On Tuesday 1 August 2017, the Meiji University Research Institute for the History of Global Arms Transfer launched an international joint research project: Pariah Weapons.


■Click on this link to see more details about the project in English.
■A project document is also available in Japanese.
■A Japanese press release was issued by Meiji University to announce the launch of the project.


This project brings together an interdisciplinary group of historians, jurists, international relations (IR) thinkers and practitioners, with the intent to critically analyse the conceptual framing of certain types of weapons that made their pariah status possible. Moreover, the project aims to unveil the historical evolution of, and changes in, norms concerning pariah weapons. The analysis challenges the assumptions and ideas underpinning the norms themselves, as well as the social, cultural, political and historical contexts in which the norms were developed. It gives particular salience to the relations between norms, power and political and material interests, and challenges those who argue that the prohibition of particular categories of weapons is unambiguously emancipatory.


We define ‘pariah weapons’ as weapons that are singled out as ‘pariahs’ (socially despised outcasts) and whose use is treated as taboo in international policy debates in different eras. We do not limit the scope of ‘pariah weapons’ to weapons whose use is explicitly prohibited by legally binding international agreements (such as anti-personnel landmines), but include those weapons whose use has been considered for prohibition in international policy debates (such as ‘aggressive weapons’ before the Second World War). Although humans have problematised and prohibited the use of certain weapons throughout history (such as crossbows in medieval Europe), we limit the scope of our project to the period from the nineteenth century to the present.


By choosing the term ‘pariah weapons’, we emphasise the socially constructed way in which weapons are conceptually framed. We intend to challenge the ideas and assumptions that justify the framing of some weapons as pariahs and to highlight the way in which such framing is accompanied by the implicit construction of the ‘legitimate’ and ‘mundane’ spheres of weapons. The above definition will allow us to consider why each ‘pariah weapon’ was singled out as particularly problematic and odious among a wide range of weapons at a specific moment in a specific society, as well as to examine why some ‘pariah weapons’ are prohibited by international agreements while others were not. It also allows us to reassess the inter-war negotiations where a broader range of weapons, such as ‘aggressive weapons’, were tabled for possible targets of prohibition and abolition and to examine the development, in the aftermath of the Second World War, of the narrower framings of ‘weapons of mass destruction (WMD)’ and ‘certain conventional weapons’. Rather than uncritically using terms such as ‘aggressive weapons’, ‘inhumane weapons’, ‘WMD’ and ‘certain conventional weapons’, we will examine the specific historical contingency from which such terms and framings of weapons arose.


Project lead Tamara Enomoto, Meiji University
Project members as of 28 October 2017 Michelle Bentley, Royal Holloway, University of London
Matthew Bolton, Pace University
Takeshi Fukuda, Takushoku University
Seigo Iwamoto, Kyoto Sangyo University
Nobuo Kazashi, Kobe University
Ken Kotani, Nihon University
Tomoari Matsunaga, Yokohama National University
Takashi Moriyama, Arms and Civil Society Research Forum
Ido Oren, University of Florida
Heigo Sato, Takushoku University
Ty Solomon, University of Glasgow
Mahito Takeuchi, Nihon University
Miloš Vec, University of Vienna/ Institute for Human Sciences (IWM)
Yuji Yamashita, Nihon University