Arms trade has always been a blind spot in international peace negotiations and conflict resolutions. What does it have to do with international law? How can the concept of human security advance our understanding of peace building? Our student fellow Connie E sat down with Denise Garcia to find out.

Denise Garcia is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and the International Affairs program at Northeastern University in Boston. She researches international law, global governance of security, the formation of new international norms and their impact on peace and security. In 2016, she testified to the United Nations on the question of lethal autonomous weapons and their impact on peace and security.

She is author of Small Arms and Security – New Emerging International Norms, and Disarmament Diplomacy and Human Security – Norms, Regimes, and Moral Progress in International Relations. Her articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, the European Journal of International SecurityInternational AffairsEthics & International AffairsThird World Quarterly, Global Policy JournalInternational Relations, and elsewhere. She is the vice-chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, a member of the Academic Council of the United Nations and the Global South Unit for Mediation in Rio de Janeiro.

Fun fact: “For me, having energy is a lot about what you eat. I walk 10,000 steps a day and keep a diet of high protein and low or no carbs. Kale and spinach are my staples.” 


FPI: What are your past and present research topics, and what are their significances?
I research international law, global governance of security and the formation of new international norms. To me, arms is always the blind spot in international relations theory where nobody looks at that variable as a magnifier of conflict. Ever wonder why ISIS has access to so many weapons? it’s because there is too many roots of abundant arms in the world. That enables the group to get weapons with extreme ease because of the black market. The same is true for nuclear weapons, which make the world less insecure. I’m well aware of my colleagues who would espouse the opposite view that nuclear weapons bring more security, but I think the risks of accidental use or falling in the wrong hands always outweigh everything else. 


I always put this into the perspective of human security. My theoretical basis is an enlarged definition of security that really came after the Cold War, when the concept of security has enlarged to consider other threats beyond the military; and threat not only to the states but also to the individual. My first book Small Arms and Security is the first book to unite the question of international security and arms proliferation. Writing this book enabled me to meet so many exciting people worldwide, working on containing the proliferation of arms in post conflict situations. I’m still involved with this work now that we finally have an Arms Trade Treaty


My second book took a deeper look in the question of human security vis-a-vis that as an indicator of moral progress in international relations. That is why I started incorporating international law in my research, because without codification of global norms for more security, less weapons proliferation and all the other activities in the international scene, we have no progress. I came up with the concept of “humanitarian security regimes” in an article after publishing the second book, in which I advanced how new regimes in international form that protect the dignity of the human being. 


More recently, I was invited by Cornell University to be one of their lecturers for the course on conflict and negotiation. There I met computer scientists and roboticists who were worried about the use of weaponized drones, artificial intelligence and the future of warfare. They invited me to be the vice-chair of the International Committee for Robot Arms Control, which inspired me to look at the shape of the future of security. In December, I was in Australia as a fellow at the Institute for Economics and Peace, combining the study of future technologies and the future of peace and security. That’s where I am now.  


FPI: Your research interest recently incorporated cybersecurity – could you tell us more about that and why countries should take cybersecurity seriously?

Cybersecurity is an area where I’m not nearly knowledgeable as other colleagues. The aspect that I’m interested in is how cyber space will be utilized in the future as a global common. Commons are areas for common heritage of humanity such as outer space and the atmosphere. Cyber space is this domain that is supposed to serve all of humanity but can be used with malicious intentions, it could fall pray to what is called the “tragedy of the commons”, which is overuse, harm and exploitation. 


FPI: Apart from the increasing risks from cyber sphere, where else do you see the threats to international peace and security coming from? With those in mind, how would you advise the new U.S. administration?

The biggest threat to security is climate change which has a multiplier effect on food security, on conflicts that happen in arid regions and involve a competition for land. Thankfully the international community has put in place a very ambitious map to tackle that with the Paris agreement. One of the biggest elements that enabled that success was the bilateral deal between China and the U.S. 
Right now, powering economy with renewables is already an ongoing revolution. This year is the third year that renewables are going to overcome climate-offending technologies, so oil and gas are becoming obsolete in powering economies. China is leading the market by making enormous investments, which will have positive multiplier effects worldwide. In the U.S., if unfortunately President Trump reverses the gains, doesn’t invest in renewables and power the grid in other ways other than coal, the Chinese and the Europeans will dominate the market. For me, green jobs is one of the pillars for creating more jobs. Generating wind and solar energy is becoming cheaper and cheaper, the technologies are very accessible right now. If Trump gives up all of that, I think the President of China will be very happy because he already sees the enormous market value. I’m afraid countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnerships (TPP) that he just walked out of, will continue on without the U.S. 


