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The Landmine Ban: A Case Study in Humanitarian Advocacy
Don Hubert
Thomas J. Watson Institute for International Studies
Occasional Paper #42



This study begins by discussing a historical case similar in many ways to the landmines campaign—the banning of the dum dum bullet in the nineteenth century. It then provides a detailed account of the emergence and development of the campaign from initial attempts to restrict landmines in the 1970s, through the birth of the international nongovernmental organization campaign in the early 1990s, to the signing of the Landmines Convention in December 1997. It also provides a thorough assessment of the key factors accounting for their success and a discussion of the broader significance of the campaign.

Two broad conclusions are drawn. First, while much of the credit for the successful banning of landmines has deservedly gone to the ICBL and to NGO advocates, the success of the campaign can be explained only through an examination of three other sets of actors: the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, and key governments. Each of the four sets of actors played a distinct and indispensable role. At the same time, important circumstances completely outside the control of the campaign were also decisive, particularly the end of the Cold War and decisions by the U.S. government.

A second conclusion questions the widely perceived novelty of this initiative in humanitarian advocacy and stresses instead its similarity to earlier initiatives. Indeed, observers differ on the broader significance of the campaign. For some, it was an aberration, impossible to replicate. For others, it was a harbinger of a new diplomacy, revitalizing if not revolutionizing humanitarian politics. Stark parallels exist with the style of negotiations before World War II on humanitarian law and disarmament, particularly the 1899 Hague Convention's ban on dum dum bullets. Civil society organizations played a major role in the negotiations, and stringent provisions were pursued even though they posed a threat to universal agreement.

The study concludes with a discussion of an emerging model for humanitarian politics. The examination of the campaign to ban landmines is complemented by a brief analysis of three comparable campaigns from the 1990s: the creation of an International Criminal Court, the Optional Protocol on child soldiers, and attempts to limit the proliferation of small arms. Taken together, these experiences suggest that a model for effective humanitarian advocacy is emerging with three broad dimensions. They are the pursuit of stringent standards with widespread but not necessarily universal support; political coalition building among NGOs, states, and international organizations; and negotiating environments that allow for voting rather than consensus decisionmaking, access for NGOs, and the selection of a supportive chairperson.

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