Isaac Baker / Inter Press Service – 2005-08-12 09:22:57
After 10-Year Hiatus, Pentagon Eyes New Landmine
Isaac Baker / Inter Press Service
United Nations (August 3, 2005) — The George W. Bush administration may soon resume production of antipersonnel land mines in a move that is at odds with both the international community and previous US policy on the weapons, says a leading human rights organization.
In December of this year, the Pentagon will decide whether or not to begin producing a new type of antipersonnel land mine called a “Spider”. The first of these mines would then be scheduled to roll out in early 2007.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the funds for Spider’s production are already earmarked, as the Pentagon has requested $1.3 billion for the mine system, as well as for another mine called the Intelligent Munitions System, which is expected to be fully running by 2008.
A new report by the HRW issued Wednesday notes these weapons that kill and maim an estimated 500 people, mostly civilians, each week. The group called on the Bush administration to halt all research and development on all types of these widely-banned weapons.
“With very few exceptions, nearly every nation has endorsed the goal of a global ban on all antipersonnel mines at some point in the future,” the HRW report says. “Such acts (by the US) would clearly be against the trend of the emerging international consensus against any possession or use of antipersonnel mines.”
The US has not used antipersonnel land mines since the 1991 Gulf War, when it scattered over 100,000 land mines from planes in Iraq and Kuwait, according to HRW. Then, in 1992, Pres. George H.W. Bush signed into law a moratorium introduced by Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy on the export of all antipersonnel land mines.
In 1994 the US called for the “eventual elimination” of all such mines and in 1996, Pres. Bill Clinton said the US would “seek a worldwide agreement as soon as possible to end the use of all antipersonnel mines.” The US produced its last antipersonnel land mine in 1997.
It has also been the stated objective of the US government that it would someday join the 145 countries party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the use, production, exporting, and stockpiling of antipersonnel land mines.
However, the Bush administration made an about-face in US antipersonnel land mine policy in February 2004, when it abandoned any pretense of joining the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention.
“The United States will not join the Ottawa Convention because its terms would have required us to give up a needed military capability,” the US Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs said in a statement in February 2004, summing up the administration’s new policy.
“Landmines still have a valid and essential role protecting United States forces in military operations… No other weapon currently exists that provides all the capabilities provided by landmines.”
It was this policy, HRW says, that laid the groundwork for the US government’s new antipersonnel land mine slated for production as early as 2007.
“We are beginning to see the bitter fruit of the new Bush administration land mine policy,” Steve Goose, director of HRW’s arms division said in a statement. “The US appears well on the way to resuming production of antipersonnel mines. Renewed export and renewed use of these inhumane weapons may not be far behind.”
However, there are reports that the US use of antipersonnel land mines may already have occurred or be occurring now.
The Pentagon is yet to confirm or deny reports that the US government was to begin deploying a remote-controlled antipersonnel land mine system called Matrix to Iraq. A total of 25 of these mine systems, which can be detonated from a distance via radio signal, have allegedly been sent to Iraq in May of this year for use by the US Army’s Stryker Brigade, the report says.
Given the immensity of international support for the banning of antipersonnel land mines, if the Pentagon does resume production of the weapons, diplomatic problems are almost certain to ensue.
“If they go ahead and do this, they will really be breaking some new ground,” Mary Wareham, a senior advocate in HRW’s arms division, told IPS. “It will be a massive step backwards for the US in terms of making any good will. If they did it, it would be bad news all around and I’m sure that there would be protests.”
The 145 parties to the Ottawa Convention are also forbidden to “assist” others in acts that are prohibited by the treaty. Therefore, US military allies could be at risk of breaching the treaty in joint military operations where antipersonnel land mines are being used.
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Bush Administration Abandons Landmine Ban
Reversal Means US Can Use Mines Indefinitely, Anywhere
Human Rights Watch
(Washington, February 27, 2004) – The Bush Administration’s reversal of a ten-year policy to eliminate all antipersonnel landmines puts the United States in near total isolation in the global effort to ban mines, Human Rights Watch said today. Today the Pentagon announces the outcome of its two and one-half year review of US policy on all landmines.
“This new landmine policy is not just a gigantic step backward for the United States, it is a complete about-face,” said Stephen Goose, executive director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. “While the rest of the world is rushing to embrace an immediate and comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines, the Bush administration has decided to cling to the weapon in perpetuity.”
In 1994, the United States was the first nation to call for the “eventual elimination” of all antipersonnel landmines. Since 1998, it has been official U.S. policy to give up the use of all antipersonnel mines and join the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006 if landmine alternatives are in place.
Human Rights Watch said the most important, and objectionable, aspect of the new policy is the decision not to give up “smart” mines that have self-destruct mechanisms designed to blow the mines up after a period of time. Goose said that the policy change means that now U.S. forces are free to use smart mines anywhere in the world, indefinitely.
“So-called smart mines are not safe mines— they still pose real dangers for civilians,” said Goose. “The United States stands alone in this position that there can be a technological solution to the global landmine problem.”
Human Rights Watch said that most immediately, the new policy negates the requirement contained in Presidential Decision Directive 64 of 1998 to end the use of about 8.4 million of the 10.4 million antipersonnel mines in the United States arsenal as
of 2003 (all ADAM artillery-delivered antipersonnel mines and PDM special forces antipersonnel mines).
In another disturbing aspect of the new policy, the Bush administration said it will stop using “persistent,” or “dumb,” landmines after 2010—four years later than the previous target date.
“This new policy is especially surprising and disappointing in that the United States has largely been in compliance with a comprehensive ban for years,” said Goose.
The United States has apparently not used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported since 1992, has not produced since 1997, has destroyed more than 3 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines, and has provided more funding for mine clearance, mine risk education and mine victim assistance than any other single nation.
“The United States apparently found no military requirement to use antipersonnel mines in the recent conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq. This is a clear indication of the lack of utility of antipersonnel mines in modern warfare, and in post-9/11 warfare,” said Goose. “The new policy shows the inability of the Pentagon to give up an outmoded weapon, and the lack of political leadership by the White House.”
The new U.S. policy stands in stark contrast to the emerging international norm against
antipersonnel mines. A total of 141 countries are now party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits all use, production, trade and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. Another nine countries have signed but not yet ratified. Momentum for the treaty and the comprehensive ban has been growing in recent months as Greece, Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, Belarus, Burundi and Sudan have come on board. The United States is now the only member of NATO not party to the treaty.
Virtually all of the other forty-four non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty have endorsed the notion of a complete ban on all antipersonnel mines at some point in the future — often at the urging of the United States in years past. Many countries that are not party to the treaty have been taking steps toward it, such as cessation of production and export.
• Please also see “ Human Rights Watch Position Paper on ‘Smart’ (Self-Destructing) Landmines”
• “ New U.S. Landmine Policy: Questions and Answers”
• Landmine Monitor Report 2003
Report, September 9, 2003
• New U.S. Landmine Policy: Questions and Answers
Background Briefing, February 27, 2004
• Human Rights Watch Position Paper on “Smart” Self-Destructing) Landmines
Background Briefing, February 27, 2004
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