Chapter 6

Citizen Activism and the

Public Interest Lobby

This section describes the principal anti-arms trade campaigns on going and some lessons derived from those efforts. It also highlights effective outreach and lobby tactics employed by citizen groups across the country.

Challenging the interests of the arms industry, foreign lobbyists and their allies at the Commerce, Defense and State Departments is the peace lobby-composed principally of religious, disarmament and human rights organizations and affiliated (or unaffiliated) individuals. How do these groups, most of them headquartered in Washington, DC, work for restraint and oversight of US arms trafficking? How do they relate to people across the country concerned about government-sanctioned weapons sales? Following are summaries of the principal current arms trade control campaigns, with information on how to get plugged in.


Goals and Campaigns

Despite many hurdles, a great deal of progress has been made in recent years in curbing some of the most dangerous aspects of US arms trading. Of course more remains to be done; that is why we wrote this book! But it is important to acknowledge and reflect on the victories and achievements.

Establishing a Code of Conduct A primary focus of much work by US activists and more than 100 national organizations since the mid-1990s has been the establishment of a Code of Conduct for US arms exporting. Pending Code of Conduct legislation would establish eligibility criteria for countries to be able to receive arms from America. Under these criteria, the importing state must: 1) have a democratic form of government; 2) respect the human rights of its citizens; 3) have a policy and practice of non-aggression against other states; and 4) participate in the UN Register of Conventional Arms.

The first three of these requirements are primary foreign policy tenets of past and present US administrations. Nevertheless, according to analysis by the group Demilitarization for Democracy, 85 percent of US arms transfers during 1990-95 went to states which do not meet these criteria. Under the Code of Conduct, the executive branch could still export arms to governments that fail to meet these conditions, if the President certifies that doing so is a matter of US national security. Although this measure would not end all objectionable arms transfers, it would raise the level of scrutiny on the most risky exports. Moreover, the President's annual certification of states which meet the Code's conditions, and his requests for waivers, would provide a hook for organizing outreach, media and legislative work.

Public interest groups drafted the concept for this legislation in 1993, began developing a grassroots base of support for it and conducted extensive media and other educational work promoting it. They found legislative sponsors in Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who have formed an unlikely liberal-conservative leadership team for the legislation in the House. In the Senate, John Kerry (D-MA) has assumed the mantle of leadership for the Code after the retirement of Mark Hatfield (R-OR) in 1996.

The campaign made great strides during 1997, when the House of Representatives accepted the Code of Conduct as an amendment to the fiscal year 1998-99 State Department authorization bill. (The Senate version of the State Department bill did not include the Code.) Unfortunately, after a considerable delay (due to unrelated disputes in the bills) the House-Senate conference committee dropped the Code from the bill in March 1998. Efforts to append the measure to a suitable piece of legislation continue in 1998 but are unlikely to succeed with congressional elections looming. The bill will probably be reintroduced into the next Congress in early 1999.

During 1997-98, the campaign continued to garner citizen and media support from across the country. The New York Times endorsed the Code in a June 1997 editorial, and Amnesty International USA became a strong advocate. The worldwide Amnesty movement has made the establishment of a human-rights centered arms trade Code of Conduct a priority for its USA campaign during 1998-99.

Efforts to develop responsible arms policies advanced internationally, as well. Universality is critical in combating the "if we don't sell, someone else will" excuse for inaction. In May 1997, 15 Nobel Peace laureates-led by Oscar Arias, the former President of Costa Rica-kicked off a global Code of Conduct campaign. The laureates are working with a core group of internationally-focused non-governmental organizations to advance their initiative in importing, as well as exporting, countries. The measure might eventually be introduced into the United Nations. Additionally, a campaign to enact a Code of Conduct for arms transfers through the European Union received a boost when the recently-elected British Labour Party government, which had declared its support for an ethical dimension to British foreign policy, made good on its pledge to introduce and secure agreement by the EU for a Code of Conduct on arms transfers. In late May 1998 all 15 EU member states accepted a common set of standards for weapons exports, which includes agreement to "take into account respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the recipient country" and to "not issue an export licence if there is a clearly identifiable risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression."

The Clinton administration, the US arms industry and the media are increasingly aware of the Code of Conduct and are taking it seriously. The Aerospace Industries Association has labeled the Code as one of its principal targets for defeat, and the administration continues to oppose passage of the Code (while claiming to support all four of its conditions). Many congressional staffers are now familiar with the bill, an advance from the not-so-distant past when every phone call to Capitol Hill required a five minute preliminary explanation of the measure. Supporters have their work cut out, since such a sweeping reform of overall US arms export policy challenges many vested interests. But the campaign has made steady progress over the past four years.

The Arms Transfers Working Group

The primary alliance in the United States working for transparency and restraint in the arms trade is the Arms Transfers Working Group (ATWG). A coalition of several dozen, primarily Washington, DC-based organizations, ATWG was formed in the aftermath of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Motivated by concerns about the humanitarian, economic and security implications of arms trafficking, this biweekly forum serves as a clearinghouse of information and a point of contact for strategy and coordination among the diverse member groups.

