To Walk Without Fear:
The Global Movement to Ban Landmines

by Maxwell A. Cameron, Brian W. Tomlin, Robert Lawson,
416 pages,
ISBN: 0195414144

Knight Errant

by D. Lenarcic,
96 pages,
ISBN: 0772525196

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Leaning on Wooden Crutches - Canada and the Human Security Agenda
by Robin Collins

Support for U.S. bombing runs into Sudan and Iraq notwithstanding, the human security agenda that has seized the imagination of Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs assumes that things have changed since the Cold War. "We started from the premise that the threat to life and limb of millions of individuals should take precedence over military and national security interests." Declarations like these from Minister Lloyd Axworthy will be anathema to patrons of the Old School of Quiet Diplomacy and Toeing the Line because, if true, they mean that Canada might be moving over to the side of the angels.

It started in Ottawa with landmines, and now the world has a Convention banning anti-personnel landmines, signed by two-thirds of the world's states and ratified sufficiently to bring the treaty into force, in record time, on March 1st of this year. The treaty (and the pressure it has created even upon non-signatories) has effectively put a "cap" on the production, trade, and new use of the weapon. The problem isn't expected to worsen; yet without a concerted effort to remove the millions of mines from the ground and to fund victim assistance and redevelopment, community hardship will not be lightened any time soon. That would suggest a failure for the human security agenda; hence, criticism of the pace of change in mine-infested communities by treaty supporters is a big concern for Canadian policy-makers.

Enter the recently published To Walk Without Fear, a twenty-one essay contribution to the study of fast-track treaty making. This is, for the most part, a celebratory anthology by landmine treaty supporters and "Ottawa Process" advocates. The book is quite readable and, with some exceptions, not an academic exercise. Its topics range from the nature of the landmine problem, and strategies of the regional, national, and international ban campaigns, to the history and significance of the treaty, and the process that brought it into being.

Under separate cover is David Lenarcic's critique of the ban effort, Knight-Errant? Canada and the Crusade to Ban Anti-Personnel Land Mines. Published immediately after the December 1997 signing of the treaty, the book takes a look at some of the debates that preceded the Ottawa Treaty. Supporters of the Ottawa Process from both government and non-government circles may be encouraged by the potential for future creative collaboration between governments, middle powers, and civil society, but Lenarcic is suspicious: an "impressive triumph does not necessarily validate either the approach" or the "ultimate objective of the policy. And this would still be the case even if those outside the treaty ended their holdout, which they may very well do". This is an admirably risky, if unpopular, position to take, but Knight-Errant? contends that Canada should moderate its tone, take heed of its soft power assets, and retreat to the lessons learned in Canada's Golden Age of Diplomacy, the 1950s.

Max Cameron is more generous in his assessment of the partnership under discussion. In one of the strongest essays of the To Walk Without Fear anthology, "Democratization of Foreign Policy: The Ottawa Process as a Model", he suggests that the Ottawa Process opened up foreign policy-making to a broader section of society, a "central task of democratizing foreign policy". The mine issue attained public status, not principally through the leadership of governments in the early stages (although there were sympathetic and active governments), but from the persistence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in-your-face diplomacy by leaders of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and regular attention to publicity by activists. Cameron writes: "Advocates of democratization should rest their defence of civil society-government partnership on publicity, not on participation".

This distinction-namely, that NGOs will succeed if they build public constituency for policy, and not if they expect to directly formulate policy-is probably the key lesson for "civil society". It is important because a number of critics of the Ottawa Process in To Walk Without Fear, noting its reformist character, imply that naive NGO ban advocates did not realize who they were dealing with. NGO-government collaboration, write Miguel de Larrinaga and Turrene Sjolander, "can only reinforce existing practices". In other words, this was a zero-sum game. By dancing with the devil, NGOs ultimately lost credibility when treaty-friendly, middle-power governments gained humanitarian currency.

This requires some clarification.

