How the “Ottawa process” inspires a new generation of campaigners
Back in 1996, Canada took a big gamble, and it paid off. By breaking with protocol and enduring admonishments from allies, Canada forged a diplomatic way forward to ban landmines. It eventually became known as the “Ottawa process.”
In her Hiroshima Day remarks, peace campaigner Erin Hunt told viewers how this story of the Ottawa process inspires her work today with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN.
Here is an excerpt of her presentation to the Hiroshima-Nagasaki Day Coalition’s August 6, 2021 event.
One of ICAN’s videos produced in the lead up to the negotiations reminded viewers that “It takes courage to change the world.” Canada knows that cliché is true because we’ve done it before in the field of disarmament. When Canadian FM Lloyd Axworthy challenged the world in 1996 to come back to Ottawa in a year to sign a treaty banning landmines he was breaking diplomatic protocol and going so far out on a limb, he might have well been standing on a leaf. Almost every diplomat in the room was horrified and they expressed their unhappiness.
On the civil society side courage had gotten the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) to this point. Campaigners were told they was being unreasonable, unrealistic and hysterical or that they don’t understand how things really work. Faced with criticism, exasperation and outright hostility, Axworthy and Canada alongside the ICBL persisted and now over 20 years later the vast majority of the planet agrees with them, landmines have been banned, dozens of countries are completely cleared of landmines and for millions of kids stepping on the playground no longer requires courage.
ICAN and like-minded states were able to draw inspiration from the experience of the ICBL and Canada.
Banning landmines took courage because they were a commonly used weapon while nuclear disarmament takes courage because nuclear weapons are shrouded in myth. These myths tell us that nuclear weapons keep us safe, that they are essential for world order and that without them our lives are at risk. These are not facts; we have endowed nuclear weapons with abilities they don’t have. All nuclear weapons can do is destroy cities and kill civilians indiscriminately by the 1000s.
You would never hear that weaponized anthrax keeps us safe or that stockpiles of sarin are essential to world order but we have created these myths about nuclear weapons. We created these myths so of course we can destroy them but it takes a lot of courage to speak out against them.
Erin Hunt is Program Manager for Mines Action Canada. You can watch the entire ceremony, including Erin Hunt’s speech, below.