ATWG works to reform US arms export policies principally by educating congressional and executive branch personnel through letters, meetings and deliveries of supportive materials. Several membership organizations participating in ATWG focus on outreach, education and activation of the public. ATWG's main goals are establishment of a Code of Conduct for US arms exporting, signing and ratification by the US government of the treaty banning production, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel landmines, and elimination of subsidies for US arms. Many of the US-based research groups listed in chapter 7 participate in ATWG (see p. 115). In addition, religious organizations-like the US Catholic Bishops Conference, the Lutheran Church, the Mennonite Central Committee, the Presbyterian Church USA-and women's groups, such as Women's Action for New Directions and Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, take part in this alliance. If you are a member of a Washington-based organization which opposes US arms trafficking, ask the leadership of that group whether it participates in ATWG. For information on the time and location of the next ATWG meeting, or if your national or local organization would like to endorse the Code of Conduct campaign, contact the current co-chairs of the alliance, Tamar Gabelnick at the Federation of American Scientists (phone 202/675-1018 or e-mail [email protected]) and/or Fran Teplitz at Peace Action (phone 202/862-9740 ext. 3004 or e-mail [email protected]) For more information about ATWG and its activities in general, check out

Banning Landmines The campaign against anti-personnel landmines provides a phenomenal case study in how citizen activism can curb arms production and transfers. Beginning in 1991 with Congress passing a unilateral, one-year ban on landmine exports from the United States, the effort culminated in Ottawa, Canada in early December 1997 with more than 120 national governments signing a treaty barring production, stockpiling, transfer and use of this widespread weapon and indiscriminate killer. Though the Clinton administration objected to this treaty and has not yet signed it, the US Campaign to Ban Landmines has successfully reshaped US policy on this issue over the past four years.

From idea to treaty in six years-how was the landmines campaign able to be so successful so quickly? First, and probably most important, the campaign had excellent leadership which continually worked to broaden the base of support and to keep supporters well informed and on message through newsletters, e-mail, the web, annual meetings of the campaign and a well-orchestrated campaign presence at governmental meetings. The message has consistently been that the humanitarian impact of mines outweighs any possible national security or military benefit. The US campaign has also benefitted from the extremely dedicated and able legislative leadership of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Lane Evans (D-IL) and their staff members. The campaign leadership did a fantastic job of identifying opportunities to advance the campaigns goals and alerting to its global network of supporters.


 The ICBL prepared many slick campaign materials, including buttons, posters, brochures, bumper stickers and postcards.


The effort was aided by the fact that a global ban on anti-personnel landmines is a discrete, ambitious but achievable goal. Landmines are small business relative to other segments of the arms industry. There is no big-money lobby opposing the effort (although the US Army opposes it). In addition, landmines directly and negatively impact the work of refugge, development, veterans, human rights, religious and medical organizations, creating very fertile ground for development of a broad-based coalition. Working outside of but parallel to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, several UN agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross have brought tremendous credibility, clout and resources to bear on the issue.

The anti-landmine cause has many extremely effective spokespersons-not only the campaign leaders, but also in de-miners, mine victims and medical staff working with victims. People directly affected by mines make compelling speakers who are not easily dismissed by politicians, diplomats and the military. In addition, the campaign has attracted many high-profile supporters-most notably Princess Diana. The movement also used visual media very effectively. Early on, several traveling photograph exhibits and videos highlighted the devastating physical, psychological, social and economic impact of landmines. National campaigns used these materials to educate their public and policymakers. More recently, the Red Cross and the international campaign have run commercials on international and US network TV to reach a much broader audience.

At the outset of the campaign, member organizations produced extremely solid analyses to support the case for a mine ban and refute specific arguments raised by ban opponents. Over a dozen books have been published (most of them within the first few years of the campaign) on the technology of mines, the socioeconomic costs of mines in different countries, and the limited military utility of mines and their negative impact on US soldiers in past wars.

US Campaign to Ban Landmines

In 1992, a handful of non-governmental organizations banded together to establish an International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Several of these groups-the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), Handicap International and Medico International-were building prosthetic limbs for war victims in Cambodia and Vietnam. They literally could not keep up with demand due to the heavy loss of limbs from landmines, so they decided to attack the problem at its source.

VVAF hired an extremely savvy organizer, Jody Williams, to turn the idea of a campaign into reality. In the ensuing years the campaign has grown into one of the largest, most energetic and sophisticated grass-roots efforts in the world, with over 1,000 organizations in more than 60 countries joining. National mine ban campaigns have been established in dozens of countries-including a US Campaign-and yearly strategy meetings of these groups are held to advance the goal of a global ban. In fitting recognition of its organizing prowess, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1997-just days after the international treaty banning anti-personnel ladmines was opened for signature in Ottawa.

Holly Burkhalter, of Physicians for Human Rights, and Joe Volk, of the Friends Committee on National Legislation, currently serve as co-chairs of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines. The Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation-a key participant in the international and US campaigns-hosts the web site and hires administrative staff to support the US Campaign. Contact the coordinator of the US Campaign at VVAF, 2001 S Street, NW, Suite 740, Washington, DC 20009; phone 202/483-9222; fax 202/483-9312;


Outlawing Other Categories of Weapons Besides landmines, governments have singled out only a few other types of conventional weapons and restricted or banned their trade. US-led efforts to curb ballistic and cruise missile proliferation have largely succeeded in ending sales of these arms. Exports and indigenous development of missiles are down significantly from a decade ago, when the Reagan administration pressed its six closest economic allies to establish the Missile Technology Control Regime. Now 28 governments have formally joined the effort, and many others adhere to its export control guidelines. In decades past, transfers of ballistic missiles were as routine as sales of bombers are today. Now, however, if a country is suspected of transferring a ballistic missile or its components, the story is front page news. (Ironically, this Reagan-sponsored export control regime is currently under attack from the right-wing-in particular from proponents of missile defense programs, who need to cite a threat from developing countries missiles in order to justify continued expenditure of billions of dollars annually on Star Wars. They claim that the MTCR is unacceptably porous and weak.)

During the review conference in 1995-96 of the Convention on Conventional Weapons, the International Committee of the Red Cross, Human Rights Watch and other groups were successful in pressing governments to add a protocol outlawing the development (and by extension trade) of laser weapons specifically designed to blind people. The conventional weapons treaty, which restricts the use of weapons deemed to be particularly injurious and inhumane, will next be reviewed in the year 2000, providing another opportunity for public interest groups to work together to single out particular types of weapons for prohibition.

