Introduction to the Mines Advisory Group

MAG is a charitable, non-governmental organisation founded in 1989 and headquartered in Manchester. Our mission is to create safe futures for women, girls, boys and men affected by violence, conflict, and insecurity. Our approximately 5,000 staff achieve this by removing and destroying landmines, unexploded ordnance, and surplus weapons in 26 countries around the world. In 2019, MAG personnel removed and/or destroyed more than 100,000 explosive items found in conflict-affected communities, each of which could have destroyed a life or limb. In the process, they made safe more than 93 million square meters of land and property, putting hundreds of communities on the path to post-conflict recovery and sustainable development. Our risk education teams delivered more than 46,000 sessions for vulnerable people, helping them avoid accidents until their land is made safe. And our arms management specialists worked with authorities in nearly 15 countries to prevent weapons diversion, destroying more than 640 metric tonnes of surplus small arms and ammunition.

Alongside our field operations, MAG is committed to advocacy that prevents future harm caused by conflict. Our work in support of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC), for which we were co-recipients of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, continues to this day with our campaign to achieve a world free of landmines by 2025. We also support governments around the world to meet their obligations under other instruments of international humanitarian law, such as the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), and the United Nations Programme of Action on Small Arms and Light Weapons.

MAG’s work has been generously supported by the UK Government since its earliest field operations. In the 2018-19 fiscal year, this support amounted to more than £18.7 million, including £17.8 million from DfID, £460,000 from the FCO, and £440,000 disbursed by British high commissions abroad. 

Question 2: What are the key global and domestic trends affecting UK international policy and national security out to 2030, and how should the government prioritise its efforts in response to these? 

The UK has benefitted greatly from the system of international laws and institutions created after the Second World War. That system now faces its most difficult test in decades, with great power competition rising, the UN Security Council nearly paralysed and international humanitarian law being violated on a daily basis. The UK faces a stark choice: defend and strengthen the laws and institutions of today, or be forced to accept those which the great powers devise tomorrow. The prospect of normative collapse is also of great concern to civil society. Humanitarian disarmament organisations like MAG, for example, cannot realise their vision of a safe world for all if the laws of war fall away. Similarly, our peer organisations fighting for human rights, development, and environmental protection will also fail if international cooperation in those areas stagnates or diminishes. 

Preserving the rules-based international order is too great a task for one government department, and in that sense the broad mandate of the Integrated Review is appropriate. Diplomacy and aid will often accomplish more when applied jointly rather than separately.

Consider one example from the mine action community: The UK routinely encourages other states to join the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) because it believes the use of these indiscriminate weapons anywhere in the world is unacceptable. When the UK also uses aid to help states meet their APMBC obligations, the UK further strengthens the convention and its norms, encouraging those countries that abide by them and stigmatising those that do not. We can see evidence of this in countries such as Sri Lanka, where a combination of UK aid and diplomacy has brought a mine-free future into view – and in so doing, illuminated a path that other mine-affected states can follow. UK aid that is deployed in support of other international instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Paris Agreement on climate change, would likely have similar norm-reinforcing effects.

Question 4: What are the most effective ways for the UK to build alliances and soft power? 

Maintaining its allocation of 0.7 percent of GNI to ODA allows the UK government to improve the lives of millions of poor and conflict-affected people. That is ODA’s primary and necessary purpose, but it generates other positive effects as well. Indeed, aid has the power to convince others rather than coerce, and to shape others’ preferences by appeal and attraction – the hallmarks of any successful foreign policy. 

The question is how this power should be applied, and in the service of what foreign policy goals? MAG believes UK aid can be used to bolster the laws, rights, and institutions that make up the rules-based international system while also assisting the most vulnerable. In this way, British aid will both serve others and ensure that Britain, too, is well served.

Disarmament issues - including mine action, conventional arms control, and ongoing dialogue around use of explosive weapons in populated areas and regulation of autonomous weapons systems – are in the spotlight, both in the UN Security Council and General Assembly and globally amongst states, civil society, regional bodies and in the media. This is an area in which the diplomatic strength of the UK is critical to influence global policy can and should be matched by concrete support to its implementation in countries urgently in need of improved peace and stability. Disarmament, arms control and humanitarian response are most successful when rooted in partnership, and there are many examples of strengthened bilateral and multilateral cooperation stemming from such initiatives.