The key objective of the ICBL, as its name implies, was to respond to the humanitarian crisis with an immediate mine ban. There was no pausing to strategize the development of a "transformational" movement that aimed to win a public mandate. Humanitarian, non-governmental organizations stepped into the policy-making process to gain the benefits of insider discussions, as well as to reserve the option of stepping out again if there was ever a need to criticize government intransigence or backsliding.

This strategy is evident in "The Canadian Campaign", the article by Valerie Warmington and Celina Tuttle of Mines Action Canada (MAC), this country's landmine ban coalition. They note that while having agreed to participate as an official delegate in April 1996 at a review conference, NGOs were still disenchanted with traditional diplomatic wrangling and the consensus structure of the international disarmament system. The Oslo confrontation more than a year later was good evidence that NGOs were able to think for themselves. Mines Action Canada issued a timely press release and ICBL members took to the streets to protest Canada's apparent capitulation to an American request for a treaty exception for mines in Korea. Canada subsequently thought better of the temptation to accommodate the Americans' efforts at "gutting the treaty" and fell back in line. But the Oslo incident was proof too that governments are never obliged to give up their right to negotiate in the manner they see fit. NGOs may be forever, but governments are elected.

Critics such as David Lenarcic, however, express concern that NGOs had been given undue influence over government policy throughout the Ottawa Process: "Canadians might want to ask themselves if this `new, private order' makes for a government that is more attuned to their national concerns or one that has become beholden to unaccountable special interest groups".

Beholden? In an essay that actually takes issue with Lenarcic's criticisms, Max Cameron suggests that if there was evidence of government being held hostage by NGOs, then "one would have to argue that the government was somehow constrained by the NGO community... There is little evidence that Axworthy's initiative [the announcement of a treaty to be signed in a year's time in Ottawa] was due to pressure from NGOs-most of whom were as stunned by the announcement as were government officials. In fact, this was one of the few moments during the movement to ban landmines when a government official was out in front of the NGOs".

It is impossible to understand the speed at which the campaign travelled without an appreciation of the role of NGOs in drawing attention to the horror of mines, and in encouraging the writing of letters to government leaders. The result was that what was an uncontroversial weapon a few years earlier, came to be something that ninety-five per cent of Canadians polled wanted banned. For this reason, it is bizarre that the article by American ICBL leaders Jodie Williams and Stephen Goose, "The International Campaign to Ban Landmines", makes no mention of the Canadian NGO campaign and its role in influencing Foreign Affairs to take the leap of faith. This failing is also found in the critique by Larrinaga and Sjolander, "(Re)presenting Landmines from Protector to Enemy", which astoundingly argues that NGOs capitulated to the state when they joined the Ottawa Process, and in that by Crosby and Beier, who concede that the treaty success may have won reforms, but it did not transform Canada's foreign policy in the direction of "human security".

Max Cameron and Brian Tomlin, both editors of the anthology, show the benefit of having made contact with at least some of the NGO players involved in the Ottawa Process negotiations. Tomlin, for instance, in "On a Fast Track to a Ban", provides some insightful history of the specific strategies Mines Action Canada employed that encouraged the government to act. In one case, a "personal view" that landmines should be banned, given publicly by André Ouellet (Axworthy's predecessor), was offered in response to a question from a Mines Action Canada member. While Ouellet's "unofficial" support for the abolition of anti-personnel mines appeared later in The Toronto Star, "MAC took the statement and ran with it, flooding the minister's office with congratulatory messages on Canada's new policy", and making it difficult for the Minister to backtrack. "Senior policy officials, from the Prime Minister's Office down to senior levels in Foreign Affairs", Tomlin reports, until then had "missed the issue almost completely, and in the end they had to board a train that was leaving without them".

