The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Landmine Clearance Deadlines Looming

Wade Boese

One hundred adherents to a treaty banning anti-personnel landmines (APLs) recently met in Geneva and urged that the accord’s first mine clearance deadlines in 2009 be met. But attendees also adopted a process for countries to request more time if necessary.

The Sept. 18-22 Geneva gathering marked the seventh states-parties meeting of the 1997 Ottawa Convention, which entered into force March 1, 1999. The treaty outlaws landmines detonated by the contact or close proximity of a person and allows each state-party subsequent to joining four years to dispose of its stockpiled APLs and 10 years to cleanse its territory of such mines.

Although major powers such as China, Russia, and the United States have shunned the treaty, the number of states-parties continues to grow and now stands at 151. Additions over the past year include Brunei Darussalam, the Cook Islands, Haiti, and Ukraine. Kyiv possesses an estimated stockpile of nearly 6.7 million APLs, according to the latest annual Landmine Monitor Report published by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL). Winner of the 1997 Nobel peace prize, the ICBL comprises more than 1,400 nongovernmental organizations dedicated to eliminating APLs.

In addition to Ukraine, another 11 states-parties—Afghanistan, Angola, Belarus, Burundi, Cyprus, Ethiopia, Greece, Guyana, Serbia, Sudan, and Turkey—have stockpiled mines awaiting destruction, according to the meeting’s draft progress report. Only Angola has suggested it might not complete the task in its allotted four-year period. All told, states-parties have destroyed more than 38 million stockpiled APLs.

More states-parties are busy trying to meet their individual 10-year deadlines to purge APLs from their soil. Costa Rica, Djibouti, Guatemala, Honduras, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and Suriname all claim already to have finished ahead of schedule. However, the ICBL Sept. 19 disputed the claims of Djibouti and Honduras. The treaty does not have a secretariat or verification regime to check or resolve compliance concerns.

Of the more than 40 states-parties with APLs to clear, 21 are supposed to conclude the process in 2009. The ICBL estimated Sept. 19 that roughly half are not on pace to achieve this goal. The draft progress report also identified nine countries with insufficient or inconclusive demining plans to provide confidence that they will stay on schedule. Those appearing on both lists were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chad, Croatia, Denmark, Thailand, and Yemen.

Some admit they may not meet their deadlines, citing too many mines, too few resources, or both. Bosnia and Herzegovina stated Sept. 19 that “fulfillment of these commitments…would require the mobilization of much more human, technical, and particularly financial resources” than currently available. Similarly, Afghanistan said the same day that it “will be able to meet the target only with strong donor support.”

Yet, the ICBL noted that 2005 marked the first year since the treaty entered into force that donor funding for mine action had “meaningfully” declined. Such funding covers, among other things, mine clearance and destruction programs, mine risk education, and survivor assistance. The total dropped from $399 million in 2004 to $376 million last year.

To be sure, the 2005 sum ranks as the second-highest yearly tally. Steve Goose, head of the ICBL delegation, said Sept. 18 it remained to be seen whether the 2005 dip “is an aberration or the start of a highly disturbing trend.”

Either way, states-parties recognize some countries are not going to meet their clearance deadlines. For capitals certain they will fall short, the treaty permits extensions of up to 10 years to complete their work.

The participants at the Geneva meeting adopted an extension request form and recommended that it be submitted at least nine months before the annual states-parties meeting or review conference that will vote on the extension. Requests will be granted by a positive majority vote.

Countries seeking extensions are supposed to provide information on their past clearance efforts and future plans and explain why they will miss their original deadline. A government official from one state-party told Arms Control Today Oct. 17 that requests should be for the “minimum time necessary,” not some automatic period. “An extension should only be sought as a last resort,” the official added.

In its Sept. 19 statement, the ICBL acknowledged some countries “simply have too large a burden” but also asserted some have not tried hard enough. It charged France, Niger, Swaziland, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela as having “undertaken little or no clearance” work.

Still, the United Kingdom and France rank among the top 20 cumulative donors for global mine action. According to the ICBL, London has contributed the fifth-highest total, $175 million, since 1992, while France occupies the 17th spot at $28.6 million.

The all-time leading donor, the United States, is not a state-party. A Department of State press release Sept. 21 noted that Washington has supplied “well over $1 billion dollars to nearly 50 countries” since 1993.

Pointing to the declared U.S. military requirement for APLs on the Korean Peninsula as one of his reasons, President Bill Clinton refused to join the Ottawa Convention in 1997. However, he left open the option of the United States eventually acceding to the treaty.

In February 2004, the Bush administration ruled out treaty membership. But the administration said it would phase out by 2010 all anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines lacking self-destruct and self-deactivation devices. (See ACT, March 2004.)

Anti-vehicle mines are unrestricted by any treaty, but the United States is attempting to change that through negotiations under the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW). For several years, Washington and its 30 co-sponsors have been pushing a new CCW measure to require all anti-vehicle mines outside marked perimeters to be detectable and rigged with self-destruct and self-deactivation devices. (See ACT, January/February 2006.)

But opposition from several countries, led by China and Russia, has prevented the initiative’s adoption, and the United States is losing patience. If the proposal fails to win acceptance at the Nov. 7-17 CCW review conference, Washington might drop it. “Do we keep on repeating ourselves?” a frustrated U.S. official commented to Arms Control Today Sept. 14.

China and Russia account for 85 percent of the estimated 160 million APLs stockpiled by countries outside the Ottawa Convention, according to the ICBL. Beijing possesses an estimated 110 million APLs, and Moscow stores about 26.5 million.

China was among the two dozen non-states-parties to attend the Geneva meeting. The United States did not participate and neither did Russia, which the ICBL accused along with Myanmar and Nepal of using APLs over the past year.