Several groups and individuals are currently working to stigmatize the routine and largely unmonitored trade in man- portable infantry weapons, including pistols, automatic rifles, grenade launchers and light anti-tank rockets. These "light weapons" are spreading throughout civilian society in many areas of the world, and they are believed to be the cause of several hundred thousand civilian casualties per year. The Monterey Institute of International Studies Program for Arms Control, Disarmament and Conversion focuses extensively on small arms and publishes a chronology of events related to the use or proliferation of such weapons. The Monterey Institute has also created an Internet site dedicated to an emerging campaign on light weapons ( At this site, you will find links to many other organizations and individuals concerned about or researching this issue. Among those groups are the British American Security Information Council, Federation of American Scientists and Human Rights Watch's Arms Division.

Barring Exports to Particular Countries While difficult to pull off, some attempts by US groups to block particular arms transfers to friendly governments with particularly bad human rights records have met with success. For example, Human Rights Watch effectively intervened to prevent a cluster bomb sale to Turkey in 1995, and a coalition of human rights and other groups blocked an attack helicopter sale to Turkey the following year. Sales to Turkey, a NATO ally, are of great concern given Turkey's well-documented use of US- supplied arms in indiscriminate attacks on Kurdish civilians. In 1998, groups are organizing to block a massive attack helicopter sale to Turkey, slated for 1999.

The East Timor Action Network's (ETAN) publicity around the Indonesian military's use of US-supplied M16 assault rifles in its 1991 massacre in Dili, East Timor caused the State Department-three years later-to implement a policy barring small arms exports to Indonesia. ETAN and others blocked the provision of military training to Indonesia for two years and got Congress to pass a law in 1997 which requires Indonesia to pledge that future weapons imported from the United States will not be used in East Timor. Congressional and grassroots action also led Indonesia to cancel its planned purchase of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets from the United States.

Amnesty International USA successfully led efforts in 1997 to strengthen a ban on exports of weapons to military units in foreign countries which are alleged to have committed abuses. This provision has resulted in the cut-off of some US arms to units in Colombia.

East Timor Action Network

The East Timor Action Network/US began operations in 1991, following the massacre on 12 November of more than 250 unarmed people at a cemetery in Dili, East Timor by Indonesian troops using American guns. Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975, illegally annexing it the following year. Thousands of Indonesian soldiers continue to occupy the island. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have estimated that more than 100,000 Timorese out of a population of only 700,000 were killed in the first five years of occupation. Since 1980 another 100,000 people are believed to have been killed or to have died of hunger and disease.

ETAN supports self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1960 UN General Assembly Resolution on Decolonization, and several Security Council and General Assembly resolutions specifically concerning East Timor. For over two decades the US government has refrained from pressing its Indonesian ally to fulfill these UN resolutions and withdraw from the island. ETAN's primary focus is on changing the US government's policy of tacit support for the occupation by raising the American public's awareness of the situation in East Timor.

ETAN has grown into a very sophisticated and effective national grassroots movement, with a full-time paid field organizer and over 20 chapters across the country. The network leadership, based in New York, communicates effectively with these chapters and other collegial organizations through regular action alerts, e-mail networks, national speaker tours and a quarterly journal, Estafeta. ETAN has also opened a Washington office to advance its goals through a legislative strategy, including annual "Washington Days" lobby visits by ETAN members. In addition, the group has recently begun to employ selective purchasing agreements to put pressure on the Indonesian government. Already the cities of Berkeley, CA and Cambridge, MA have passed resolutions prohibiting commerce with companies invested in Indonesia. The state legislatures in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are considering similar resolutions.

Contributing to ETAN's successes are parallel efforts by Canadian and European counterparts, such as AMOK in the Netherlands, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade in London, the International Peace Bureau in Geneva and the East Timor Alert Network. The US and international movements were helped significantly when two East Timorese peace activists-José Ramos-Horta and Bishop Belo-were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1996.

For more information, or to join ETAN, contact John M. Miller at PO Box 150753, Brooklyn, NY 11215-0014; phone 718/596-7668; e-mail [email protected] For updates on legislative initiatives, contact Lynn Fredricksson at 110 Maryland Avenue, NE, box 30, Washington, DC 20002; phone 202/544-6911; email [email protected] ETAN is on the web at



Photo: Matthew Jardine

Los Angeles, 12 November 1997: Blase Bonpane of the Office of the America's at a rally in front of the Indonesian consulate commemorating the 1991 massacre in Dili, East Timor.



Shutting Down the School of the Americas The US Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, GA trains Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics tactics and operations. Among the SOA's nearly 60,000 graduates are some of the most notorious Latin American dictators-Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level graduates of the School were responsible for the assassination of San Salvador Archbishop Oscar Romero and the infamous massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador, among other crimes.

The organizations School of the Americas Watch-based in nearby Columbus, GA-and the Latin American Working Group-a Washington-based coalition of religious organizations working toward peace and economic justice in Latin America-have created a national movement to shut down this military training center. SOA Watch has staged numerous civil disobedience actions at the school. Many of these have led to prison terms for Father Roy Bourgeois and other SOA Watch activists; their willingness to endure imprisonment for their beliefs has generated a great deal of media attention. In addition, Father Roy is a frequent and very moving public speaker at rallies and events across the country. An award-winning documentary on the issue, called School of the Assassins, has also helped educate many Americans about the military training program.

While opponents have not yet succeeded in closing the Ft. Benning facility, for each of the past few years Congress has considered and voted on legislation to do so. Such legislation is currently pending and might pass in 1998. The Department of Defense is very active in opposing the measure. At the same time, the grassroots movement continues to gain momentum.

For more information, or to donate or help out, contact School of the Americas Watch, PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903-0330; phone 706/682-5369 or SOA Watch DC Office, PO Box 4566, Washington, DC 20017-0566; phone/fax 202/234- 3440. Find SOA Watch on the web at The Latin America Working Group is based at 110 Maryland Avenue, NE, Box 15, Washington, DC 20002; phone 202/546-7010.

