U.S. impedes landmine ban
Joe Courter
September 1997

Landmines lay in wait by the millions around the globe. Some are nice fresh new ones, recently manufactured in the US and other countries and ready for deployment (an estimated 14 million in the US alone). But an estimated 110 million others are already deployed, waiting in dirt or covered by leaves, some individually placed, others dropped en masse from planes and indiscriminately blanketing wide areas. Weapon designers have made them undetectable in some cases--made of plastics which can't be found by regular metal detectors, but which are just as deadly. And in most cases around the world, it is not soldiers but civilians who are killed and maimed by these small devices. Huge tracts of farmland are unusable due to landmines, war refugees can't return to their homes across mined land, and the killing goes on decades after war's end.

Twenty six thousand human beings are maimed or killed by antipersonnel (AP) mines annually worldwide. Mines have been used and continue to kill and injure in Southeast Asia, Central America, Africa, the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. That's one person killed or maimed every 22 minutes. Even if new deployments stopped today there would be a huge world problem for decades to come.

There is a worldwide effort underway in the year 1997 to ban the use of AP landmines. It is being led in the U.S. by the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines, an organizational offshoot of the Vietnam Veterans Foundation of America based in Washington, DC. Already meetings pushing toward a broad worldwide ban have been held in Vienna (Feb 12-14), Maputo, Mozambique (Feb 26-28), Bonn (Apr 24-25), and Brussels (Jun 24-27). A major gathering will be held September 1-21 in Oslo, Norway to prepare for the Ottawa Treaty signing December 2-4, 1997. Ottawa is the focal point due to the banning initiative put forward by Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy in October 1996. As of the end of August, 1997, 106 nations had signed on to the treaty process.

The U.S. Campaign has had good success in the Senate with 59 Senators signed on to a bill to ban deployment of AP landmines by Jan 1, 2000, including John McCain (R-Ariz) and all the other Vietnam veterans in the Senate. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Verm) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb) cosponsor the legislation, titled S 896, and Senator Bob Graham (D-Fla) is a key swing person and needs to be brought on board. He should be called, as should the White House.

The White House has been dragging its feet and complicating the process by recommending that the bureaucratically constipated Geneva Conference on Disarmament handle it. Currently the U.S. wants to exempt itself from various provisions of the ban. Even retired Generals Norman Schwarzkopf, David Jones, and John Galvin are urging the total ban as called for in the Ottawa treaty. It is a step forward that the U.S. has decided to participate in Oslo Sept 1 21, however, according to a press release dated 8/19/97 from Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation:

"The United States appears to be heading into the negotiations with demands that will fundamentally undermine the treaty," said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch and chair of the Steering Committee of the U.S. Campaign. U.S. officials have indicated that the U.S. will seek an exception for new use of smart and dumb AP mines in Korea and for new use of certain smart AP mines globally, as well as a provision which would delay the effective date of the treaty--perhaps for nine years or until Russia and China sign and ratify.

"The U.S. Campaign has been pushing the Clinton administration to join the Ottawa Process, but only in the context of a significant shift in U.S. policy. While the U.S. Campaign is pleased that the Clinton administration has at last acknowledged that the Ottawa process 'offers the best opportunity to bring an [AP] ban to a quick conclusion,' yesterday's announcement represents no real change in U.S. policy. Instead, the U.S. has decided to try to convince other governments to write existing U.S. policy into the treaty.

"'We are confident that the 100-plus nations set to negotiate this ban treaty will stay strong in the face of pressure to capitulate to arrogant U.S. demands,' said Mary Wareham, Coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines, from Oslo, where the International Campaign is preparing for participation by over 100 non-governmental representatives in activities coinciding with the treaty negotiations. 'Other nations are prepared to negotiate a true ban treaty without exceptions and loopholes, while the U.S. is preparing to launch a full-scale assault on the treaty.'

"If the US were to participate in the negotiations in good faith, it would be a significant boost to the treaty, lending US prestige and diplomatic clout and likely encouraging many other reluctant nations to join in. However, as the U.S. campaign has made clear for months, U.S. participation is not as important as maintaining the integrity of the treaty. Caleb Rossiter of Demilitarization for Democracy and co chair of the US Campaign's Government Taskforce said, 'they won't give up their Korea exception even though our evidence has shown AP mines are not essential to the defense of Korea. Worse, the smart mines exception would gut the core purpose of the ban treaty.'"

It is irritating that it took the death of Princess Diana, an ardent supporter of the landmine ban, before the U.S. press has coverage of the Ottawa treaty process. Beside the official participants in Oslo--national representatives from the over 106 nations already signed on--an international coalition of over 1000 non-governmental organizations active in 55 countries will be adding their voice with a series of public events and conferences during the time of the conference.

For more info: US Campaign to Ban Landmines, http://www.vvaf.org/landmine/uscbl.htm or writing to: US Campaign to Ban Landmines, Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, 2001 S Street, NW, Suite 740, Washington, DC 20009. 202-983-9222.

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