treaty in August 2014 and the US made a significant policy shift that brings into closer alignment with the global consensus. In fact, this week US Secretary of State John Kerry called on the international community to “Clear land mines off the earth” in an editorial for USA Today:

That means the U.S. will no longer procure anti-personnel land mines, and we will begin destroying our anti-personnel land mine stockpiles not required for the defense of South Korea. And we will work to find ways that may ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention — the international treaty that prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines.

However, in patting ourselves on the back we must not pretend that there is not tremendous amount of work still to be done. The Landmine Monitor report also decries the slow progress in landmine clearance and declining funding for humanitarian mine action.

For background clearing landmines and US landmine policy, read my book, Foreign Aid and Landmine Clearance.

*Full disclosure: I did the research for the landmine clearance portions of the Bosnia and Croatia sections of the 2014 Landmine Monitor report.

Killer Robots Remain on UN Agenda

•14 November 2014 • Leave a Comment

At a meeting of the  Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) at the UN in Geneva, states agreed to keep autonomous weapons systems — “killer robots” — on the agenda for the coming year.

States mandated a five day informal Meeting of Experts for 13-17 April 2015. This isn’t exactly what activists associated with the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots wanted; they had asked for a much longer, more formal meeting. The CCW’s rules of procedure require all decisions to be made by consensus, which means that the discussion is held back by states who benefit from dawdling while busily investing in research and development. As Human Rights Watch put it, “greater urgency is needed to address the threat these weapons pose.”

But this decision gives campaigners another possibility to push the international community to adopt a prohibition on these weapons that fail to maintain “meaningful human control” over individual attacks.

“The broad consensus expressed for continuing the talks shows it is clear that ‘doing nothing’ in the face of ever-greater autonomy in warfare is not an option,” said the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots.

For the statement of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control (a group of concerned scholars) — at the CCW, click here. For the CCW’s final report, click here.

Just Cyberpeace in an Age of Autonomy

•10 November 2014 • Leave a Comment

I’m not exactly the most technologically savvy person, but my involvement in the world of disarmament and arms control is making me increasingly aware of the need for peace and social justice activists to take cyberspace seriously. On Saturday, I watched CITIZENFOUR and was shocked at my own ignorance of the implications of the Edward Snowden revelations.

Of particular concern for those who have campaigned against victim-initiated weapons (like landmines and killer robots), is Snowden’s claim that the US National Security Agency (NSA) is developing a program called MonsterMind that would detect a foreign cyber-attack and retaliate autonomously — a kind of Cyber-Mine.

During the UN General Assembly First Committee last month, many states raised concerns that while international human rights and humanitarian law applies in cyberspace, there needs to be greatly clarity about how. The International Committee of the Red Cross warned states that “the interconnectedness of military and civilian networks poses a significant practical challenge in terms of protecting civilians from the dangers of cyber warfare.”

Similarly, in a statement I had some peripheral involvement in drafting, several civil society organizations called on states to “work towards adopting an effective international legal framework that will prevent and protect the networked infrastructure upon which societies rely for their wellbeing.”

But the challenges of building a just cyberpeace in a time of growing militarization and mass surveillance are considerable (see this great introduction by a professor at Notre Dame). At the moment, outside the tech sector, activism on cyberspace is seen as the preserve of wonky nerds. But as more and more people have more and more of their lives integrated into digital networks, soon most discussions of limiting armed violence will have some cyber dimension.

Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams Gives Address on Gender and Disarmament at Pace University

•1 November 2014 • Leave a Comment

Originally posted on Model United Nations Program, Pace University New York City:

Disarmament and Arms Control Campaigners Challenged to Take Gender Seriously

Activists working on disarmament and arms control need to challenge the belief that violence is inevitable – especially violence by men –and resist the subtle attempts by powerful organizations and people to infer that those who work for peace are somehow weak and “woman-like”, said Jody Williams of the Nobel Women’s Initiative October 17-19, 2014, at Pace University in New York City.

Williams was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 along with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines for her successful coordination of the global coalition that served as the “engine of change” on landmines and, in the space of five years, resulted in the Ottawa Treaty, banning Antipersonnel Landmines. Since January 2006, Williams has chaired the Nobel Women’s Initiative that spearheaded the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. She has also been a powerful…

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Global Civil Society and the Arms Trade Treaty

•15 October 2014 • Leave a Comment

Global Policy, a peer-reviewed academic journal read widely in scholarly and policymaking circles, has just released online a Special Section of four articles on the Arms Trade Treaty and Global Civil Society. The articles will be published in an upcoming issue, but are available online.

The Special Section was edited by me and written by academics and practitioners who have had varying levels of involvement in the campaign for a “bulletproof” treaty. The essays provide an overview of the treaty, the normative implications of its negotiation and text, the involvement of civil society and a commentary on its potential future impact. I have included here the abstract of the introductory essay “The Arms Trade Treaty from a Global Civil Society Perspective”:

The 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) offers the first comprehensive, global and legally binding standards on the trade and transfer of conventional arms. The idea for the treaty was conceived not in the boardrooms of weapons manufacturers, nor in the assembly halls of statecraft, but rather by civil society activists and Nobel Laureates – practitioners, academics, survivors and researchers and advocates. And its robust provisions on human rights, humanitarian law and gender were championed by states often marginalized by traditional arms control. The resultant treaty is a sort of ‘platypus’ of international law – simultaneously an arms control regime, an instrument of human rights and humanitarian law and a trade agreement. Given its widespread acceptance and likely rapid entry into force, it could have a wide-ranging impact on global policy making in many issue areas. But as with any new framework of global policy, the ATT represents a compromise, recognizing the legitimacy of states’ rights to trade in weapons. This special section on the ATT, written from the perspective of scholars and practitioners associated with the civil society campaign that championed the treaty, reviews the ATT’s normative implications, role of NGOs and implementation challenges.


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