Increasing Transparency While campaigns to promote transparency and/or freedom of information related to weapons trafficking might not hold the emotional appeal of banning landmines or cutting off arms transfers to Turkey, such campaigns are highly important. Information about what the US government is sanctioning is needed to press for reform. As chapter 7 shows, quite a lot of US government-source information is currently available and, compared to other arms exporting states, the US system is extremely transparent. However, there is still a lot of missing information that-in a democracy-ought to be available to the public and press.

Over the past several years, participants in the Arms Transfers Working Group have worked with congressional staff to make US arms exports more transparent. One result has been the publication of proposed arms sales in the Federal Register, the executive branch's daily record. Since the Register is on-line, the interested public, press and policymakers now have real-time access to information about pending arms sales. A second change caused the annual publication of a report (the "Section 655" report) listing out which specific weapon systems were delivered to a particular country in the preceding year.

To foster greater openness by all arms importers and exporters, many governments and non-governmental groups supported the development of the UN Register of Conventional Arms in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. In each of the past five years, the UN has released a report listing transfers (imports and exports) of seven categories of combat equipment. This initiative has dramatically increased governmental transparency on arms acquisition and exports, enhancing democracy and in some cases building confidence among states in certain regions. In other cases, it has served to highlight on-going regional arms races. Publication of the register each autumn also provides a spotlight (and media hook) on the arms traffic.

Eliminating Subsidies The World Policy Institute, Women's Action for New Directions, the National Commission for Economic Conversion and Disarmament and others have done an effective job of publicizing subsidies that underwrite US arms exports, and of highlighting the budgetary tradeoffs made by Congress and the executive branch. In our quarterly newsletter, Arms Sales Monitor, we track initiatives by the arms industry to gain greater taxpayer support for arms exporting. Various groups have also effectively exposed the offsets which accompany arms sales and supported enactment of a law that now requires Congress to be informed of these side deals. In addition, participants in the Arms Transfer Working Group effectively held off, for several years, and then weakened a new weapons export financing program which holds American taxpayers liable for up to $15 billion in weapons loans.

Twice in the past few years we have published a report outlining our top ten goals related to increasing transparency and reducing government subsidies for the weapons trade (see box). For background (and explanation) of these initiatives, go to on the web.

Top Ten Transparency Initiatives for 1998-99

1. Require an annual report by the Department of Defense on all US sponsored-military training programs involving foreign defense forces and personnel.
2. Reinstate section 28 of the Arms Export Control Act.
3. Hold oversight hearings on various arms export licensing and end-use monitoring programs to gauge their effectiveness.
4. Amend section 655 of the Foreign Assistance Act to require information on exports of weapons sold through the direct commercial sales program during the preceding year.
5. Consolidate the State Department's licensing program for direct commercial sales into the Pentagon's foreign military sales program.
6. Require publication of notifications to Congress of excess defense article transfers and leases of military equipment.
7. Consolidate all government financing of weapons sales into the Foreign Military Financing program.
8. Repay taxpayers for public funds expended to research and develop weapons which are exported abroad.
9. Prohibit offsets on exports financed in part or in whole by US military aid.
10. Prohibit the use of government funds at international arms bazaars.

Source: Federation of American Scientists, Arms Sales Monitoring Project,


Lessons Learned

Here are some lessons that we have drawn from observing and/or participating in the above campaigns.

First, the most critical element is savvy, determined and communicative leadership-both at the national level and at the local level. Without it, the message won't be developed, the strategy will be missing, the coalition won't be formed or expanded and the work won't get done. Leadership may be vested in an individual or a group. Either way, it must identify a clear objective, develop a workable plan of action for achieving that objective and communicate that plan to allies and partners in a timely manner. It must then report back to these networks on the outcomes of actions taken, and prepare them for the next step.

Second, coalition-building is essential. Especially important are particularly influential or unusual allies-such as veterans' groups, business associations or organized labor-not typically involved with arms control issues. It takes a lot of initial outreach and education to convince an organization or individual to become active in working against arms trafficking. Prepare outreach materials with care, and with an eye toward what will be most persuasive to the groups or people you are trying to bring into your coalition. But to grow a coalition you must have a structure for new members to plug into-someone or some place to pass their name and telephone number to. Make sure that new coalition members are added into the information loop. Dont waste time recruiting them, only to let them wander off from lack of use.

Third is the realization that "the arms trade" as an issue is too big and too diffuse. The most successful campaigns outlined above have narrower and more discrete focuses-for example, banning the export of a particular type of weapon, or blocking the export of a particular weapon to a particular place. These are ambitious but achievable goals. When you try to shut down the entire arms trade, on the other hand, you set yourself up against all arms manufacturers, all foreign lobbyists, all of the bureaucracy, etc. With a narrow, focused goal, you might be able to identify allies within the bureaucracy who can be invaluable in advancing a particular reform.

Fourth, stay on message about your goal. Be clear and consistent in explaining why you oppose the trade of a particular weapon (or trade to a particular recipient, as the case may be). Do not shy away from moral and humanitarian arguments. You also must have rebuttals to all of the military, diplomatic and economic arguments that will predictably be raised in opposition, but the moral and humanitarian impulse is the strongest motivating factor on our side and should not be ignored or downplayed. As part of this effort, use photos and film to show the effect of weapons on people, and bring the voices of victims to the public, press and policy makers. Personal testimony is very powerful.

Fifth, solid analysis is necessary to make and back up your case. Link a carefully developed research agenda closely to policy, press and grassroots strategies.

Sixth, find and groom solid Congressional leadership (both Member of Congress and staff).

Seventh, pursue the issue internationally. A global approach effectively combats the "if we don't sell, someone else will" amorality that permeates arms trading. It also provides a wider pool of experiences, perspectives and creativity upon which to draw.



Generally speaking, the twin-and linked-goals of all public interest and activist efforts are to build public awareness and to increase pressure on the government for some desired change of policy. Lacking the big money of the arms corporations, national and international campaigns opposing weapons proliferation rely on several standard and low-cost grassroots tactics.

