David with Goliath

Article excerpt

International Cooperation and the Campaign to Ban Landmines

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was formally launched by six nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in October 1992. It galvanized world opinion against anti-personnel landmines to such a degree that within five years a clear and simple ban treaty had been negotiated. Signed by 122 nations in December 1997, the treaty became binding international law more quickly than any other such agreement in history. The treaty has, for the first time, comprehensively prohibited a widely used conventional weapon.

In the late 1980s, a number of NGOs began to recognize that the tens of millions of landmines contaminating dozens of countries around the world posed a humanitarian crisis. Human-rights organizations, children's advocacy groups, development and refugee organizations, and medical and humanitarian relief groups were being forced to make significant adjustments in their field programs to address the impact of landmines on the people they were trying to help. It became very clear that the only way to eliminate the problem was to eliminate the weapon. The NGO community did not wait for others to take action; they recognized a critical problem and initiated an effort to address it. These organizations had expertise on a wide range of issues related to landmines, and they worked diligently to gather field-based information that supported their demands for a global ban on the weapon.

As the ICBL effort was getting off the ground, the changing global situation helped set favorable conditions for talks on the use of conventional weapons. The end of the Cold War and shifting centers of power made it possible to approach issues of conflict in ways other than simply trying to avoid a nuclear holocaust. Organizations and individuals began to look at how conflicts had actually played out during the Cold War and at what weapons and methods of warfare had produced the most significant impact on the lives of civilians. In addition, possible responses by governments to issues of global concern were no longer as constrained as during the Cold War, when the two major powers dominated diplomacy.

The process that brought about the Mine Ban Treaty has added a new dimension to diplomacy, and its success has generated hope for its wider applicability. When the Nobel Committee announced that the ICBL had been awarded the 1997 Nobel Prize for Peace, the Committee recognized not only the achievement of the ban, but also the promise of the model established by the ICBL. The Committee noted that the ICBL had been able to "express and mediate a broad range of popular commitment in an unprecedented way. With the governments of several small and medium-sized countries taking the issue up...this work has grown into a convincing example of an effective policy for peace." The Committee concluded that, "as a model for similar processes in the future, it could prove of decisive importance to the international effort for disarmament and peace." What made the ICBL so successful that it could serve as a possible model for others?

Critical to the strength of the ICBL has been its loose structure, a phenomenon that is often misunderstood. The ICBL is a true coalition made up of independent NGOs. There has never been a secretariat or central office. The NGOs that comprise the ICBL have come together with the common goal of banning landmines, but there has never been an overarching, bureaucratic structure to dictate how members should contribute to the ICBL. The ICBL deliberately did not establish a central office; each NGO had to find a way to participate in making the campaign work. This structure helped to ensure that the ICBL "belonged" to all of its members.

Members of the ICBL meet regularly to develop comprehensive strategies and plan joint actions; beyond that each NGO and national campaign has carried out its work in a manner that best fits its individual mandate, political culture, and circumstances. …