No to time-release mass murder weapon

17 Jan, 1998    ·   51

Ramesh Thakur says that a "feel good" landmine ban treaty is better than a "feel bad treaty or a feel empty non-treaty".

The Mine Ban Treaty, signed in Ottawa on Dec 3-4 by over 120 countries, bans the use, production, acquisition, stockpiling and transfer of all anti-personnel landmines except for a minimum number for training. Antitank mines are still permitted, so long as they are vehicle- or command- but not victim-activated. The United States, Russia and China should climb aboard the Ottawa Express. They have been left feeling lonely, exposed and decidedly uncomfortable, especially after the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the antimine campaign.

Land mines should be outlawed because of the horrific nature of injuries; because they are victim-activated; because 80-90 percent of the victims are civilian; and because they continue to cause death and injury for decades after being sown: the weapon of mass murder in slow motion. They are a humanitarian tragedy, a threat to peace and stability and an obstacle to reconstruction and development.

Existing stockpiles must be destroyed within three years of the Ottawa Treaty's entry into force and minefields cleared within 10, although extensions of up to 10 years is possible. The treaty is not subject to reservations or time limit. A party may withdraw with six months' notice, but, if it is engaged in armed conflict at the end of the six months, its withdrawal will be suspended until the end of hostilities.

Washington had demanded a package of four modifications; all were rejected. While US endorsement of would have added significantly to the convention's political weight, accommodating US wishes would have greatly diluted the treaty. Its integrity proved more important than US inclusion.

The Americans squabbled over the deferral period, wanting the treaty to come into force after nine years; they wanted a change in the definition of land mines in order to permit the continued deployment of their mixed antitank, antipersonnel mine systems; they pressed for the Korean Peninsula to be exempted from the treaty because of its unique security environment; and they wanted an opt-out clause in the event of war.

Some belittle the Ottawa Treaty as a 'feel good' outcome. We can do with feeling good. Besides, like old age, it is better than the alternative: a 'feel bad' treaty, or a 'feel empty' nontreaty.