Send a Letter A public opinion survey performed for the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in 1995 found that three out of four Americans disapproved of US arms exporting to any end user. In a separate poll conducted the year before, over 95 percent of the 1,003 US citizens questioned said that they opposed American arms transfers to non-democratic or abusive governments. Given this highly critical view of the arms trade, why does it flourish? In part, because too few people make their preferences known. Congressional staffers cite a lack of public pressure as one reason why the weapons trade does not receive greater attention. Meanwhile, the financially self-interested arms export lobby is plenty vocal.

Lawmakers need to hear their constituents' views about the use of tax dollars to support the weapons trade; about US- supplied arms being used in attacks on un-armed civilians; about the US arming both sides of regional arms races; about all of the issues we've discussed. They need to hear it again and again. The easiest way to convey your concerns is through a letter or an article. Write to your member of Congress. Write to the White House. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Write an open letter for your church bulletin or professional association newsletter. Text from one letter can generally be refashioned for several other purposes.

In your letters, explain the issue and explain why you care about it as concisely and clearly as possible. Ask the recipient to state his or her position on the issue in a response to you. Be sure to sign the letter. If the letter is type-written or produced on a computer, add a brief note in your own hand to distinguish it from computer-generated letters. The more personal and original a letter, the greater its likely impact. Campaigns that churn out hundreds or even thousands of form letters resonate with an office due to their sheer bulk, but a much smaller quantity of sincere, personal letters on the same topic will draw more attention.

Make sure that your name and address are on each page, envelope and insert that you mail. Send copies of the letter to all relevant officials. Indicate that you are doing so by listing all secondary recipients at the bottom of the letter.

In general, letters to Congress are more influential than letters to the executive branch. Since House members are up for election every two years, constituent services-responding promptly to letters and acknowledging the public's views on an issue-is taken fairly seriously. The executive branch departments and agencies are comparatively insulated from the general public. The most effective contact with the executive branch usually comes through Congress; a call from Capitol Hill to an office elsewhere in Washington will usually get results. More importantly, a letter from your Representative or Senator making a request or advocating a policy position will resonate more strongly within the administration than a dozen letters from citizens. If your Representative will not take this initiative, suggest that he or she at least forward your letter with a cover memo highlighting your request. Also, send the same message to the President, Secretary of State, and your member of Congress. Make it clear on the letter to each that the other is receiving a copy.

While the process is a bit more opaque (meaning that you will probably not receive a response), letters to the executive branch can and do pay off. For example, citizen mail to the Department of Commerce on one issue in 1995 led directly to the desired policy change. In a report to Congress on the imposition of export controls on specially designed implements of torture and thumbscrews (no joke), then Secretary Ron Brown wrote that, "Since this action was prompted by letters and inquiries from the public, Commerce did not feel the need to consult with industry on the expansion of controls."

To find out what happens to letters sent to the White House or to the State Department, check out Beating the Bureaucracy: A Citizen's Guide to Influencing the Administration, prepared by the national activist group 20/20 Vision. This guide is part of a terrific tool kit for activists prepared by the group and available on its web site at

Instead of a letter-writing campaign with individual letters, you might organize a single sign-on letter from several prominent people or a broad coalition of organizations within your community. Find and encourage people to sign on whom you know have some influence with the recipient. Significant campaign contributors obviously have leverage, and letters from labor union officials to Democrats or business interests to Republicans in Congress usually carry a lot of weight in Capitol Hill offices. But veterans or veteran's organizations, religious leaders, etc. will also make an impression.






Illinois Peace Action has used a petition drive and a write-a-thon to convey local citizens opinions about arms trafficking to congressional representatives.

Get the Right People Elected No matter how many letters or phone calls, some elected representatives will not be persuaded that arms trafficking is costly and deadly. As the anonymous Activist- turned-Hill-Staffer said (see p. 58), getting the right people elected is key.

Many organizations produce voting records, which rate incumbents based on how closely their voting records line up with the organization's perspective. For peace and disarmament issues, see the records prepared by Peace Action, 20/20 Vision and the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Peace Action and 20/20 Vision also prepare voter guides, investigating each candidate's position on approximately ten issues. Sample issues from previous years have included the candidate's position on the establishment of a Code of Conduct for Arms Transfers and on the ban of antipersonnel landmines.

Bird-dogging is a related way to elicit and publicize a candidate's views on arms issues. This process entails showing up at a candidates' events repeatedly and asking them questions they dont want to answer in order to get them on the record and to educate those present about your issue. This method is also useful during non-campaign years, when the incumbent Representative or Senator is holding a local town meeting. Show up at the meeting prepared to ask your questions. For instance, "Senator _____, you voted to abolish fees foreign militaries previously had to pay to the US Treasury to repay taxpayer-funded development of the weapons they purchased. At the same time, you voted to cut Head Start funding. How do you justify this trade-off, whereby arms exporters receive subsidies and kids go wanting?"

Bird-dogging allows you not only to raise human rights and arms control issues on your own terms, but also helps strengthen your coalition by investing members in a collective action. Above is a proposed model for a bird-dogging team or committee; roles could each be filled by one person, or shared by teams of two or more.

The Bird-Dogging Team

Here's a formula for how five people can effectively hound candidates or incumbents about their positions on weapons trafficking (or on any other issue).

The scheduler monitors local press reports, checks with campaign offices and web sites, and calls other organizations to determine the candidates schedule of public appearances. This work should be done as far ahead of time as possible. Generally, a candidate's events are mapped out days if not weeks in advance.

The phone tree coordinator keeps a list of chapter members, calls to alert them about candidate forums and appearances where questions about arms trafficking can be raised.

The researcher obtains the candidates Federal Election Commission reports (see p. 64) and analyzes them for contributions from weapons manufactures. If the candidate is an incumbent, s/he gets voting records from Peace Action, 20/20 Vision, the Friends Committee on National Legislation and other progressive groups, and monitors local press for statements on foreign and military policy issues.