Ann Denholm Crosby and Marshall Beier, in "Harnessing Change for Continuity", take issue with governments and NGOs promoting the influential Red Cross pamphlet, Anti-Personnel Mines: Friend or Foe?, because, they argue, it included references to lethal and non-lethal weapons systems that could be used as substitutes for mines. By appearing to endorse alternatives, treaty advocates "reinforced traditional state security practices". This meant the International Red Cross and the ICBL explicitly showed "support for the ideas and practices that allowed state militaries to use landmines in the first place. Using landmines to achieve military ends is challenged, but neither the broader practice or means nor the ends are questioned in themselves. Indeed, military casualties suffered by means other than landmines appear unproblematic".

This seems to be unfairly severe criticism. The Red Cross did not write the report. The publication, while commissioned by them, was the result of a study by military experts, and not humanitarian advocates per se. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been front and centre in the development of a substantial inventory of international humanitarian law, especially in efforts limiting the domain of warfare. Missing in the Beier and Crosby critique is recognition of the role played by that enhanced body of law in the establishment of a global demilitarizing ethic. There is little recognition of the trickle-down consequences of a new norm either (something delved into by taboo expert Richard Price in his contribution, "Compliance with International Norms and the Mines Taboo"), and in particular, the significance of the stigmatization of anti-personnel landmines on the basis of the "effect". It is difficult not to see these changes as major contributions to the "demilitarized pursuit", and positive movement in the direction of the human security agenda.

Military alternatives to landmines are still a hot topic within the ICBL as they are in Canada's NGO-government debate. Last year, the U.S. ban campaign took the controversial position of supporting Pentagon funding for landmine alternatives, presumably with the thinking that if alternatives exist (which they do), then helping the Pentagon to find their way to them will result in a U.S. signature on the treaty. That, to say the least, is not a position held by all members of the ICBL-a coalition of 1,300+ organizations of religious, peace, disarmament, development, and labour persuasion-and is a strategy opposed by Mines Action Canada.

(Retired) American Lt. General Robert Gard's contribution to To Walk Without Fear, "The Military Utility of Anti-Personnel Mines", will not please everyone either. While his essay is a defence of the principle of the limits of war as determined by humanitarian principles, he does refer to landmine alternatives available, such as non-lethal sensor devices, surveillance satellites and aircraft, area denial bomblets, and the Multiple Launch Rocket System. All bomblets, he notes, "should contain backup self-destruct mechanisms", a recommendation sure to raise the ire of NGOs fresh from the "self-destruct" debate in the landmine realm.

The Canadian government has placed the pursuit of alternatives in the mandate of its Centre for Mine Action Technology, but it remains to be seen whether that objective will eventually be removed as has been the request of Mines Action Canada. Funds for mine action, argues MAC, should not go to military alternatives, nor disproportionately to technical innovations that are unlikely to bear fruit in a reasonable time frame.

That is a point made in Don Hubert's article, "The Challenge of Humanitarian Mine Clearance": "As humanitarian mine clearance is conducted primarily by indigenous demining personnel, appropriate technologies must be transferable to severely mine-affected countries with extremely limited resources and minimal infrastructure". Not only must limited funds be channeled with some care, but "lives depend on resources not being diverted from urgently needed humanitarian mine action to clear low-priority land simply to comply with the treaty".

The immediate needs of mined communities are pressing, and whether these priorities are addressed or not will yet signify the sincerity of the landmines treaty effort. The Ottawa Process to the landmine Convention has been a fast-track diplomatic approach to a problem that has no quick fix. All the cards may not be in, but the diplomatic effort has been feverish, in many ways unprecedented, and this seems to have impressed even the doubters. "Land mines might (and perhaps should) one day be a dispensable weapon", concedes Lenarcic. "Canada has done yeoman's work in galvanizing support for an eminently worthy cause...There is nothing wrong, and much to applaud, about being on the side of angels".

Not everyone, however, has been afforded the luxury of waiting for that day. 

Robin Collins, a resident of Ottawa, is co-chair of Mines Action Canada and represents the United Nations Association in Canada on MAC's steering committee. He is a long-time volunteer and occasional reviewer for several peace, disarmament, and related organizations. The views expressed in this review are his own.


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