The Adoption of International Norms:
Russian Landmines and the Conflict in Chechnya
Since the inception of the Ottawa Treaty in 1997, Russia has refused to be a signatory and has been one of the largest producers and stockpilers of Anti-Personnel (AP) landmines leading to the deaths of 2,500 people from 1997 to 2008. Russian belligerence on this matter has traditionally been attributed to a simple rejection of the international norm on landmines. However, this answer is incomplete. This paper will show that Russia does in fact share the perception that the international norm implies (landmines are immoral). However, because of the conflict with Chechnya, in terms of its perception as related to the fall of the Soviet Union and the nature of the conflict itself, Russia is unwilling to sign the Ottawa Treaty and fully embrace the norm. This result serves to reveal a larger problem in the understanding of the life of an international norm: literature on the life of a norm focuses almost entirely on the international level of analysis. However, the claim made here shows that the life of a norm cannot be understood without an examination of the state level of analysis. On the policy front, this result functions as evidence to show why certain norms, such as democracy and capitalism have met with success in their spread while other norms have not.
Introduction: In 2007, over 5,426 people1 were killed worldwide because of landmines.2 In 1997, the Ottawa Treaty entered into force with the changing of the international norm on landmines. The activists who pushed for the ban on landmines saw statistics like the above one and were appalled and wanted to bring an end to those needless deaths. To achieve this aim, these activists forwarded the perspective that landmines are morally reprehensible because of the landmines lack of bias. That is, a landmine does not care if it is a child or a soldier stepping on it, it will explode anyway. In this endeavor, the original movement to ban landmines had massive success; this is clearly evidenced by the fact that 156 states (countries) currently have signed, ratified, and abide by the terms of the Ottawa Treaty. This has lead to the creation of the international norm on landmines with the Ottawa Treaty as its symbol. But 37 states have not signed the Ottawa Treaty and legally given up their use of landmines. And of these states, the worst offender of all is Russia. In this paper it will be shown that Russia shares the perspective that the international norm implies. However, because of domestic pressures, namely the conflict in Chechnya, they are unwilling to sign the Ottawa Treaty and fully embrace the norm.
This argument has three main parts to it. First, it will be shown that Russia shares with the international community the perception of landmines as unethical by examining the Russian policy on specifically blast mines and their support for demining activities. Secondly, the connection between these two issues will be elucidated through an examination of the critical importance of landmines to the conflict in Chechnya. Finally, it will be shown through the concept of nashe that there is massive popular demand for victory in the war with Chechnya. Once that is demonstrated, it then shows that Russia shares the international perception on landmines as immoral, however, because of domestic pressures, namely the conflict in Chechnya, they are unwilling to sign the Ottawa Treaty and fully embrace the norm.
(Figure 1: Russian Mon50)
he Russian Perspective on Landmines: Under the Ottawa Treaty, which Russia has not signed, Russia would be required to give up any and all landmines that it possesses and create no more. With its 156 signing members, the Ottawa Treaty is a symbol for the international norm on landmines and as such, by not signing the treaty it would appear that Russia is not in accordance with this norm. This treaty covers two primary types of landmines: fragmentation (figure 1) and blast (figure 2). The former type of mine functions essentially as its name would imply: in essence, an individual steps on the mine causing it to explode, shooting shrapnel into any individual within a given distance around the mine. This mine can then be modified to spray the shrapnel only in a specific direction for use as defending an area without the defenders having to worry about getting hit themselves with shrapnel. Although fragmentation mines generally provide more military utility in terms of maximizing harm, blast mines are used far more often as they are cheaper and smaller and so many can be easily carried. Rather than releasing shrapnel, blast mines when stepped on create a shockwave of compressed gas that travel at very high velocities into the body of the individual who steps on o
(Figure 2: Russian PFM)
ne. Moreover, because blast mines do not necessarily kill the person who steps on them, additional soldiers are needed to evacuate those harmed.3 This more insidious type of landmine was banned by Russia in 1998, and so it would appear that even though Russia has not signed onto the symbol of the norm, they hold the perspective that the norm implies.
