Academic journal article Global Governance

Siting Indiscriminacy: India and the Global Movement to Ban Landmines

Academic journal article Global Governance

Siting Indiscriminacy: India and the Global Movement to Ban Landmines

Article excerpt

In the mid-1990s, a unique confluence of activists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and governments, unprecedented in the history of arms control, took shape as an international movement to ban antipersonnel (AP) landmines. Widely hailed as a triumph of an emergent global civil society, this hitherto unlikely coalition managed in only a few years to first stigmatize AP landmines as a humanitarian scourge and, ultimately, to parlay this re-presentation into a broadly respected ban backed with the force of an international treaty. (1) Since then, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)--a coordinating body through which the mobilizations of NGOs and activists are focused--has continued to work both together with and independent of interested governments to extend the ban and to monitor its implementation. The successes and continuing resonance of the campaign owe much to the generation and propagation of a taboo regarding AP landmines. At the beginning of the 1990s, even Canada, eventually amon g the most strident advocates of a ban, was dismissive of the suggestion that militaries would, should, or could give up their AP landmine stockpiles. But less than a decade later, these once unexceptional weapons, in widespread use for more than a century as "force multipliers" in war and as "sentinels" or deterrents in peacetime, had become so thoroughly stigmatized that states that had declined to accede to the Ottawa Convention were increasingly defensive about their intransigence. Though neither the weapons themselves nor their more insidious effects had changed appreciably, they had been reconstructed in the public mind as a humanitarian scourge. This discursive watershed, perhaps even more so than the key players themselves, is central to a full understanding of the successes of the movement to ban AP landmines, its limitations, and some uncomfortable implications of its rhetorical devices.

Pivotal to the rendering of an AP landmine taboo was the characterization of mines as indiscriminate--that is, the nature of the weapon, designed to lie in wait until triggered by an unsuspecting victim, is such that civilian populations are as vulnerable as combatants, and often more so. By itself this is ample reason to think that the world would be better off without AP landmines. The pursuit of a universal ban, however, left no room for deference to context; the mines themselves were cast as the site(s) of indiscriminacy in case it should otherwise be imagined that they might be employed without ill effect in some instances. To foreclose the possibility of any such notion, AP landmines have been rendered as a humanitarian scourge in an objective sense independent of context. This powerful rhetorical move precludes thinking about ways in which the indiscriminacy attributed to them might be attenuated in order to preserve some measure of legitimacy regarding their use. It thus lends well to the view that a universal ban is requisite, but it accomplishes this by way of an anthropomorphic turn that, as we shall see, imbues AP landmines with agency.

The academic literature on the movement to ban AP landmines is limited. There has been one edited volume (2) and a handful of journal articles. (3) Scattered mentions can also be found embedded in works dealing principally with other issues. In what follows, I hope to stimulate further reflection on the siting of indiscriminacy in rhetorical efforts to extend and, conversely, to resist the AP landmines ban. I consider the issue of agency as brought into focus in assessing whether India might be bound under customary international law to accede to the ban. This is a good vantage point inasmuch as the idea of a binding customary norm turns vitally on the degree to which the central validity claims of the AP landmines taboo can be said to have been accepted by India. Moreover, this case is instructive in light of India's own rhetorical machinations, by dint of which it has sought to have restrictions imposed on the use of AP landmines while preserving certain exemptions for itself - a justificatory feat made wo rkable only by a repositioning of the site of agency. …

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