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Important Lessons from the Landmine Campaign

Johanna Martinsson's picture

In reviewing effective strategies in global policy advocacy campaigns, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a prime example of an effective campaign.  The campaign’s efforts in creating and advocating for the norm of a complete ban on landmines led to the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997, and the Nobel Peace Prize a few months later.  Don Hubert provides a thorough analysis of key factors that led up to the establishment of the Treaty, which reflects S. Neal MacFarlane’s argument that “the humanitarian imperative is best served not by avoiding the political process but by consciously engaging it” (p. 5).  The following are some of the factors Hubert, ICBL and MacFarlane identify as key to the campaign’s success:

  • Clear and Simple Message - the campaign’s clear and simple message and goal to ban landmines resonated with a broad audience.  To change policymakers’ perceptions and raise public awareness about the magnitude of landmines, the campaign reframed the issue from that of disarmament to a humanitarian cause.  To demonstrate the detrimental impact of landmines on human lives and development efforts on the ground, strong visuals were used at targeted events, which also provoked attention in the global media.
  • Credibility - the campaign engaged compelling spokespeople who had been directly affected by the landmines, and who would be difficult to ignore by decision makers.  Also, the late Princess Diana of Wales, a strong supporter of the campaign and the Landmine Treaty, played a crucial role in raising global attention to the issue.  Furthermore, the core members of the campaign were all experts with practical experience from different sectors on the ground, which contributed further to the credibility of the evidence produced and disseminated. 
  • Broad-Based Coalitions – the campaign was effective in forming broad-based coalitions among and between non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international organizations and governments.  While non-state actors played an instrumental role in the campaign, the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross and a few key states taking on an advocacy role, were also crucial for the campaign’s success. They specifically contributed to the legitimacy and the lobbying efforts. Hubert points out that while governmental coalitions were vital to the success of the campaign, “NGO coalitions were the key to their emergence and development”. Despite disagreements and varied opinions among a broad set of coalition members, the campaign always emerged with a consistent message.
  • Mobilizing Grassroots - the domestic campaigns played a critical role in building support for the ban on the ground.  Close ties between the global and domestic campaigns contributed to a consistent campaign model and lobbying efforts.  
  • International Context - the campaign was also successful based on external circumstances that played in favor of the campaign.  For example, the ending of the Cold War drew attention to conflict-torn societies in the international community.  Another contributing factor involved the negotiations of the Landmine Treaty, which were held outside the UN organizations and allowed for voting rather than consensual procedures, as well as inclusion of NGOs as formal participants.


The ICBL is a fascinating case and illustrates many aspects of what is being discussed on this blog. Despite the campaign’s lack of political and economic authority, it was able to mobilize political will through effective communication and the broad-based coalitions that were formed.  The campaign relied heavily on information tactics to pressure and to persuade leaders and the public to embrace the ban, mobilize grassroots, shift public opinion and build public support.  Another admirable factor, not mentioned in Hubert’s analysis, was ICBL’s ability to create an environment for coalitions to flourish, in terms of building trust, managing differences and creating incentives for members to stay committed to the cause. 

While progress has been made in reducing global production and usages of landmines, the success of the implementation of the Treaty is yet to be determined. There are currently 156 States Parties to the Treaty and 37 states remaining to sign.  A major challenge is that the majority of the signatories have yet to fulfill their obligations to clear landmines.  Thus, ICBL is continuing their efforts to monitor implementation of the Treaty and advocating for a universal ban.

Photo Credit: United Nations Photo (on Flickr)

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It is encouraging to know that effective campaigns are underway.

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