Under Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) Russia is not allowed to use any landmines that, among other things, are undetectable by conventional means.4 Under this law, Russia is not required to give up the use of blast mines provided, of course, that those blast mines meet the requirements under Amended Protocol II. However, in May 1998, under no obligation by international law, representatives of the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared that the Russian Federation had stopped the production of blast mines; this report was later confirmed by the Russian military.5 In 2001 and 2007, this fact was reiterated with Russian representatives stating that Russia had not produced any blast mines since 1998.6
Some would say that Russia banned blast mines as an attempt to appease the international community who at that time was pushing for the creation of the current landmine norm. However, this explanation is insufficient as the cost to the Russian government to ban these blast mines is substantial. This is because firstly, the Soviet Union used to be one of the largest exporters of landmines in the world and the blast mines that were produced there, including in modern day Russia, were the most widely used landmines throughout the world.7 For mines to be given that level of distinction there must have been lots of them made and more importantly, lots of them sold by the Soviet Union for profit. Although 90% of the armament production facilities were outside of Russia, between 1993 and 1995, the military organized the production of many new facilities to construct landmines and other armaments. Because of the success of landmine sales by the Soviet Union, it can be presumed that as Russia was producing the same type of landmines from 1993 on, they were also very successful in doing so. Therefore, when the Russians gave up their production of blast mines, they were giving up a business venture that was and had potential to become even more lucrative. Those factories that used to produce blast mines were then converted to factories designed for the destruction of landmines, another costly endeavor. Secondly, at the time of the banning of blast mines, Russia had recently signed Amended Protocol II of the CCW, which means that they would have only needed to point to that fact to appease the international community. Therefore, the theory of blast mines being banned to appease the international community is not a valid one. A better explanation for this is that Russia shares the perspective of the international community on landmines as unethical and so gave up blast mines not because of international pressure but to show their support for that perception. Additionally, blast mines are only one type of landmine, after this banning Russia still possessed many other types and so they invested over $100 million for research into alternatives to those mines.8 That would seem to be a rather sizable sum for a simple appeasement of the international society, and is a clear indication that Russia in fact supports the perspective advanced for the international community on landmines.
Although not as much as many other countries, Russia has shown strong support for demining activities abroad. As of 2001, Russia has been reported to have removed 110,000 explosive devices between Eastern Europe and parts of Central Asia.9 The UN has estimated that removal of a single landmine, including the training of personnel, and the equipment required, costs between $300 and $1000.10 This puts the estimated cost to Russia of removing those 110,000 explosive devices between $33 million and $110 million. In a report to the Russian Standing Committee, Yuri P. Osipovitch, Executive Secretary of the Federal Working Group for Mine Action stated that this much demining takes place on a yearly basis.11 This is a significant sum for a state that in 1998, three years ago, underwent a major economic crisis where the price of the ruble dropped 80%,12 and suffered major blows to its financial markets.13 The reason for this increase in participation in international mine clearance is because, according to a number of Russian officials, the Russian government wants to address the “compelling humanitarian issues” that come as a result of mine contamination.14 These demining actions have continued since 2001 as well with a 2008 agreement with Serbia giving $35 million from Russia for demining operations.15 These demining operations have included more than just Russia’s neighborhood as in 2009 Russia announced $6 million for demining operations to be carried out in Nicaragua.16 Therefore, as evidenced by their support for demining abroad while undergoing major financial hardships and the ending of blast mine production, Russia shares the international perspective of landmines as unethical. In the following section it will be shown that those landmines are key to success in Chechnya.
The Critical Importance of Landmines: In 2005, 5,695 people lost their lives in Chechnya due to landmines; this was the highest casualty rate for landmines in the world.17 Landmines have had massive use throughout the entire conflict with Chechnya with one Russian official reporting from the start of the First Chechen War in 1994 to 2001, Russian forces had sown over 500,000 landmines.18 These landmines are an integral part of countermobility operations – that is, military operations designed to limit the maneuverability of enemy combatants.19 With respect to Chechnya, these landmines serve two main purposes: tactical barriers and area denial. First, as a tactical barrier, landmines can and have served as an extra layer of protection against offensive military maneuvers directed towards critical locations such as military bases, factories, or power plants. 20 Because of the nature of landmines, they are an ideal addition to any fortification as it is not easy to remove landmines and if one is triggered it will reduce the strength of the attacking force. Secondly, in their struggle for independence, the Chechens have often engaged in suicide terrorism as a method of attack against Russia.21 These landmines can work to force a single point of entry for many buildings and through various checkpoints so that any Chechen who decides to carry out such a terrorist attack is forced to go to those entry points to do any damage. Finally, once Russian forces have severed communications in a region, landmines have been used to make sure they stay severed as placing a minefield in the location where those communication lines passed through serves as a strong deterrent to any individual who might be inclined to repair them; this is part of their area denial role.22 This allows the Russians to then cut off the critical communication structures between the dispersed Chechen forces and thus isolate them from one another. Thus, landmines have a very high military utility in the case of the conflict with Chechnya.
