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Small power, big difference

HerCanberra Team

PhD researcher Timothea Horn is examining how ‘small powers’ can help stop the global spread of landmines, small arms and weapons of mass destruction.

Each year, almost 3,000 people around the globe – mostly children, women and the elderly – are killed or injured by landmines.

Many are maimed for life. It is a terrible toll to pay, particularly when many of these weapons are left over from conflicts as old as the Second World War. But there is good news – this rate, as tragically high as it is, represents about half of what it was only 16 years ago.

“Deaths and casualties have halved from 6,000 in 1999, to around 3,000 in 2013,” says ANU Coral Bell School of Asia-Pacific Affairs PhD scholar Timothea Horn.

A big part of the reason is the 1997 Landmines Treaty, or Ottawa Treaty, which came into effect in 1999. It bans the production, use and export of these weapons, with the end goal being their total elimination.

The treaty was driven by Canada – a relative lightweight when it comes to the game of global power politics. Nonetheless, despite major opposition from some powerful countries, through deft negotiations and diplomacy it managed to get the treaty ratified.

Today it enjoys near universal support. Of the 193 countries in the United Nations, 162 have signed up. Notable non-signatories include the United States, China and Russia – all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

“The Landmines Treaty signalled the start of two successful decades in conventional weapon treaty-making, defined by innovative diplomatic practices by small to medium countries,” says Horn.

How small players can shape the regulation of conventional weapons, even when up against large powers, is the focus of Horn’s PhD research.

“My research looks at how Australia, Canada, and New Zealand have successfully used diplomatic tools during multilateral treaty negotiations to ban landmines and cluster weapons, and stop the illegal trafficking of small weapons,” says Horn.

“And from my past life as a business consultant in Sydney and Paris, as well having completed my Master of Diplomacy here at ANU a decade after conducting masters research on Australia and the World Trade Organization at the University of Geneva, I have a long-standing interest in how Australia successfully uses its relative weight in the world through multilateral institutions.”

Now, after winning a prestigious Endeavour Postgraduate scholarship from the Australian Government, Horn will travel to Canada, New York and Geneva to focus on three case studies – Canada’s role in the 1997 Landmines Treaty; New Zealand and the 2008 Cluster Munitions Convention; and Australia and the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty.

Along the way Horn will interview cabinet ministers, senior diplomats, negotiators and civil society members; consult world-leading diplomacy and negotiations experts; sift through thousands of government archives and UN records; and work as a doctoral fellow with the Global Fellowship Initiative of the Geneva Centre for Security Policy for six months.

She will also get to witness UN negotiations on disarmament first-hand.

Past research has taught Horn not to underestimate the power of a small player’s influence on the world scene. Like the Landmines Treaty, the Cluster Munitions Convention has been extremely successful in curbing the impact of cruelly efficient weapons. It was adopted in 2008, and 113 countries now abide by its terms.

“Of the 34 countries that have historically produced cluster munitions, 17 have agreed to completely stop producing, using and trading in them.” Horn says.

With casualties in Syria’s civil war being unacceptably high over the past few years, there’s more work to be done in stopping production, she adds.

She is particularly impressed with New Zealand’s track record in arms control and disarmament.

“New Zealand has these fantastic examples of good negotiators,” she says.

“They have the scope to achieve a lot. They can push a cause and have very little to lose.”

The role of civil society and individuals in influencing governments is also of interest to her.

One such advocate was the late Princess Diana, who brought the problem of landmines to the world’s attention in 1997 when she walked through a minefield in Angola.

Less than a year later, shortly after Diana’s death, Britain joined more than 120 countries in signing up to the Ottawa Treaty.

A decade on, 80 per cent of the world’s countries have pledged not to produce, use or stockpile landmines.

“Her death created such tension in the UK that the British government was backed into a situation where they had to push for the treaty to be signed,” says Horn.

She believes the high profile Diana brought to the cause is still paying dividends today.

Others are making a difference at grassroots level. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom has advocated for universal disarmament since its inception in 1915.

“The more civil society or NGOs understand the influence that they can have on governance, the more they will achieve,” Horn says.

Ultimately, Horn hopes that, by examining how and why deadlocks and breakthroughs in tense negotiations occur, her research will help policymakers and disarmament advocates better understand how to reach successful outcomes.

“At the conclusion of my research I will have developed a detailed typology of the diplomatic tools and processes that countries like Australia, Canada and New Zealand can use in treaty negotiations,” says Horn.

“My findings will also show when and how small and medium countries can effectively leverage their relative weight to advance humanitarian goals.

“It will also have broader applicability to other fields of multilateral negotiations, including nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction,” she says.

If it means just one more life saved from the cruelty of explosive remnants of war, it will be four years well spent.

Find out more about where an ANU postgraduate qualification in diplomacy can take you.

Feature image courtesy of James Walsh


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