Your recent report in the March 2004 Arms Control Today (“U.S. Announces New Landmines Policy,” p. 43) did not accurately reflect the spirit or significance of the new United States landmine policy. This policy goes well beyond any existing treaty. After 2010, the United States will not employ persistent mines of any kind, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle. Our policy is unparalleled and should be characterized as such.
Additionally, after 2004, the United States will not employ landmines of any type—anti-personnel or anti-vehicle—that do not meet the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons’ specification for detectability.
We are the first major power to take either of these far-reaching humanitarian steps.
Your report stressed that the United States is not joining the Ottawa Convention. The Ottawa Convention is not the total solution to the landmine problem as it is often portrayed. It permits unlimited production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of anti-vehicle mines. These mines may, and frequently do, remain lethal for decades because they lack self-destruction and self-deactivation features. In many cases they are nondetectable. They may have fuses or anti-disturbance devices such that they will explode if kicked or disturbed by a civilian. They are a major long-term threat to lives, limbs, land, and livelihood in the developing world.
Any minefield is an instrument of war, but a minefield laid according to the new U.S. policy will contain no live mines within a few days or at most weeks. The new United States landmine policy is a significant humanitarian advance.
Richard G. Kidd
Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
U.S. Department of State
Arms Control Today replies:
The Ottawa Convention is a widely endorsed treaty that has been ratified by 141 countries and signed by nine others. The article noted some of the limitations of the convention, including the fact that it “does not rule out the use of pure anti-vehicle landmines.” Further, Mr. Kidd is correct in indicating that several other past or current landmine producers, such as China, Russia, India, and Pakistan, have not signed the treaty nor taken steps that match the United States.
Yet, until the recent announcement, the United States had indicated that it might still accede to the accord. Therefore, the decision not to participate marked a significant shift in U.S. policy that would be noted in the United States and abroad.
In addition, the article did not cite mine detectability as a key aspect of the newly announced policy because the administration’s proposals do not represent a substantial change in current policy or practice. Under Article IV of the amended mines protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), all states-parties, including the United States, are “prohibited to use anti-personnel mines which are not detectable.” Moreover, Washington has been pushing since 1999 for a new CCW requirement that all anti-vehicle mines be detectable.
Wade Boese, Reporter
Miles A. Pomper, Editor