99-055 (Nina Tannenwald)
Distributed November 23, 1999
For Immediate Release
News Service Contact: Janet Kerlin

Brown professor wins grant for study of weapons bans

Nina Tannenwald, assistant professor at the Watson Institute for International Studies, is studying why some weapons are banned and some aren’t. She has been awarded a $73,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Why are some weapons like landmines banned while others remain acceptable? That’s a question a Brown assistant professor is beginning to answer, supported by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Nina Tannenwald, a researcher at Brown’s Watson Institute for International Studies, received a $73,000 MacArthur Research and Writing Grant for her project, “The Sociology of Danger: Weapons Stigmatization in International Politics.” Her research will examine how certain weapons such as landmines become unacceptable for use by “civilized” nations, says Tannenwald, who is the Joukowsky Family Assistant Professor (Research).

Tannenwald was one of 33 researchers chosen by the Chicago-based foundation from a field of 576 to study issues of global peace, security and sustainability. Her grant will begin in July.

Tannenwald’s research builds on the book she’s completing, The Nuclear Taboo, which looks at how the United States has had a pattern of refraining from using nuclear weapons since 1945. The book traces the rise of that practice in global politics.

Her research will seek to answer questions such as, “Why are there taboos on nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, dum-dum bullets, and now landmines and blinding laser weapons, among others, but not on fuel-air explosives, ballistic missiles, exploding artillery shells or fire-bombing? Why do some weapons and associated practices come to be regarded as particularly inhumane and unacceptable for use, while states easily use other equally inhumane weapons?”

When Tannenwald begins the research in fall 2000, she will be conducting interviews with representatives of government, the military, and nongovernmental organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva, Human Rights Watch in New York and the Arms Control Association in Washington, a civilian research and advocacy organization.

Tannenwald has some ideas about what her research may show. “There’s been a shift in how we think about weapons,” Tannenwald said. “The banning of dum-dum bullets (which expand, leaving large, jagged wounds) and poison gas came about because senior military leaders were worried about their effect on troops. Now groups such as the International Committee for the Red Cross are worried about their effect on populations. In effect, this might make it easier to ban them.”

Her study will look at the relationships between formal and informal bans. “Nuclear weapons have been greatly stigmatized. Nevertheless, there is no legal prohibition,” Tannenwald says. “So the question is, what makes weapons bans stick? Does it have to have a legal ban first or are there other ways to delegitimize weapons?”

Tannenwald is an expert in international law and organization, international security, nuclear weapons, and globalization and culture. Additional information about Tannenwald and her work is available at www.brown.edu/Departments/Watson_Institute/Bios/nt.html