The Case Against Landmines

As detailed in the section on The History of the ICBL, the case against landmines has gathered immense support from governments, non-governmental agencies and the general public. The Landmine Fact Sheet attests to the devastation landmines continue to cause, a large reason for the depth and width of support for the ICBL. The US government, however, has yet to sign on to the Oslo treaty. Their reasons for failing to do so, and a refutation of these reasons, is the focus of this section.
The US has professed to a number of reasons for failing to sign the treaty. Citing "unique obligations in the world that arise out of practical circumstances and security concerns of our friends and allies, as well as our own", the US has asked for a "geographic exception to allow the stockpiling and use of anti-personnel landmines to defend the US and it's allies on the Korean peninsula" (Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation web site). Essentially, the US government feels that they should be granted the one and only exception to the landmine ban. The US government has also taken objection to the landmine ban's failure to discriminate between so-called "smart" and "dumb" landmines, and the ban's inclusion of anti-personnel components of anti-tank landmines (
These arguments have been repeatedly addressed by proponents of the ICBL. As early as August of 1997, members of the ICBL warned, "the US is preparing to launch a full-scale assault on the treaty." While "other nations [were] prepared to negotiate a true ban without exceptions and loopholes", the US was only concerned with satisfying demands that would "fundamentally undermine the treaty"(VVAF web site). If each one of the 100 other nations who did sign the treaty had insisted on loopholes which would ensure that all their national concerns were addressed, the treaty would be watered-down to a point of complete meaninglessness. Furthermore, numerous former generals and other military strategists have gone on record saying that the US does not need landmines on the Korean peninsula (Physicians for Human Rights and the Arms Project; Landmines: A Deadly Legacy; New York: Human Rights Watch; 1993). On the contrary, many argue that landmines, the majority of which are US laid or have US-made components, are responsible for a large portion of American casualties (Stephanopoulous, George; "The President is Wrong;" Newsweek; September 22, 1997; 40). According to Susannah Sirkin, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, as recent as May 28th three South Korean soldiers (allies of the US) were killed by landmines while patrolling the Korean demilitarized zone, the very location where the US has so adamantly fought for an exception to the landmine ban.
Dr. Sirkin also addressed the US contention that an exception is also warranted for "smart" landmines (those which self-destruct after a given period of time), saying "we think all mines are dumb. Whether a mine self-destructs in x or y time doesn't prevent people being unnecessarily injured by it." As for the US's objection to the banning of mixed mines (combinations of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines), Sirkin maintains that, given the nature of the arms market, such an exception would result in anti-personnel mines being laid separately from anti-tank mines (to see a complete transcript of our interview with Susannah Sirkin, click here).
The final US contention is that we should not sign the treaty because, until Russia, China, Iraq, Libya, Cuba and others do so as well, the treaty will be meaningless. While it is true that the treaty would be much more effective with these states' signatures, that does not excuse the US from its own inaction. To the contrary, the US should have taken a leadership role in the ICBL. As Jill Greenberg of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines stated, "if the US were to participate in the negotiations in good faith, it would be a significant boost to the treaty, lending US prestige and diplomatic clout and likely encouraging many other reluctant nations to join in" ( But, because of President Clinton's inability to stand up to the Pentagon and do what everyone from former aid George Stephanopoulous to Hillary and Chelsea Clinton have urged him to do, the US is relegated to, at best, the role of a follower in anti-landmine legislation (Stephanopoulous, George; "The President is Wrong;" Newsweek; September 22, 1997; 40). As Jody Williams said soon after being awarded the Nobel Prize, "if President Clinton wants the legacy of his administration to be that he did not have the courage to be the commander in chief of his own military, that is his legacy, and I feel sorry for him. I think it's tragic that President Clinton does not want to be on the side of humanity" (U. Washington web site).
The US government, however, is not the only source of contention to the ICBL. Significant opposition has been voiced by, surprisingly enough, some members of the mine-clearing community. In a recent article in Guardian, Paul Jefferson, a former mine-clearer, issued a stinging rebuke of the ICBL (see complete article). His main contention was that the money used in the ICBL would have been better used to support mine-clearing. On the surface, his argument has some validity. It is doubtful that the landmine ban will have a large or immediate effect upon the actual number of landmines laid in the ground. But, the increased public awareness/international organization that the ICBL has caused cannot be duplicated. In fact, many nations that have signed the treaty, and many others that feel some level of guilt at not signing (especially the US) have donated enormous amounts of money to the mine-clearing cause (Susannah Sirkin, interview by authors, video recording, Boston, Ma., 29 May 1998). Mr. Jefferson's contention that such funding is "unsustainable and destined to be short-lived" need hold true only if he and his fellow deminers cannot convince benefactors that demining is worthy of continued financial support.
The importance of the ICBL goes far beyond the Oslo treaty. Through brilliant manipulation of the media (and thus, public sentiment), the ICBL has brought landmines to the forefront of current de-arming campaigns in an extremely short period. And there is no reason that this needs to end with the implementation of the Oslo treaty after 40 ratifications are obtained. The unprecedented union of governments and non-governmental agencies in shaping international policy can be extended to many other causes, including mine-clearance. The ICBL has provided a way for ordinary people to influence global causes. The momentum gained with the unexpected success of Ottawa and Oslo is already being utilized to continue the push against these inhumane weapons. As Jody Williams herself once said, "if the military think they have to fight with each other, they should point the guns at each other; they should not involve all of civil society" (
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