So I would advise against the controversial accords he signed on the pipelines for transporting very dirty oil into the U.S. Canada has moved away from this already, so Trump is unfortunately missing an enormous chance he has right now to do something so meaningful for the world and he will be isolated for that. 


The second and third threats are terrorism and conflicts that have a transnational effect. Terrorism is a major challenge and it’s likely to be magnified depending on the position that the U.S. will assume under Mr. Trump. Every conflict today has a transnational dimension, so this is a major governance challenge as well for the U.S. Other countries are already stepping in and filling the void of being mediators and trying to solve the Syrian conflict, for example. 


FPI: Our mission is to amplify female voices in foreign policy. You have extensive work experience at the UN especially with disarmament issues, which is sadly still a fairly male-dominated arena. What is the role of females in foreign policy? Has your being a woman ever been an obstacle in your career?


I have been fortunate that I most of the time found people who are gate openers, not gate keepers. I was included and invited in the circles that I established and interact with. But I have seen a lot of discrimination; women are often overlooked. What I see as well unfortunately is that other women would say they are feminists, but they are not really feminists. They are obstructing the path to other women, I’ve seen this happening a lot actually. It’s very disheartening because women should be opening doors and promoting other women.


If you contrast the composition of two cabinets in Canada and the U.S.: Justin Trudeau’s cabinet is a real 21st century cabinet; it’s extremely diverse, with 50% being women as the world is whereas Trump’s cabinet is 82% white and male. He surrounded himself with people exactly like him: very senior, white males. If the chief decision maker is setting this as an example, it’s quite worrying for the rest of the world. From what I’ve been seeing in my classes in the past years, women are invariably stronger academically than men. What I try to do when I have to choose students to represent or do something, I choose women first because the world has been mostly represented by men thus far. For example, for the annual delegation I lead to U.N. in Geneva, I make a deliberate effort to take 15 women from all over the world and 10 men. My leadership team for Geneva this year will be women only.  


FPI: What advice would you give to fellow interruptors, both in diplomacy and academia?

Be extraordinarily hardworking and learn several languages so you have the ability to speak to people from different cultures. You’ll then have an enormous ability to build bridges and channels of communication. Also: always be gracious. There were certain situations in my life when doors were closed for no reason or in which I was furious with discrimination against other men or women with connections. But even in those circumstances, I try to be as gracious and polite as possible so as not close that door. I think we should always be that bridge builder and people will notice that. 


FPI: I’m glad that you mentioned learning languages and bridging different cultures. You have always been very proud of your Brazilian heritage. How has being a citizen of the “Global South” impacted your worldview and everyday work?

Being from Brazil has been very central to me. Brazil is a country that always opens doors and it’s a country that people are interested and excited about. So that’s been a very big plus. I had met many people of all ranks through connections with Brazil and that has led on various other opportunities. It has also enabled me to see the world from a middle-power country’s perspective. On the question of arms control, for example, I grew up under a dictatorship and what followed was a very violent society with high homicide rates as a result of poor arms regulations. 


Everybody wants to live in a free and safe society, that’s the appeal of the U.S. and other European countries. I don’t take the opportunity to live in the U.S. for granted as maybe people who are from here. That’s why being from a country that faces so many challenges is so significant to me. That said, though, women’s rights are constitutionally protected which is not the case in the U.S. It’s always interesting to contrast and compare to see strides that are made in my country and countries in the region that are not here yet. 


I also see a trend now where Latin America is moving away from populism and dictatorial regimes. Many countries are establishing themselves as democracies with market economies while the U.S. and Europe are sliding back in an era of populism and looking inwards. I have no doubt that my country and others in the region like Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay will look towards China if the U.S. is going to cut trade deals. All those trends for me are quite comparative as I have lived through some very hard times as I was growing up. You can’t forget that and you have to keep working for a better place.