The question writer drafts questions, reviewed by the rest of the team, to be asked by bird-doggers. If several people will attend an event, determine beforehand who will be the primary question asker. Also determine which questions have priority.

Last, the tactical planner finds out the format of the event and the logistics of how to get there, the parking situation, and other essentials. This person determines whether leafleting or a protest demo might also be advisable.

Sources: Peace Action and 20/20 Vision


Media Matters Nothing gets the attention of members of Congress like the local press. Congressional offices scan and clip newspapers and journals from the home district daily for news articles, editorials and letters to the editor. These papers are read before anything else. (Similarly, nothing seems to influence the executive branch more than a well-timed article or editorial in the New York Times.)

When trying to convince the local media to cover an issue, identify a "hook"-something that links the story to a recent event or gives it a local perspective. The hook might be a nearby weapons manufacturer whose weapons have ended up in a war zone, or it might be the release of a recent government document like the annual report on the global arms trade by the Congressional Research Service (see chapter p. 105).

Build and sustain contacts with local journalists who cover foreign news, as well as editorial writers. Smaller newspapers will not always have a dedicated foreign correspondent, but even the smallest paper will have a reporter or columnist who occasionally writes about foreign and military affairs. Send a brief letter introducing yourself and your organization or coalition and explaining your purpose. Later, cultivate the relationship by sending the reporter copies of some of the "hot documents" outlined in this guide.

As a second tack, set up a meeting to brief an editorial writer for the newspaper. Editorials are extremely influential for policy work, as they represent the support of the news organization, rather than just one individual's opinion. Policymakers tend to give editorials more weight than they do opinion pieces. Don't be shy about asking for a meeting with the person who writes the foreign and military affairs editorials. If you are reading this book, you are an expert, and what seems like common knowledge to you may quite possibly be entirely new to the editorial staffer. For instance, most Americans are surprised to learn that the United States dominates the international arms market and makes billion dollar sales to unstable regions of the world. Take along some persuasive documents to leave with the writer. And remember, you are helping them do their job. Stay in touch by sending information and providing tips-perhaps once a month, or as events warrant.

A third approach is to persuade the paper to run an opinion piece or "op-ed" on your desired topic. Op-eds come in two varieties-those written by a columnist employed by the local paper, and those submitted by outsiders. The former can have the same impact as an editorial. Again, build a relationship with the columnist by providing materials and supporting documents in a timely manner. For example, if you know that a controversial vote is approaching and your member of Congress may cast the deciding vote, the time to persuade a columnist to write about this issue is ideally a week before the vote. This provides the paper plenty of time for editing and placement. Op-eds generally run between 500 and 800 words. They need to be creative and focused, logically presented and relevant. Make it clear why this issue is important to readers of the newspaper.

Letters to the editor are an easy but often overlooked way for an individual to make his or her opinions known to policymakers and to spread infor- mation to other citizens in the community. In many ways, they are mini op-eds. A letter can comment on a previously reported news article, an editorial by the paper or a recent event that the local media failed to cover. But respond to an event or article quickly. Today's news is not around forever and timeliness is critical for publication. People everywhere check out this section of the paper and so do congressional staffers.

Find out the newspapers' policies on letters. Many have length limitations and require letters to be typed. You must also include your name, address and phone number. Be sure, if it adds strength to the letter, to list your profession-doctors commenting on the effects of landmines or teachers comparing education budget cuts to Pentagon program costs have credentials that make it more likely that a letter will be printed. In addition, use local color when possible. A letter on the "boomerang effect" of US weapons sales that mentions a local hero from the Gulf war who faced American- made guns is high drama-the stuff editors are looking for. Also, be clear and direct and, when commenting on public policy or current affairs, mention your Representative or Senator. Doing so will draw the newspaper's attention and will draw attention in your member of Congress' offices.

Broadcast Your Views Radio and television are the sole source of news for many people in your community. Between all-news and all-talk stations and morning and afternoon call-in programs, radio provides many opportunities for activists to educate others. Simplest is for an activist to call and make a comment on air. In order to make the most of your minute or two of air time, you should know what want to say and stick to the message. In addition, be familiar with the program's format. Know how long you can talk, whether the host is rude or aggressive, and whether you can expect the host to come back at you with a counter question or comment that you can play on as an opportunity to further your message.

The next step is pitching yourself as a guest on a radio program. The easiest way to do this is to fax or mail a short biography and contact information in a concise letter to the program manager or producer. Link yourself to a topic previously discussed or to a newsworthy event unfolding and explain how you can add to the debate or follow-up. Know and stick to the main points that you want to convey, but don't dodge questions that come your way just because they are not part of your "script." Be relaxed, self-confident and lively while on air-just like you are talking to an old friend on the phone. Try to speak in short, relatively uncomplicated sentences. Have fun. See 20/20 Vision's guide to Taking Action on the Airwaves for more tips.

While network TV is extremely difficult for an average citizen to penetrate, there are several outlets available to activists-primarily via cable or public access TV. On the latter, channels are set aside for non-commercial use by community groups, the general public, educational institutions or the local government. Videotape your next speaker luncheon and submit it for air time. All technically adequate programs submitted by a cable subscriber for public-access broadcast will be aired on a first come, first served, basis. Check with you local cable company to see if it has public channels and, if so, request a copy of its rules and guidelines. If you are not ready to produce your own show, check to see whether someone in your community is already doing a public information broadcast. If so, contact them and pitch your ideas or yourself as a guest.

In addition, the Center for Defense Information produces the weekly half-hour program America's Defense Monitor. Past episodes have focused on landmines, small arms, the black-market trade and the Code of Conduct on Arms Transfers. These documentaries air on Public Broadcasting Stations nationwide. If you are a supporter of your local PBS station, let the public affairs office know that you want to see America's Defense Monitor and other disarmament and human rights-related programing. Contact the Center for Defense Information (see p. 117) for a "Broadcast Kit" which helps you get the programming you want on the air.

