Banning Anti-Personnel Landmines

04 Nov, 1997    ·   26

Maj. Gen. (Retd.) Dipankar Banerjee explores the options India has as countries gear up for another meeting soon to be held as part of the Ottawa process to ban APLMs

1. There is one principal disarmament issue confronting the world in 1997. It is also a major humanitarian question. This is banning anti-personnel land mines (APLM). APLM came into prominence in the Second World War alongwith the larger and more devastating anti-tank mines. The latter were meant solely to stop assaulting tanks and were weapons of high military utility. APLM were laid to reinforce anti-tank minefields and prevent their lifting. It served a purpose then. But, in the last few decades it has been widely used for a host of other purposes, far removed from the original. Instead, it has emerged as a weapon that has inflicted enormous damage to totally innocent human beings, mainly women and children. By every reckoning it can justifiably be characterised as anti-humanitarian.



2. What position should India take on this? In its resolution 51/45S, the UN General Assembly on 10 December 1996, called on all states to "vigorously pursue and complete negotiation as soon as possible, on an effective, legally binding international agreement to ban the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of APLM". 156 states voted in favour and none opposed it. Ten countries abstained. Among the latter were Russia , China , Pakistan , Israel and the two Koreas . Sensing the global mood, Canada had taken up this issue even earlier. In October 1996, it convened a meeting in Ottawa where its PM called on all nations to sign a treaty to eliminate the APLM. A draft treaty text was prepared in Vienna in a meeting in February 1997. A conference in Oslo in September has commenced finalising the text of the Treaty. It will be opened for signature again in Ottawa on 2 Dec 1997.



3. Are APLM of high military utility? The answer is a qualified no. It is a weapon useful to have, like all weapons are. When you have a weapon, ways can always be found to justify its use. But the reality is that it causes casualties to civilians far in excess of what its military utility may legitimately justify. A conference of military experts in Asia at Manila in July 1997, in which the author participated, concluded that the APLM was indeed of marginal use.



4. Does the Indian Army require the APLM? It does serve a defensive purpose. Our posts in J&K often have mines forward for their protection against sudden assault. In the eventuality of a war, plans exist both in India and Pakistan to lay mines, primarily anti-tank mines almost all along our very long border. The purpose is to deter a surprise attack by enemy armour. But, not very large numbers are actually laid in a non-hot war scenario. Even then these have caused casualties to our own civilians in the border areas of J&K. The numbers are not alarming but still they cannot be ignored. The Indian Army has suffered serious casualties in earlier conflicts from APLM. Even today two serving senior Lt Gens. are amputees from mine casualties. There is every reason to look for alternatives that will not have the same debilitating effect as APLM and still serve the same purpose. The costs of such an alternative will not be very high.



5. India ’s interest? There is another and an even more sinister dimension to land mines and its variant the improvised explosive device (IED). It is their use in internal armed conflicts. Although APLM per se is not used in such conflicts, often its many adaptations derived out of land mines or other explosives are. India is among the most adversely affected nation in this category, next perhaps only to Sri Lanka . Only in the Kashmir Valley and in 1995 alone, these devices killed 109 persons and another 271 were injured. About one third of these were security forces personnel. Such figures are likely to be higher in the coming years. IED use has also spread to Northeast India and has ominous portents. It is true that IEDs cannot easily be banned. Non-state actors use these in internal armed conflicts, which are in any case undeclared wars, not between states. But, in the Amendment to Protocol II of the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, regulation on the use of APMs in internal armed conflicts was agreed upon. A ban on APLM will be a serious impediment to their use in internal armed conflicts. In any case, it is likely to set a strong precedence to support a ban on the IEDs in future. This is surely in India ’s interest.



6. What are the options before the Government?



Reject APLM Ban: Having supported the UNGA resolution less than a year ago this option will make India look hypocritical.



The Oslo Conference: India is not participating in the Oslo Conference either as a participant or as an observer. This cannot be an oversight or reflect short of Foreign Service personnel. There is very little likelihood of New Delhi ’s presence now in Ottawa in December.



  • Support the APLM Ban: Which means supporting the process throughout. The option not to ratify or reject the Treaty on supreme national interest can always be employed if our likely adversaries do not go along with the Treaty.



7. Considering India ’s current policy on disarmament issues and earlier history of participation, New Delhi cannot stand aside. The humanitarian nature of the APLM ban makes it incumbent that it be supported.



8. There is an interesting issue that is raised by the Ottawa process. Should significant discussions on disarmament be done away from the Conference on Disarmament? The 61 nation body in Geneva has the expertise and till now was responsible for all disarmament negotiations. But it is painfully slow. It also works on the principle of consensus, thus providing member nations a near veto status. Which allows only the lowest common denominator being accepted. At the same time it need not be the only body to determine arms control. This issue is important enough to merit serious consideration.



9. India has historically taken a strong position on disarmament issues. Especially when it is a question regarding a weapon of such devastating anti-humanitarian impact, India should stand up and be counted. Supporting elimination of a weapon of no vital military use, India can once again be aggressively on the side of disarmament.