Global Ban on Landmines

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War is the furtherance of foreign policy through violence. The authors of the top secret Report from Iron Mountain went further - it was war that defined the state, war was the sole rationale for the state's existence, without war the state could no longer exist. Post-Cold War, thirty years later, some credence is lent to the authors' views with the collapse and disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, many more countries are starting to fall apart at the seams.

War legitimises the state's use of violence. Other areas in which the state legitimises violence for use on its own behalf are the police and security services and the judiciary. The state always maintains a monopoly on the legitimised use of violence. Violence by others is defined as terrorism, terrorism by the state is defined as statecraft.

Wars are bloody affairs. Throughout the centuries society has developed rules for the conduct of warfare, rules of conduct on the battlefield, treatment of civilians and prisoners of war, weapons that may or may not be used.

Landmines have little military utility. They impose a heavy price on civilians. The world demands a permanent ban on their manufacture, stockpiling, sale and deployment.

Mines, anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines are explosive devices that sit atop the ground or are partially buried. On close proximity or contact with their intended target or victim they explode, causing damage, injury or death.

Mines will be laid around an area or along a border to protect some strategic position. The lethal modern day equivalent of a medieval moat. In theory their position is carefully noted, the minefield to be cleared once hostilities have ceased. Mines are also sown from the air to deny an enemy the use of an area or region. In practise this is the only use of mines, area denial, to create a permanent hazard that maximises casualties for an enemy long after cessation of hostilities.

The biggest problems with mines is that they are non-discriminatory and non-specific and will kill long after the original conflict is over. Unlike guns, missiles or other weapons mines are not aimed at an intended target, mines kill whatever comes into their lethal zone, be it booted soldier or barefoot child. Though their intended target may have been military, many refute this and see landmines as a terrorist weapon aimed at civilians, the usual victims are civilians, usually the poorest members of society and more often than not children.

Landmines deny the use of agricultural land. The value of the land falls. The poorest, most marginalised of the population will be forced onto this land. Children, out of natural curiosity, play with landmines. The landmines are often brightly coloured and of interesting shapes, making them doubly attractive to children.

During the Gulf War area denial anti-personnel munitions were dropped. Children found these coke-can like shapes interesting, picked them up, pulled the little parachute and lost an eye, a limb, if not their life. The only conclusion that could be drawn was that the intended target was the civilian population, especially children.

Modern mines are made of plastic. This makes detection and clearance difficult if not impossible. Casualties are maximised. Once embedded in human flesh, the plastic mine fragments are difficult to both detect and extract.

During the Vietnam War a new type of anti-personnel weapon was tried out. Dropped from aircraft, the cluster bomblets sprayed out small metallic looking plastic darts. Almost impossible to detect or extract, these darts moved around inside the victim's body causing maximum damage. The victim usually died an agonising death several day's later from severe internal injuries.

Landmines kill, mutilate and maim tens of thousands of civilians every year.

Landmines have to be cleared by hand. Military mine-clearing techniques will not work. For every mine cleared, a further twenty are laid.

Millions of landmines lay buried, primed to kill, waiting to be cleared as one Cambodian surgeon put it 'one limb at a time'. The current estimate is that landmines are killing 800 people a month.

The military case for landmines has always been weak. This was best put by General Sir Hugh Beach in a letter to The Times written in support of Save the Children (9 September 1997). To be effective a minefield has to be observed, if under observation, it renders the mines themselves redundant (which under International Law have to be clearly marked, fenced, and ultimately rendered harmless). The minefield can easily be cleared for or during an attack either by mechanised vehicles with flails (or other mine clearance devices) or by waves of attacks if the attacker is not too worried about casualties. Senior US military who have served in Korea have expressed the same opinion as General Sir Hugh Beach.

Diana in Angola The issue of landmines was very much fixed in the public consciousness by the very public involvement of Princess Diana. Diana said that even advance briefings left her totally unprepared for what she found in Angola. On ending her trip to Angola, Princess Diana said she had found new fulfilment as a champion of the fight to ban landmines, a crusade she now hoped to take to trouble spots around the globe. The Angola trip was followed by a trip to Bosnia, followed by a gala in the States.

Governments around the world fell into line, Clinton who had steadfastly opposed a ban had no choice but in bad grace to climb aboard the bandwagon before it left without him.

In efforts to deflect a ban the manufacturers have pointed to 'smart' landmines that self-detonate after some pre-determined time. This has two problems. First, the mechanisms are not reliable. Conservative estimates put the failure rate at around 10%, in the Gulf it was as high as 25%, the manufacturers themselves admit to 5%. Second, the self-detonation is random, generating maximum hazard for mine clearance operations.

Prior to the Oslo Conference, Clinton was under immense pressure from the Pentagon to oppose a ban. Their worse fear was that the US spoiler clause, to allow the use of landmines 'if in the national interest', would be dropped. In the event, the US failed to get any support for its position, and was forced to withdraw its objections. But the US refused to support the final treaty.

