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U.S. Favors CD Negotiations To Achieve Ban on Landmines
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Sarah Walkling

AFTER MONTHS of indecision, the Clinton administration announced January 17 that it will initially pursue negotiations for a comprehensive global ban on anti personnel landmines at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva, instead of through the Canadian led effort to negotiate and sign an international treaty by December 1997. (See ACT, October 1996.) The administration also declared that the current U.S. export moratorium on anti personnel mines, which was to continue until 1999, would become permanent.

By opting for the CD, the administration has chosen the slower path for implementing a ban. The CD, which opened its first session of 1997 on January 21, may not decide whether a landmine ban will be on its agenda until the summer of 1997 or later. Meanwhile, the Canadian led effort, also known as the "Ottawa Process," will begin reviewing an Austrian draft treaty text during a February 12 14 conference in Vienna. The United States is expected to attend the Vienna meeting.

The administration favors the 61 member CD because Russia and China—top producers of anti personnel landmines and opponents of a landmine ban—have said they will not participate in the Ottawa Process. Both countries are members of the CD. Without their participation, administration officials say, a treaty would not halt the use, production, export or stockpiling of anti personnel mines. However, White House spokesman Mike McCurry said January 17 the CD negotiations would be "mutually reinforcing" of the Canadian initiative. If China and Russia join the Canadian effort, the United States has said it will also participate. Regardless of the forum, the United States will seek an exception for its mines deployed on the Korean Peninsula.

Other states that favor negotiating a ban at the CD include Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Italy. On January 23, the French representative to the CD, Ambassador Joelle Bourgois, said, "France prefers an efficient treaty, even if the result took time, to a hastily concluded but useless agreement." Some members of the non aligned movement (NAM) that oppose conducting the negotiations at the CD say the landmine talks might overshadow the comprehensive nuclear disarmament negotiations which several NAM states hope to initiate. If the CD agenda does include a landmine ban, the ad hoc committee that would be established for negotiating a ban will likely focus on reaching agreement on an export ban first.

According to Bob Bell, National Security Council senior director for defense policy and arms control, "[O]ur best shot at this in terms of achieving the president's goal of a global ban—not just a ban among some countries but a ban that really touches the countries that are causing the problem on different continents around the world—is to take it to the CD where we have a proven track record." Acknowledging that achieving a ban "is going to be tough," Bell said, "we think we can get a landmines agreement out of the CD ..."

However, Senator Patrick Leahy (D VT), the leading congressional advocate for a global ban, expressed disappointment in the administration's decision. In a January 17 press release, Leahy said the Canadian initiative offers "the best opportunity" for rapid progress because it establishes "a moral and tactical imperative" for bringing holdout countries aboard. "It is doubtful that the CD will produce an agreement to achieve a ban," Leahy said. "The CD process requires step by step consensus that rewards holdout states, who effectively have a veto that retards or prevents strong agreements." Last year, India alone was able to block consensus on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in the CD. The otherwise agreed treaty was taken directly to the UN General Assembly by Australia and was opened for signature in September 1996 despite Indian opposition.

 

Finding Alternatives

The day after the White House announced its decision to push for negotiation of a ban in the CD, the Department of Defense (DOD) reported on its efforts to end its military reliance on anti personnel landmines. Clinton ordered the assessment as part of a landmine initiative announced in May 1996. (See ACT, May/June 1996.) The Pentagon has since reviewed its war plans and has begun to revise its doctrine and training manuals to eliminate requirements for anti personnel landmine use. According to a DOD official, the changes represent "a fundamental shift in the way we go to war."

While the Defense Department has not found a single alternative to landmines, the official said, "[T]here appear to be a number of systems, when used in combination, which offer some very promising prospects for us." Specifically, a combination of "new killing mechanisms and mix of new intelligence sensors" would allow the U.S. military to decrease its reliance on statically emplaced non self destruct mines.

As part of his 1996 initiative, Clinton ordered the U.S. military to immediately discontinue use of so called "dumb" mines, which remain active until detonated or cleared, except for training purposes or on the Korean Peninsula and to destroy all non essential stockpiles by 1999. According to the Pentagon, the United States will still possess approximately one million such mines.

Posted: January 1, 1997