• Race, Sovereignty and Free Trade: Arms Trade Regulation and Humanitarian Arms Control in the Age of Empire

      Cooper, Neil (2018-10-01)
      This paper examines arms trade regulation in the late 19th century and contributes to the literature on norms, arms regulation, humanitarian arms control and arms control as governmentality. I begin by examining the 1890 Brussels Act as an example of the first ‘Matryoshka doll’ of arms trade governance, a specific humanitarian initiative focused on regulating a particular class of weapons in a specified area. I suggest the Act represented an attempt to graft a regulatory arms trade norm onto an established anti-slavery norm and that it was more extensively implemented than has been recognised. I then locate the Act within the second Matryoshka doll of arms trade governance, the broader approach to prohibition operating in the era. In contrast to representations of the period as one of free trade in arms I demonstrate the extensive efforts to restrict the transfer of firearms to colonial subjects. Finally, I demonstrate how mechanisms of prohibition and permission constituted the practices of arms control as governmentality – the third matryoshka doll - where the concern was to define and manage which gradations of people could legitimately own, trade and use which gradations of weapons in what contexts. Overall, the paper challenges the optimistic assumptions in much of the literature on humanitarian arms control and arms trade norms. Instead, I suggest the merger of humanitarianism and arms control can reflect the influence of both good and bad norms; is not necessarily incompatible with colonialism, racism or imperial violence and can be congruent with liberal militarism.