The public can support Clinton against the Pentagon by reminding him of his promise to Princess Diana to support a global ban on landmines.

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Politicians around the world need close monitoring. Do their deeds match their words? The UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, launched an 'ethical' foreign policy then agreed to the supply of Hawk ground-attack aircraft to Indonesia. Those politicians supporting a global ban deserve our support, those opposed our strongest condemnation. Following the death of Princess Diana, Robin Cook became one of the strongest proponents of a global ban, with no exceptions.

On Wednesday 17 September 1997 excellent news was announced from Oslo. The US that up until the previous day had been attempting to draft spoiler clauses into the draft treaty announced it was dropping all its objections. The US delegation privately admitted that they had never been under so much pressure. But, the US announced that it would not be supporting the treaty.

Almost 100 countries announced they would be supporting the treaty. Noticeable exceptions were the US, Russia, China, India and Pakistan who announced the treaty would not have their support.

Further pressure needs to be applied to those countries not supporting the treaty. Congratulations to those who have given their support. We also need to ensure that those countries who pledged their support at Oslo sign and ratify the treaty.

Looking further ahead, post-Ottawa, where the treaty is to be ratified, we need support for mine clearance, support for victims and their families (neither of which are addressed by the treaty). Under the principle 'the polluter shall pay' it is the arms companies who have profited from this evil contamination of the earth's surface who should be forced to pay.

The treaty to ban landmines is a classic example of what can be achieved when NGOs and governments work together with determination to achieve a goal. Notwithstanding a very special thanks to Princess Diana without whose help this would not have all been possible.

It has been proposed that both Princess Diana and ICBL be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, also that the Landmines Treaty be named in honour of Princess Diana.

Following the tragic death of Princess Diana the world demands a fully comprehensive global ban on the manufacture, stockpiling, sale and deployment of all landmines. For many this is a fitting tribute to her memory.

Sources of Information

There are many sources on the 'net, including on-line petitions.

Within the UK, CAAT, a member of the UK Working Group on Landmines campaigns for a global ban on landmines and a halt to the export of arms to repressive regimes.

Note Friday 10 October 1997, it was announced that the Nobel Peace Prize was to be awarded to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Due acknowledgement was given to the help and support that had been given by Princess Diana, without whose help it was unlikely that agreement would have been reached at Oslo.

Note Friday 10 October 1997, Boris Yeltsin announced that Russia would be supporting the Oslo Treaty on a comprehensive ban on landmines. The US was looking increasingly isolated and questions were starting to be asked as to whether Clinton was Commander-in-Chief or the Pentagon.

Note Tuesday 21 October 1997, Japan announced its intention to support a global ban on landmines.

Note Sunday 2 November 1997, South Africa became the first country to destroy its stockpile of landmines. A few mines were retained for training purposes.

Note Thursday 4 December 1997, UK announced that it was signing the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines. Tribute was paid to Princess Diana for the part she had played.

Note Monday 9 March 1998, the Princess Diana Memorial Trust announced the first tranche of money to be awarded, among the major beneficiaries was to be the victims of landmines.

Note Wednesday 1 July 1998, after months of foot dragging Tony Blair announced at Prime Minister's Question Time that his government would be introducing to Parliament in the following week a Bill to ratify the Landmines Treaty. The day was Diana's birthday, had she lived she would have been 37.

Note Friday 10 July 1998, in a special sitting, a Bill to ratify the Landmines Treaty was passed by the House of Commons. The Bill is flawed. It permits UK troops to lay landmines in cooperation with other countries who have not signed the Treaty.

Note Friday 31 July 1998, the UK Defence Secretary, George Robertson, announced a total ban on the UK use of landmines. This removed a loophole that had allowed British troops to use landmines under exceptional circumstances.

Note Thursday 17 September 1998, the 40th country ratified the Landmines Treaty, it will now automatically become international law in six month time.

Note Monday 22 February 1999, the British Army announced that it had destroyed its last remaining stocks of anti-personnel landmines. The UK Defence Secretary, George Robertson, declared that never again would they be used by the British Army.

Note Monday 1 March 1999, The Ottawa Treaty, the international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, came into force. US, Russia, China, India and Pakistan have refused to sign the treaty.

Note 14-17 September 1999, DSEi, Chertsey. A Romanian company were caught red-handed selling anti-personnel landmines at the UK's biggest Arms Fair in Surrey, England. Both the UK and Romania are signatories to The Ottawa Treaty. DSEi was held at the height of the Indonesian atrocities in East Timor. Indonesian generals were to be honoured guests. The atrocities in East Timor were carried out with the tacit approval of the UK government, the UK is the main arms supplier to Indonesia.

Index ~ Diana
(c) Keith Parkins 1997-1999 -- October 1999 rev 15