Winning an international campaign – the arms trade treaty

Published: 29th January 2012 by Claire Hickson. Tagged in:

This photo captures the moment in December 2006 when the overwhelming majority of UN member states voted to begin the process of negotiating an international arms trade treaty (ATT).

You can imagine the delight this brought to the many campaigners – including myself – who had worked so hard for years for a treaty that would, for the first time, impose global standards on the international arms trade.

So, how did we do it? How do you mount a successful international campaign aimed at persuading so many governments to support your cause – particularly when you have limited resources?

In fact, organising this kind of campaign is much the same as organising any other. There are never any guarantees of success, but you can improve your chances if you:

Understand the challenge: Base everything you do around a clear understanding of your audience, whether they support you and what will either change their minds or encourage them to act. You also need to understand how the processes (e.g. UN votes) really work. Finding all of this out is a vital part of planning your campaign. In the case of the ATT, we mapped out and constantly reviewed where individual countries stood.

Coalition and coordination: It was only possible to understand and influence the views of so many governments by bringing together a coalition of campaigners from across the world. Huge effort went into coordinating the action of all these partners.

Find champions and work with them: No matter how organised you are, sometimes you simply haven’t got the clout or capacity to achieve your goal alone. Finding sympathetic and more powerful partners can make all the difference. In the case of the ATT, there were a small number of governments who championed the ATT. They sponsored the UN resolution and their ministers and officials lobbied other governments to agree.

Persistence: Negotiating a new treaty takes a long time. The process of negotiating the detail of an ATT will only begin later in 2012. Success often takes time and there can be many peaks and troughs along the way, but persistence can pay off – as the ATT campaign will hopefully demonstrate later this year.