Screening a good video is an excellent way to educate people in your community. The role of video in helping to develop the anti-landmines campaign can not be overstated. Several tapes-including one filmed in Cambodia and aired on PBS' Nova-were available to religious and other organizations for education and coalition- building. The Catholic Conference produced videos showing the deadly impact of mines and screened them throughout the country in its dioceses.

Several videos have been made recently on various aspects of the arms trade. Maryknoll, a Catholic religious order, has prepared dozens of excellent documentaries, including School of the Assassins, a short film that was nominated for an Oscar in 1995. In 1997, Maryknoll unveiled Arms for the Poor. For a list of Maryknoll videos, call 800/227-8523. Another great source of videos is New Day Films, a cooperative of independent and socially-committed film makers. Among the titles being distributed by New Day is the very powerful Dirty Secrets: Jennifer, Everardo and the CIA in Guatemala. Order a list of documentary titles by calling 888/367-9154. Finally, the Vancouver-based group End the Arms Race recently produced a video called Bombs Away, which focuses on a Canadian arms bazaar and Canada's role in the global arms trade. For more information, contact 604/253-6442.

Public libraries often budget for the purchase of educational videos. Ask your library to purchase these or other videos of interest. Once purchased by a library, the videos can be checked out and screened often and to a variety of groups.

Speak Up Guest speakers can facilitate local organizing and public education. Most of the Washington, DC-based groups that work on various aspects of the arms trade are willing to send their experts to speak in your area. The more organized movements-like the East Timor Action Network, for example-frequently run speaker tours with several stops across the country. p, 115 for other potential speakers. Some of these organizations have budgeted funds to cover travel costs to regional speaking engagements with activist groups. But it is crucial that you organize an effective event to make the trip worthwhile. In addition to publicizing the talk well, local activists could arrange interviews at radio stations and meetings with reporters and columnists to get the most mileage out of the guest speaker's presence.

The Arms Trade Project of Seattle, Washington has hosted several speaking events by out of towners in recent years. Consisting of religious, disarmament, professional and civic groups from the area, the coalition came into existence after the Gulf war and remains active. Members hold monthly meetings, sponsor speakers and educational events and distribute information. By unifying under one umbrella on the weapons transfer issue, they have increased their influence with elected officials from the city and state, had greater impact with the local media, and successfully increased understanding of the issue in Washington. The participants pool time, staff and funds, allowing the group to publish a newsletter and host events around the state.

Many other organizations or coalitions-in California, Texas, Illinois, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa and many other states-have put on well-attended speaking events in recent years. A lot of these have featured big name speakers, like Nobel Laureate Jody Williams (landmines) and Jose Ramos- Horta (East Timor). Another favorite on the "merchants of death" speaking circuit is author and funny man Bill Hartung of the World Policy Institute in New York.

Anyone who has made it to this point in this manual must truly be determined. You are also an expert, and you should speak up as well. Volunteer to talk about issues of concern at local schools, libraries, rotary clubs, civic meetings, etc. A very rudimentary outline for a standard anti-arms trade talk is provided.

The United States Place in the Global Arms Trade-A Model Talk

1) Facts and Figures Overview

2) So what? Why should anyone care?

  • imagine the Oklahoma City bombing happening every day in your town; that's what life is like for civilians in some countries America is arming
  • US security officials have cited an increasing threat to US troops from the proliferation of advanced conventional arms; as long as the US dominates the trade, it is not well-positioned to pressure others to stop their dangerous exports
  • the American public's tax dollars are underwriting much of the export trade
  • the proliferation of advanced weapons is used to justify the purchase of next-generation weapons by US forces-again, costing taxpayers dearly
  • arms corporations will trade away arms production jobs when its necessary to make the sale
  • 3) What can be done?

  • enact human rights/democracy-centered Code of Conduct
  • bar exports of unacceptably dangerous or indiscriminate weapons
  • end the use of public money to underwrite transfers of arms

    Demos and Actions A vocal but coherent mass of people assembled into a protest demonstration is still a very effective way to publicize a message. The keys to a good demo are a clear message, careful timing, lots of coalition work, plenty of publicity, a rousing speaker or street theater and placards and signs. If you are able to create a large enough (or creative enough) group action, you might be able to get significant press attention and possibly even achieve your goal.

    The US Campaign to Ban Landmines took a demonstration on the road in November-December 1997, barnstorming the country in a "Ban Bus" from California to the mine ban treaty signing ceremony in Ottawa, Canada. Working with local activist groups across the country, the bus of spokespersons-which included landmine survivors, deminers, and doctors-met with local media and pubic officials, held rallies at high schools and colleges, and introduced people to the campaign. This effort took weeks of planning and significant financial resources, but volunteers along the way made it easier and cheaper. The bus trip generated a groundswell of public and media support across America for the Clinton administration to sign the treaty. (Unfortunately, despite this extremely heroic and effective bit of organizing, the United States still has not signed.)

    A summit of political leaders or a political convention in your city provides a unique opportunity for an effective demonstration. When 18 heads of state (including China and the US) gathered in Vancouver, Canada for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, a "people's summit" operated in tandem. This summit presented lectures and held video screenings on landmines, the global arms trade, the environment and human rights-what organizers called the missing agenda for the APEC meetings. They also demonstrated outside the heads of state summit and received lots of attention from a press corps searching for signs of life among days of staid meetings and boring pronouncements.

    Activists in Canada, Europe and the US have used protests at arms exhibitions to publicize their cause with remarkable effect. Some of these demos have shut down weapons shows in Europe and Canada. Peace Action often organizes rallies outside of military expos in the United States, including the annual Air Force Association show in Washington, DC. Local arms manufacturers provide another obvious opportunity for picketing. Landmine activists in Minnesota have held many rallies outside the corporate headquarters of Alliant Techsystems, urging the company to get out of the business of building mines and mine delivery systems. Particularly effective, have been demonstrations during annual shareholders' meetings, addressing stock owners as they enter.