In June of 2009, a Russian official with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that Russia believes in the goal of a mine-free world but any provision that restricts the use of landmines must take into account national security considerations.23 This is not the first time that such a statement has been issued: in 200224, in 200325, and in 200526 Russian officials have issued statements conveying virtually the same message. For any observer studying Russian landmine policy this begs the question: what national security considerations are they referring to? Throughout this entire period from 2002 to 2009 (except 2009, which will be addressed in the next paragraph) the Chechen War has been in full swing, however, there have been no other conflicts that Russia was involved in on nearly the same scale. Therefore, it follows that the “national security considerations” that those officials are referring to must be the conflict in Chechnya as all of the other conflicts that Russia participated in were very small and so it would be unreasonable that Russia would formulate its national policy based on them. This demonstrates that the key reason for Russia’s refusal to sign the Ottawa Treaty comes from the perceived military utility of landmines in Chechnya. This then with the preceding discussion of landmines military utility shows that landmines are and are perceived to be very important to the war in Chechnya.
A possible criticism of this conclusion is that the main conflict with Chechnya has largely ended as Russia has pulled out many of its troops. And therefore, this analysis should be irrelevant as the war is done and so Russia should be ready to sign onto the Ottawa Treaty. Although this is a reasonable conclusion that follows from the analysis thus far, it presumes that Russia sees a very low probability of the conflict resuming. This is firstly because, the most recent war in Chechnya was fought after an earlier one had already ended for a few years. And so it is reasonable to presume that if a third war is to start up it may not necessarily be soon. Secondly, on March 29th of 2010, a bomb went off in a Moscow subway station that killed almost 40 people; an attack allegedly carried out by Chechen terrorists.27 This means that while Russian troops may have a diminished presence in Chechnya, for many Chechens, this conflict is not over. In the event of another war breaking out, Russia will not want to have its hands tied and be unable to utilize a weapon that was used on a massive scale in the first two conflicts. Therefore, this analysis is just as valid now after the war has finished as when it was in full motion.
Nashe – “One of Ours”: During the early 90s after the fall of the Soviet Union, massive amounts of Western consumer products flowed into the newly opened markets and to the populace of Russia. The most popular products to buy in Russia were those originating in the West – Snickers, Sylvester Stallone movies, and others. Throughout all levels of society, Russians were in love with everything Western. But by the time Putin took the reins of governance, that love of the West had faded and a new, extremely successful “product” had emerged: the Soviet Union. Now the new “in” thing to do was to dress in “USSR” T-Shirts, have kerchiefed babushkas star in the latest music videos, or play Soviet dissident ballads at the most popular St. Petersburg clubs.28 Epitomizing this is the massively successful “Buy Russian” campaign where food producers and store clerks were encouraged to label whether food was grown domestically or not.29 This huge shift from worshipping of everything Western to, borrowing from the Chinese, “Westernization with Russian characteristics” is captured in that Russian word nashe or “ours”, – if it was clearly Russian, people loved it. Before long the word nashe became the trademark of this movement, it was on everyone’s tongue: ‘ours’, Russia for the Russians.30
The spread of nashe involved much more than simply a change in materialist tastes, wedded with the materialist aspects was a desire for the resurgence of past Russian strength under the Soviet Union.31 Russians needed only to look back little more than a decade to see a time when Russia was one of the most powerful and influential states in the world, and some in Russia would argue the single most powerful and influential state. But during the 90s and the start of the 21st century, that power and influence was gone; Russia has been brought to its knees before the Western world. This desire for a recreation of Soviet power has permeated from the public into the top most echelons of political control in Russia:32 not long after being elected, Putin gave the Soviet red flag back to the army; “it was time, he said, to be proud again”.33
This nationalism and the corresponding concept of nashe holds a lot of influence when it comes to the war in Chechnya for the war resonates on many different levels with nashe. First, the nationalist struggle of the Chechens evokes historical memories for many Russians of the fall of the Soviet Union. Secondly, if Russia were to lose to the Chechens, they would appear extraordinarily weak and subject to coercion on the international stage. These two factors have intertwined to create a massive public demand for victory in Chechnya at any cost.
