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– General John Shalikashvili
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
Countries Sticking to Timetable in Pledges on Eliminating Landmines
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Wade Boese

Countries committed to eliminating anti-personnel landmines (APLs) are matching their words with deeds, according to a Sept. 15-19 meeting of states-parties to the Ottawa Convention, which bars the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of APLs.

The treaty, which entered into force March 1999, gives each state-party four years to destroy its APL stockpiles and 10 years to rid its territory of APLs. All states-parties whose four-year deadlines have come due this year have successfully completed the task. Of the 137 states-parties, 110 no longer possess APL stockpiles. All told, states-parties have destroyed more than 30 million mines.

Turkmenistan is the one state-party marring the treaty’s otherwise unblemished compliance record. Each government is allowed to retain a “minimum number” of APLs, understood to be hundreds or thousands, for mine detection, clearance, and destruction training. Yet, Turkmenistan plans to keep 69,200 APLs for these purposes.

No states-parties are otherwise known to have violated the accord, though unconfirmed allegations exist that two treaty signatories—Burundi and Sudan—may have used APLs within the past year. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties holds that countries are to abide by treaties they sign even if they have not completed the ratification process.

All other reported recent APL use occurred among a half-dozen countries—Burma, India, Iraq, Nepal, Pakistan, and Russia—of the 45 that have not joined the treaty. The United States, another non-signatory, reportedly stockpiled APLs for potential use in its invasion of Iraq but did not use them. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

President Bill Clinton pledged in May 1998 that the United States would accede to the treaty by 2006 if the Pentagon succeeded in developing and fielding alternatives to APLs by that time. The Bush administration initiated a review of U.S. landmine policy, including Clinton’s pledge, in the summer of 2001 but has yet to announce any findings.

The review’s conclusions are expected to be revealed before the end of this year because Clinton had further declared that the United States would not use APLs outside the Korean Peninsula by 2003.