|Landmines: Treaty endorsed by 100 countries but not United States||More information|
|A draft treaty banning anti-personnel
landmines has been agreed upon by representatives of some 100 countries
but it was not endorsed by the United States and some of the main mine-producing
The agreement was reached on September 17 during a conference in Oslo. The final treaty, banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of antipersonnel landmines, will be signed in December in Ottawa and would take effect six months after it is ratified by at least 40 nations. It would not affect mines designed to detonate from the weight of tanks.
The landmine issue
Mines blow off indiscriminately. They kill or maim 26,000 people a year, mainly in some 50 developing countries. Most of the casualties are civilians in countries struggling to rebuild following wars. Returning refugees, farmers working their fields and women foraging for firewood are particularly vulnerable. The International Red Cross estimates that a person is killed or maimed by one every 22 minutes.
More than 115 million unexploded mines lie hidden in countries or territories that have experienced war in the last half a century, a number that grows by two million annually. A mine costs about $3 to lay, $10 to produce, but up to $1,000 to remove. Russia, China and India - producers and exporters of cheap anti- personnel mines - have not been part of the so called Ottawa process leading to the treaty. South Korea also objected, saying it needed the million-odd mines scattered across the armistice line as a deterrent to attack by North Korea. In Cambodia, where mines kill or maim 10 people every day, there was whole- hearted support.
The worst case in Asia appears to be Afghanistan where, it is felt that it would take several decades to rid the problem given the number of anti-personnel mines laid in the past years.
The US position
The US government rejected the final document, saying that it failed to protect US soldiers, especially in Korea, where some 37,000 American troops are facing a million-strong North Korean army. The US had sought a nine-year exemption from enforcing the treaty in Korea. The draft treaty already provides for a ten-year grace period for countries to clear existing mines. The Americans wanted to establish two more exceptions: the right of countries to quit the treaty in time of a war and the use of anti-personnel mines to protect anti-tank mines.
A recent study by the Defence Department found that US and South Korean forces could repel an invasion from the North within just a few kilometres of the current Demilitarised Zone without using anti- personnel mines but with tens of thousands of casualties. A former US commander in Korea during the 1970s does not agree and finds those estimates to be based on questionable assumptions which greatly exaggerated North Korean capabilities. The Pentagon was supposed to release a new report on how it could defend the existing armistice line without using anti-personnel mines August 31 but, as yet, it has not appeared.
Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy, who launched the Ottawa Process in October 1996, complained this week that any exemption would undermine the whole idea by creating a precedent for other nations.
President Clinton said he could not "in good conscience add America's name to that treaty" and outlined his own plans for eliminating landmines. It includes eliminating the US stockpile, speeding the development of alternatives, increasing mine-clearing efforts in eight new countries and negotiating an international ban at the disarmament conference in Geneva.
US efforts in those talks would begin with a call for a ban on exports from the largest producers - Russia, China and Iraq - which have refused to sign an international landmine treaty. Critics charged that UN- sponsored talks in Geneva were unlikely to get anywhere because all decisions taken by that body would have to be reached by consensus. Under such rules, one or more countries could block agreement by all the others.
It was this handicapping situation that led to the Canadian proposal that all countries favouring a ban negotiate a final treaty by December 1997, and then convince others into signing later on. This become known as the 'Ottawa Process'.
Other American views
The President's decision was met with widespread criticism. Members of Congress arguing for a ban have insist that since the major inputs on the issue came about from Congress and not from the White House, there will be a continuation of the efforts to introduce legislation to ban anti-personnel mines.
More than 60 members of the United States Senate - Republicans and Democrats, including every veteran of combat in the Vietnam War, have sponsored legislation to ban anti-personnel landmines, declared Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led the anti- mine campaign in the US Congress.
Proponents of the ban included highly decorated retired army officers and six US senators who saw combat during the Vietnam War. They declared anti-personnel mines are not needed to defend South Korea.
One hundred and thirty-four Representatives, including more than 30 Republicans, have introduced a bill that would bar the use of government money to fund the deployment of landmines anywhere beginning January 1, 2000.
Public and Congressional pressure has moved the administration in the direction of a ban over the past three years as such high-profile personalities as the enlisted in the movement.
Responding to pressure by such prominent people as Gulf War commander Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, Pope John Paul II, and the late Princess Diana, President Clinton in 1994 committed the United States to the goal of the 'eventual elimination' of anti-personnel landmines while insisting that hi-tech, self- destroying 'smart' mines should be exempted.
Among those expressing disappointment at President Clinton's refusal to reach an agreement were Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation President Bobby Muller and Lt. General Robert Gard, US Army Ret., former President of the National Defence University who saw combat in both Vietnam and Korea.
What the other countries had to say
The leader of the French delegation said France "regrets that we cannot at this point include the US among us in the Ottawa process, adding that the treaty "sends a message of hope to countries' mine victims".
But several countries warned against too much optimism. Russia, attending the conference as an observer, stressed that the treaty could not be considered universal because it had been worked out without the participation of states holding nearly two-thirds of the world's population. Venezuela and Kuwait also expressed doubts over whether they would join the Ottawa signing, citing concerns over state security. Poland, Australia and Egypt said their governments would review the document. Japan, which delegates said had supported much of the US stance, criticised the flexibility of the text and said it held reservations relating to deferred entry to the treaty and stockpiles.
Several other major countries, including Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel, have had no formal part in the so-called Ottawa process.
A victory for humanity
Despite the criticism, conference officials hailed the marathon talks of 89 countries, 32 observer countries and 10 observer organisations as historic. Advocates of a ban say they will now lobby the United States and other countries which have refused to endorse the treaty, in a bid to persuade them to sign the declaration in Ottawa.
Jody Williams, Co-ordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, a world-wide coalition of over 1,000 non-governmental organisations in over 60 countries thanked the participating nations for "staying firm in the face of strong lobbying by the US and other nations to achieve a compromise. The successful negotiation of an unambiguous ban treaty today shows the world recognises that all antipersonnel mines are illegal in all circumstances," she said.
Williams noted that the Ottawa Process is as important as this treaty itself. "What has been achieved here shows that smaller states and non-governmental organisations can work together to speedily respond to global crises. Diplomacy in the post-Cold War period really is different."
The International Committee of the Red Cross called the vote "a victory
for humanity". "The treaty shows that humanity has the power to move mountains,"
said Louise Doswald-Beck, head of the delegation of the ICRC. "We now need
to ensure nations sign and ratify the treaty".
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