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Denise Garcia, Disarmament Diplomacy and Human Security: Regimes, Norms and Moral Progress in International Relations (New York: Routledge, 2012), 231 pp.

Reviewed by Miguel de Corral (Miguel de Corral is a Junior Professional Associate at the World Bank Group. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this publication are those of the author and should not be attributed in any manner to The World Bank Group, its Board of Executive Directors, or the governments they represent.)

International security has changed dramatically. This is the central concept that Dr. Denise Garcia discusses in her 2011 book Disarmament Diplomacy and Human Security: Regimes, Norms and Moral Progress in International Relations. Gone are the days when progress in international relations was dependent solely on the national security interests of a few powerful states. Garcia effectively describes how since the end of the Cold War, moral calculations have become a significant reason why international relations progress and international law evolves. She persuasively makes the case that achieving greater human security – a broad concept involving human rights, individual safety, and development – is now a principle aim for states in the international system (p. 185).

Furthermore, international relations no longer is the protected theoretical fiefdom of states and instead can be shaped by the interests of non-state groups and civil society. This radical transition from a state-centric international system, to one in which the state has to take into account the influential voices of NGOs, advocacy groups, and non-state actors, has transformed international law and given space for the emergence of new norms. As Garcia argues, disarmament diplomacy epitomizes this historic change.

In the midst of the Cold War, disarmament treaties emanated exclusively from state interests and civil society was often excluded from participating in negotiations. In the last twenty years, however, civil society and non-state groups have been critical to successful disarmament efforts. Garcia convincingly argues this with three thorough case studies: the Arms Trade Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, and the progress made to regulate small arms and reduce armed violence.

In the case of cluster munitions, Garcia builds upon the work of John Borrie’s Unacceptable Harm: A History of How the Treaty to Ban Cluster Munitions Was Won (2009), and describes how an entire class of weapons which were seen as vital in national armaments, was banned through the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). A multitude of NGOs began the advocacy for this seemingly herculean effort. Many of these initial organizations had participated in the Ottawa process of the 1990s, which culminated with the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, and then formed the Cluster Munition Coalition in 2003. This group effectively argued that by applying the universally agreed-to tenets of the Geneva Conventions, the military utility of cluster munitions would be superseded by their obvious negative humanitarian impact. By making this moral argument on the basis of international humanitarian law (IHL), the Coalition was able to rally states such as Norway and Ireland to champion the cause. Only five years after the Coalition was formed, the CCM was signed in Dublin and entered into force in 2010.


Bosnia and Herzegovina, October 2008
(attribution: Cluster Munition Coalition)

Garcia makes the argument that moral considerations have increasingly become part of the disarmament equation. Furthermore, she counters realist views that states only care about their national security interests, by arguing, through a constructivist theoretical lens, that states in fact care about their reputation in the international community. As evidence, Garcia points to the fact Russia and Georgia removed cluster munition remnants in their 2008 war, so as to not be seen as deviating from recognized international norms. Furthermore, while the United States is not party to the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, it has not placed or developed new landmines since 1997 as landmine use has been stigmatized in international relations. The recent crisis in Syria regarding the use of chemical weapons is testament to the power of norms in international relations. The universal norm created by the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force in 1997, has been cited by policy makers to advance national and human security interests. Although the Syrian crisis began after the publication of Disarmament and Human Security, this book provides clear reasons and examples for why norms have become so important in international relations in the last two decades.

In essence, Garcia argues that “disarmament diplomacy is a sure way to achieve moral progress in international relations” (p. 191), with progress being defined as the build-up of regimes and norms that advance human security interests. While other authors, such as Adler and Crawford (Progress in Post-War International Relations, 1991), first expressed such beliefs regarding the changing nature of international security, few scholars have examined the future of international law and norms so astutely.

Garcia’s writing on the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) is a prime example. At the time of publication, the ATT still was being negotiated. The view is categorically expressed, however, that due to the aforementioned trends in disarmament diplomacy, the ATT would ultimately be agreed upon. She describes the impressive rise in political support for such a treaty, as it was only in 2003 that the Control Arms campaign, a global civil society campaign to regulate the arms trade, was created. In the early stages, the campaign only was able to garner the support of five countries – Cambodia, Costa Rica, Finland, Iceland and Mali. Three years later, 153 states supported a treaty, and in 2010 both the United States and Israel joined the overwhelming majority of states in calling for a treaty to regulate the global arms trade (p. 4). The adoption of the ATT in the United Nations General Assembly in April 2013 was a feat many considered out of the realm of possibility just ten years prior.

General Assembly Approves Global Arms Trade Treaty
(attribution: UN Photo, Devra Berkowitz)

Ultimately the nature of security has changed. While in the post-World War Two era, the global disarmament and arms control agenda was determined almost exclusively by the US and USSR, along with their respective allies, new disarmament treaties are the result of intense lobbying, knowledge sharing and engagement from civil society, media, and influential non-state actors who, in conjunction with a wider array of states, help to shape (and in some cases, to define) international norms and regimes. Today, states make strategic decisions based on weighing both IHL and international human rights law, along with their core national security interests. Furthermore, traditional forums are breaking down. While consensus-based bodies were the norm until the end of the Cold War, the Ottawa and Oslo processes have demonstrated that a new era of like-minded and activist diplomatic efforts is taking root.

In sum, Garcia’s book is an excellent guide on this historic shift in security, and should be consulted by scholars, students and practitioners alike. Security today is understood as a broad concept that is intertwined with development, as demonstrated in contemporary discussions of the post-2015 development agenda. International organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, and the World Bank have recognized that these two concepts are inextricably linked. Security cannot merely reflect the idea of physical state security that predominated in the aftermath of the Second World War. Instead, security now must encompass individual safety and needs. Thus, as Garcia claims, progress in international relations will be made only when and if human development is at the core of the rationale for new international norms, regimes and laws. Studying the theoretical roots of human security, and analyzing the concept through a topic as dynamic and fascinating as disarmament, is indispensable to acquiring a modern understanding of international relations. For this reason Disarmament Diplomacy and Human Security is essential in any scholarly discussion on the paradigmatic shift in international security.


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