Disarmament Insight


Monday, 17 May 2010

Building discourse on explosive weapons

We have a new website you should check out (and bookmark) at: www.ExplosiveWeapons.info.

But hold on, I hear you say, what about Disarmament Insight? Don’t worry, it’s not disappearing. But over the course of 2010 our efforts will be on this new website, with which we’ll be able to do things we can’t with dear old Blogger.

Originally set up in 2007 to accompany our work that year as part of the 'Disarmament as Humanitarian Action' project at UNIDIR, the Disarmament Insight blog you’re reading now continued a lot longer - and achieved a much wider readership - than we ever hoped. In particular, the blog's commentary became one reference for those seeking independent analysis on what was going on during the Oslo process on cluster munitions. However, the DI blog covered all sorts of other issues relevant to humanitarian disarmament work from anti-personnel mines to primate behaviour, evolutionary psychology to explosive violence.

Blog readers will have noticed that over the last few months our blogging has tapered off, with some conspicuous exceptions like Tim Caughley's thought-provoking analysis of the Conference on Disarmament’s Shannon Mandate. That's because toward the end of last year Maya and I completed our project at UNIDIR on a history of international efforts on cluster munitions, which resulted in a book I wrote entitled Unacceptable Harm: A History of How the Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions Was Won. After that marathon we both took a break from the blinking cursor for a while.

Among the things it covers, ‘Unacceptable Harm’ looks at what lessons banning cluster munitions might hold for future efforts to protect civilians from the effects of explosive weapons. This was also a topic explored over the course of the blog (just type ‘explosive weapons’ into the search box at right to get a list of posts). In that regard, I’m pleased to report that in January of this year we commenced a new project at UNIDIR on Discourse on Explosive Weapons (DEW), with the kind financial support of the Government of Norway.

The effects of explosive weapons on civilians represent a distinct humanitarian problem—one recognized by the UN Secretary-General in his 2009 report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict (S/2009/277).

Explosive weapons range from unitary bombs, cluster munitions, rockets and missiles to grenades, shells, improvised explosive devices and mines. The blast wave created by the detonation, projection of fragments, and sometimes the collapse of structures in the surrounding area is a major cause of civilian harm. Explosive weapons also cause damage to infrastructure vital to the civilian population and leave behind unexploded explosive ordnance, which poses a post-conflict health risk and negatively affects reconstruction and long-term development.

Representatives of States seem to find it difficult to engage in substantive dialogue on how to address the concerns raised by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Policy practitioners lack a common vocabulary and conceptual tools to enable them to productively frame these issues.

Meanwhile, the process leading to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions provides an example of how the international debate on a weapon category was re-framed to put the protection of civilians at its centre. In addition, a 2009 report by Landmine Action (now re-branded Action on Armed Violence) on Explosive Violence showed that States already tacitly recognize explosive weapons as a single category from a technological and ethical standpoint.

Greater focus on the humanitarian effects of explosive weapons could enhance civilian protection, support the effectiveness of legal norms applicable in armed conflict, contribute to reducing the global burden of armed violence and represent a further step toward creating the conditions for general and complete disarmament. Practical ways to achieve that is what the DEW project is exploring.

As part of the project’s work, alongside symposia and the generation of resource materials, we’ve set up the explosive weapons website. This is where news and resources related to our explosive weapons work will appear during the course of 2010 including background papers, podcasts and summary reports from our symposia. There’s even a Twitter feed… (We also have a project page at UNIDIR here.) We invite you to follow our work and avail yourself of the stuff we’re producing.

As always, thanks to all of our readers and please keep following our work!

John Borrie

Picture: 'Explosion, Abkhazia' (Simon Conway, Landmine Action).