ENTRAPPING GULLIVER

In 2014, the Obama administration announced that the United States would almost entirely adopt the global ban on antipersonnel (AP) mines, despite longstanding military and political opposition. To explain this puzzling outcome, I expand upon recent accounts of rhetorical entrapment in which norm-promoting actors seek to compel change in a target actor by exploiting tensions between the target’s words and actions. Tracing US policy change over the past 25 years, I show how transnational civil society and domestic political elites strategically deployed factual and normative claims to draw US officials into an iterative debate concerning the humanitarian harm of AP mines. Successive US administrations have sought to mitigate external critique by gradually conceding to the discursive framing of pro-ban advocates without endorsing the international treaty prohibiting the weapons. These rhetorical shifts stimulated a search for alternative technologies and incremental changes to military doctrine, tactics, and procurement that constrained US policy choices, culminating in the effective abandonment of AP mines despite ongoing military operations around the globe.

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