    Protests at consulates and embassies when arms transfers are in the works can embarrass or anger the exporting or the recipient country into reassessing the deal. Rallies at the Indonesian embassy, for example, coupled with congressional action, focused so much public and media attention on the proposed sale of American F-16 fighters that the Indonesian government reversed its intention to purchase these weapons.

    Demonstrations need not be all marching, placards and bull horns. They can also include street theater, music and prayer vigils. Be creative and make the event fun and meaningful for the participants and interesting and comprehensible to passers-by.

    Boycotts, Stigmatization, Sanctions and Resolutions Throughout the 1990s, democracy and human rights groups in the United States have waged a high profile consumer boycott of companies invested in Burma. The goal is to put pressure on the ruling military government in Burma, so that it will permit and honor democratic elections. Further turning up the heat, in June 1996 Massachusetts enacted an ordinance barring state agencies from contracting with companies doing business in Burma. These sanctions led Apple Computer, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, Pepsi, and Eastman Kodak to pull out of Burma.

    The East Timor Action Network and allies are now working to impose similar sanctions on companies conducting business in Indonesia. Thus far, the Cambridge and Berkeley city councils have done so. By and large, the business community opposes such sanctions and advocates instead for economic engagement, claiming that economic development will lead to democratic government and respect for human rights. (In some cases, on the other hand, economic engagement provides the financial backing necessary to keep authoritarian regimes in power.) Because of the general opposition from industry, a successful sanction campaign requires more work and greater resources than a low-level boycott effort. However, even if ultimately unsuccessful, sanctions campaigns can bring media attention and public awareness to your cause.

    Obtaining non-binding resolutions from city or state legislatures can also be an effective (and less arduous) way to educate your community and generate news coverage of an issue. Participants in the US Campaign to Ban Landmines pressed state assemblies and city councils from coast to coast to issue decrees and resolutions in support of a total landmine ban. While lacking teeth, this tactic has given strong support to national leaders and public interest groups working to advance the issue in Washington, DC. (Resolutions from any group-a political party, professional association, religious body, etc.-can also help move the debate on a policy issue. Key to this strategy is the need to publicize the existence of the resolution to and through local media and your elected representatives.)

    Similar tactics can successfully employed against arms manufacturers. In April 1997, the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch released Exposing the Source: US Companies and the Production of Antipersonnel Mines, which identified 47 companies in the United States involved in the manufacture of mines. During the course of its research, Human Rights Watch notified these companies of their role and asked them to renounce further mine production. Some of the firms were unaware that their products were being incorporated into antipersonnel landmines, and 17 agreed to quit the business at that time, including Plastics Products Co., Motorola Inc., Hughes Aircraft, and Olin Ordnance. The US Campaign to Ban Landmines launched a stigmatization campaign against the 30 hold-out companies. Activists in several states have been picketing, speaking and writing letters and op-eds about the involvement of local firms in the deadly business. In response to this local pressure, two more companies-Unitrode Corporation and Thiokol Corporation-subsequently quit mine production.

    Shareholders' Actions Shareholder resolutions can be used by concerned shareholders (those with a pension fund, mutual fund investments or stock) to raise an issue to the attention of other shareholders, the corporate leadership and the press. This type of action has gained increased popularity and success in recent years, and social, environmental and military concerns have all been raised. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), however, has proposed new regulations which would make it more difficult for shareholders to offer a resolution, in turn making corporations less accountable to their shareholders.

    The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (see p. 82) has recently employed shareholders' resolutions against several arms corporations on issues relating to weapons production and exports. A coalition of 275 Protestant, Roman Catholic and Jewish religious communities and agencies, ICCR member-investors directed a resolution titled "No Landmine Production or Sales" at the Alliant Techsystems shareholders' meeting. The resolution asked the company to end all research, development, production and sales of landmines by 1997. At meetings for Lockheed Martin, GTE, McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Textron stock owners, ICCR members called for an annual report on each company's foreign military sales. The report was to include information on actions taken to promote foreign weapons sales, negotiations with foreign governments or through the US government, the percentage of commercial and foreign military sales, the types of equipment sold, service contracts entered into, offset agreements made and licensing and coproduction arrangements. The annual report would also require analysis of the impact of pending legislation to establish a code of conduct for US arms transfers. While none of these resolutions passed, they were effective in educating shareholders and resulted in some dialogue between activists and corporate executives over the issues raised.

    Publicity Publicity before and after any kind of event is essential to effective activism. Begin advertising your event weeks, not days, before it takes place. Ask sympathetic organizations to announce the event to their members and associates. Place a message about your event in the local papers and have it included in community radio announcements. Post leaflets about the event in many prominent places. Use flashy graphics or lettering to catch interest and make all posters as appealing as possible, with accurate, specific details.

    Make sure local journalists know about anything you do. Send multiple press releases to all of the media organizations that might cover the event or action. Press releases should have something newsworthy that will give a news organization a reason to cover it. The press release could be tied to a local story relating to the arms trade (for example, local exporters or local veterans deployed to states that have received US arms), a recent government policy or publication or a foreign news item. If you are holding an event, prepare press packets to hand out.

    Try to get coverage of an event the day before it happens; that is free publicity. For instance, if you are organizing a protest, invite photographers to a sign-painting party. If you are traveling to a meeting or a demonstration, pitch your group's story to local reporters in the days leading up to your departure. If that doesn't work, try for a follow-up piece after you return.

    Sometimes even the best media preparation and effort will fail in the end to garner the type of coverage you wanted. This effort was not wasted. You have made connections and set yourself or your organization up as an expert source of information for future stories. Anything that contributes to further relationship-building is always helpful.