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Civil society and disarmament: 20 years of campaigns

Jordi Armadans
Fundaciˇ per la Pau
Jordi Armadans

Jordi Armadans

The last 20 years have been fruitful and given grounds for hope in the disarmament arena. They have been fruitful because of the results obtained and hopeful in terms of the indications on how and where to move forward. This is a brief review of the campaigns for arms prohibition and control, and so that the article does not become too long, we have left out the campaigns on the rest of the armaments cycle (peace campaigns, campaigns against military research, BBVA without arms) and those against global militarism (conscientious objection, refusal to do military service, refusal to pay taxes for military purposes, schools for conscientious objection, against militarism on public holidays, anti-warship campaigns, etc.) which have also have a significant impact in Spain.

The second half of the twentieth century saw a considerable militarization of the economy, politics and international relations, which led to an arms race that span out of control. Despite some limited agreements on nuclear weapons, disarmament remained a goal rather than a tangible result. However, the end of the Cold War led to a change: while the much-desired 'peace dividend' did not come to fruition, neither governments, nor the media nor public opinion was able to ignore the new situations that were developing. First, many previously hidden conflicts became much more visible, as did serious humanitarian crises caused by armed conflicts. Second, it became apparent that the arms trade was as opaque as it was free of controls. Finally, it became obvious that nuclear weapons are not the only weapons, and in practical terms, are not the most serious cause for concern.

In this context, various international NGOs concerned at the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel mines established the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) in 1992, which was a major step forward in the classic struggle for disarmament: it did not aim for all-encompassing or unachievable objectives, but instead focused on very specific aims (prohibiting mines), while following a carefully-planned strategy and working with other actors (diplomats, governments, the press, etc.) and thinking in global terms. Thanks to the efforts of the Campaign and the governments involved, the 'Ottawa Process' was brought to a successful conclusion with the adoption of a Convention that prohibited mines. Two months later, it received the Nobel Prize Peace.

As for the arms trade, various public initiatives demanded the adoption of a European Code of Conduct based on the Common Criteria established in the early 1990s. The Code was finally adopted in 1998 and 10 years later, it became a Common Position, which is binding on EU member states.

The IANSA network was presented publicly during the II Hague Conference in 1999. It aims to focus attention on small arms which are in fact the most lethal weapons. The Control Arms Campaign (promoted by Amnesty International, IANSA and Oxfam) subsequently created a new framework for global action, which after unceasing work led to some progress. For example, on 30 October this year at the United Nations, 153 states approved a resolution calling for moves towards a Treaty regulating the arms trade, a milestone which we would have thought impossible just ten years ago.

Based on the experience of campaigns against landmines, the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) was formed in 2003. Working outside the UN, and with support from some governments, it succeeded in beginning a diplomatic process in 2007, which a year later would lead to the adoption of a Convention prohibiting cluster bombs.

Although there are various precedents in Catalonia and in Spain, the most direct is the creation of the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (C3A) in 1988, with the support of the CDDT, Fundació per la Pau and Justícia i Pau, among other organisations.

A few years later, the Spanish government made its first commitment to taking direct action in the political arena, in addition to condemnations and awareness-raising. In the mid-1990s, four NGOs (Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Intermón and Metges Sense Fronteres) answered the call of Vicenç Fisas and started the "Secrets that kill" campaign, which called for government transparency in the arms trade. The campaign helped to raise the media profile of the problem and to create a framework for a stable relationship between the political world and NGOs on the arms trade which would ultimately have an impact. Indeed, after two more campaigns (Farewell to Arms and Arms under control, the Spanish response to Control Arms) and all the work done by NGOs, groups and researchers on dissemination, condemnation and action, the Arms Trade Law was approved in 2007, and was the first legal instrument to prevent much of the lack of transparency that had surrounded the arms trade in Spain since 1986.

There has also been involvement in and monitoring of the two international disarmament processes that have been successfully concluded. In 1995, various NGOs were behind the 'End Mines' campaign, and 2008 saw the birth of the Barcelona CMC (Fundació per la Pau, Justícia i Pau and Moviment per la Pau) which with Greenpeace was responsible for most of the denunciations and impact on the government. Despite initial doubts, the Government has in fact met its obligations: it has signed and ratified the treaties and destroyed its stockpiles.

In short, the last twenty years have been important for disarmament and the breakthroughs made have been driven by civil society. This shows the capacity for change that can be generated. It is also an optimistic sign for overcoming the injustices and violence that surround us.