An open letter to fellow pacifists

Hello folks,

I understand all those campaigns against military small arms, even for small arms export bans, have a little bit of hope that this might curb wars in the background. I also understand that the overtly offered argument against such small arms  is that they are the killer #1 in many of those messy little wars in the Third World, especially in Africa.

Folks, the idea that without small arms = less killing doesn't work. Axes, clubs, steel bars, machetes knifes and even stones are always available in the necessary quantities when humans want to massacre each other. We saw that in Rwanda and Burundi. In Biafra there wasn't even a need for much active killing - hunger did much of the killing.

One should use one's fights wisely, spend political capital that's available wisely. The campaigns against small arms may be good for generating donations, but they won't affect the outcome of wars.

Here's another, much more promising and easier target: Autonomous killer drones/missiles that are either recoverable/reusable or have an endurance of greater than three hours* (excluding underwater munitions).

There are no such things in service yet, which makes it relatively easy to get those banned. A ban on small arms export would merely provoke a few poor countries to discover small arms manufacture and export as a profitable market niche.

Autonomous killer drones on land and in the air are freaky enough and have so much Sci Fi background that mobilising support for a ban would be guaranteed to generate much support. Moreover, such drones could overthrow the current peace-preserving military (im)balances and lead to wars because powers that are kept in check today might see an opportunity to "win" in a war.

There's hardly any success to show after 15+ years of campaigning against small arms. It's all-too obvious that even the Arms Trade Treaty won't affect the small arms supply in Africa noticeably.

Let's campaign against autonomous killer drones instead! Western popular culture is already de facto allied, and this Pandora's box is still closed. Let's weld its lock closed (as much as a treaty can do so)!


*: The definition has to exclude ordinary fire-and-forget missiles or a ban would be unrealistic.


  1. Man, after reading this I felt the need to check if this was posted first of April. I'm really surprised that such an advocate of shaping and international treaty goes just goes "its no use, ban gold plated imaginary weapons instead".

    Seriously Sven, what arguments do you have against weapons that don't exist except you think they will be easy to ban? Certainly the only peace promoting effect such a ban would have is imaginary as, again, the weapons don't exist.

    The ATT doesn't magically prevent wars, but it does offer hope that outside meddling is politically more costly and logistically more complicated. Or it places the munitions factories in the conflict zone, where they are easily bombed by which ever great player has it as their playground: again complicating the supply train of a belligerent.

    In a time where the tax havens are falling to pure bad will by other states, I don't see it as hopeless to muck up the supply chains of smaller players, which will bring down conflict tempo.

    Banning things that don't exist offers little advantage and autonomous systems are either already here (as you yourself admit) or very distant, depending on what you choose to mean.

    1. They're not distant, and I consider them a great problem for the reason mentioned in the text; they're going to overthrow the conventional deterrence regimes.
      That Pandora's box needs to be sealed in time if possible.

      The ATT hasn't been signed by nearly all countries, and it won't be. It's a sieve.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Arms control worked very well with nukes.
      Back in the 50's people were expecting dozens of nuclear-armed powers, but arms control kept it at a single digit.

  2. Autonomous drones are not different from land mines (one could call them air mines). IMO they are a big part of the future of warfare and therefore no one will ban them seriously. Moreover such drones are excellent weapons for the elites against the people of their own countries because machines will not revolt against inhuman orders. Therefore such drones will be exploited. Therefore the pandoras box will be opened anyway.

    But as always i salute your attitude ! If only a minority of people would be like you, the civilisation would have a chance.

  3. Seeing the U.S. to revert cluster munition ban and Finland developing new type of landmine only indicates that international controlling regimes for weapons transfers etc. can probably work only in the rare historical periods of almost no great powers competition. And it reminds me of all those years I spend as Amnesty International campaigner for ATT and national code of conduct for ear exports, as a volunteer. BTW, we were always seen as kind of public enemy in our country - and no, there weren´t great opportunities for fundraising even in supposedly idyllic nineties.

    1. The reports about that new steel-cased bounding mines are unclear. I suppose those mines would be remotely-controlled, which makes them IIRC legal under the band that Finland ratified (and Finland disposed of over a million landmines).

    2. It was not specifically anti-Finnish comment. - The main point there was that the norm-based international order in general used to be largely America-instilled international order (although we used to criticise American invasions etc. frequently, it was still in the context of "American moment" now gone; and for example when I alarmed media against Czech MoD selling MANPADS to private dealers, it was only interesting for them because American global policy demanded just the opposite) - and right now this order doesn´t exist anymore. Nobody is enforcing any international norms on the global stage. - BTW, the main known sponsor of second presidential campaign of Miloš Zeman of Czech Republic is leading Czech arms dealer - and our president openly mocks any international norms concerning arms trade. (There are also oficially "uknown" sponsors, most probably Russian and Chinese ones, if presidential "advisors" linked to Lukoil and CEFC represent any indications.)