The UK is party to several key humanitarian treaties, including the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC), which the UK joined as a founding signatory in 1997. The UK is a vocal supporter and provides critical leadership to the APMBC, which is backed up with a targeted and effective global funding programme. In 2018 the UK was the third largest donor to humanitarian mine clearance behind the United States and the EU. This gives the UK a greatly amplified voice and influence. 

Today 55 states and 3 territories are mine-contaminated – 45 of these being in Asia or Africa. It would be difficult to overestimate the positive impact the UK’s work has in these settings: not only saving lives and limbs, but unlocking opportunities for safe and sustainable development. To the extent that this work is recognised locally as a UK initiative, it is bound to generate soft power.

Question 6: How should the UK change its governance of international policy and national security in order to seize future opportunities and meet future challenges? 

UK engagement with the instruments of humanitarian disarmament – whether the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty, the Arms Trade Treaty, or the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), for which the UK will serve as president in 2020-21 – is crucial for the continuing success of those treaties and their positive effects on peace and security. The global reach and influence the UK has in this sphere is unsurpassed by any state; UK encouragement, and scrutiny where necessary, will drive the fulfilment of these commitments by all parties.

This diplomatic engagement should be coupled with robust Official Development Assistance in support of disarmament. This assistance was firmly established in the spending priorities previously set by the Department for International Development.   Going forward, disarmament should be reaffirmed as a policy – and programmatic – priority for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO). 

It is crucial that the UK’s disarmament assistance be in line with the standards for ODA spending agreed at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. We strongly encourage the FCDO not to view these ODA standards merely as a compliance hurdle; instead, they should help government planners design aid initiatives that will directly – and measurably – improve the well-being of poor and conflict-affected people.

If this aid is to remain effective and accountable, the Government must retain dedicated civil service capacity, technical expertise, and political leadership for international development, coupled with strong oversight from Parliament and the public. A multi-country study by the Overseas Development Institute showed that ODA is most effective when it is overseen by dedicated, senior political leaders.  By contrast, attempting to make development “everyone’s responsibility” by integrating it across multiple government agencies is more likely to dilute expertise and reduce accountability. This is important to bear in mind when considering the future responsibilities of the FCDO, and other departments covered by the Integrated Review.

Question 7: What lessons can we learn from the UK’s international delivery over the past 5 years?  Which are the key successes we should look to develop and build on, and where could we learn from things that didn’t go well? 

The UK has historically been a strong advocate for humanitarian disarmament. This is evident in the policy and funding support the UK gives to humanitarian mine action, particularly via the UK’s Global Mine Action Programme from 2014 onwards. The UK’s political commitments have also been strong, as clearly displayed through the UK assumption of the presidency of the CCM later in 2020.

An area where the UK could look to take a greater leadership role is in the humanitarian management and destruction of ammunition, small arms and light weapons. MAG is the leading global humanitarian organisation in this sector with operations in 15 countries, particularly concentrated in West Africa and the Sahel. 

As of 2017, it has been estimated that there are more than one billion weapons in the world, and 85% of those are in civilian hands. In unstable security environments where the rule of law is weak, in particular the Sahel region of Africa, the easy access of weapons to non-state armed actors can have a hugely destabilising effect - locally, nationally and sub-regionally. 

Support to governments and authorities to ensure effective management and reduction in availability of arms and ammunition can reduce harm to civilians. For instance, better management of ammunition depots can reduce the risk of unplanned explosions, such as that witnessed in Brazzaville in 2012.

However, no attempt to address the dangers of small arms and ammunition will succeed without community involvement. Educating communities about how to store and manage their own weapons more safely, and building trust between communities and state arms bearers to reduce private demand for weapons, would do much to stem the illicit arms trade and reduce the risk of firearms accidents – while also reinforcing peace and stability from the ground up. 


The Government’s vision is that ‘in 2030 the UK will……remain distinctively open and global, working with our allies as a problem-solving and burden-sharing nation.’ MAG welcomes this ambition. It can easily be achieved if this government recommits to the principles of international solidarity, cooperation, and the rule of law. If this Review can ensure that these principles are effectively reinforced through the machinery of government, then it will be counted as a success. 

The Mines Advisory Group thanks the Government for considering this evidence and welcomes further questions.