The war in Chechnya was and is predominately a secessionist one: the Chechens want to form an independent state that is not part of Russia.34 The problem for many Russians is that this sort of event has happened before and things did not fair so well then. When Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his policies of glasnost and perestroika, he did not consider the effect that they would have on the various ethnic and religious minorities in the Soviet Union. These different groupings began agitating for independence from the Soviet Union, wanting to form their own states where they could tailor policies to the needs of desires of their own people. These agitations were more than simply talk, protests quickly broke out by the Armenians living in Azerbaijan and others, and active resistance in Lithuania, Ukraine, and Georgia to Soviet control. Before long, Georgia was undergoing a revolution and there were massive riots in Azerbaijan and other places in the Soviet Union. In Eastern Europe, things went much more peacefully (except in Romania)35 and soon communism fell there with the distaste of the Eastern Europeans of communism and a desire to have their own system. Although these events did not completely finish off the Soviet Union, they were responsible for the vast majority of the ungluing of the system which made it susceptible to the final problems that would finish off the USSR. What this demonstrates is that because the vast majority of Russians were alive and experienced the fall of the Soviet Union, a Chechen victory for many becomes framed as a symbol of the fall of the Soviet Union.36 And because nashe has become so important to many Russians, that Chechen victory must not be allowed to happen.
An inherent part of the Russian people’s desire to return to the Soviet past is that the Russian people desire to be again in a position of strength on the international stage. As discussed previously, not all that long ago Russia, through the Soviet Union, was one of, if not the, most powerful and influential states in the world. The Chechens main strategy in their nationalistic struggle has been the attempt to coerce Russia into granting sovereignty for Chechnya through terrorism.37 As such, if Russia were to concede the war in Chechnya and give up their fight against the Chechens, Russia would be seen as giving in to the Chechen’s coercion. Naturally, in such an instance, Russia would appear incredibly weak for not being able to subdue a territory that constitutes less than a tenth of a percent of the total area of Russia. Giving in to such a small territory using such despicable would run completely contrary to nashe and thus leading to a huge demand for victory in Chechnya.
Conclusion: It has just been shown that Russia shares the perspective that the international norm on landmines implies. However, because of domestic pressures, namely the conflict in Chechnya, they are unwilling to sign the Ottawa Treaty and fully embrace the norm. First, it was shown that Russia through demining activities and the ending of blast mine creation hold the perception of landmines as unethical weapons. Then it was shown that landmines were perceived to be incredibly important to the war in Chechnya. Finally, it was shown that through the concept of nashe Russian nationalism is very high and that nationalism is pushing towards a victory in Chechnya and so the claim was shown to be true. If one is attempting to understand intentional politics, it is important to understand domestic politics as well.
Theoretical Implications: This argument functions as evidence to a much larger and more abstract claim: domestic politics and values, especially when secessionist struggles are involved, are key to full adoption of an international norm. This works to reveal, among other things, a major problem in theories relating to the life cycle of a norm. Theories on the life cycle of a norm are almost entirely focused on the international level of analysis during the adoption phase: states pressure other states to adopt the new international norms through mechanisms such as naming and shaming.38 This focus on the international level completely ignores the state level of analysis as it does not account or plan for situations such as Russia’s domestic need for a less than full adoption of the international norm. Additionally, this has implications on the most general of levels: when attempting to explain international politics, one discounts domestic politics at the expense of having a well working and complete theory.
Policy Implications: Because of this necessity in accounting for domestic politics when explaining the life cycle of a norm, there are also implications for attempts to advance new norms. Particularly, this explains the success that norms such as democracy and capitalism (both loosely defined) have had in spreading throughout the international sphere. These two norms were aided in their spread by policies that were able to manifest benefits to the adoption of the norm to counteract the domestic opposition to the norm adoption. This is exemplified by the EU: membership in the EU gives massive benefits, especially economic, to states that join; however, to join the EU states must adopt, at least in part, the norms of capitalism and democracy. Thus, through granting of additional benefits to domestic polities, the norms of democracy and capitalism have spread. And so naturally it follows that if a state hopes to spread their norm throughout the international sphere, they are best served by providing additional benefits to those states that they want to adopt said norm.