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Debate: Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Treaty)

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Is an international ban on landmines justified? Should the USA and other non-signatories join?

Background and context

The 1997 Ottawa Convention banned the use and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines. 156 nations had signed the treaty as of April of 2010. The USA and Cuba were the two primary nations abstaining. The Convention's aims became official United Nations policy with General Assembly Resolution 53/77. The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans all use, production, and trade of antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiled mines within four years, requires destruction of mines already in the ground within 10 years. It also urges extensive programs to assist the victims of landmines.[1] The public debate and pro and con arguments in this debate are presented below, particularly in the context of whether the United States and other non-members should sign and join the treaty (or accede to its principles). The issue gained renewed attention in May of 2010 when sixty-eight Senators drafted a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging his support for an international treaty banning landmines.[2]

Contents

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Decency: Are landmines a uniquely indecent, and atrocious weapon of war?

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Yes

  • Landmines indiscriminately kill civilians, violate laws of war Unlike other weaponry, landmines remain hidden in the ground long after conflicts have ended, killing and maiming civilians in some of the world’s poorest countries years, even decades later. This violates the laws of war that armies may not indiscriminately kill civilians.
  • The Mine Ban Treaty has saved many lives "Mine Ban Advocates Denounce White House Decision to Retain Landmines and Abandon Mine Ban Treaty". US Campaign to Ban Landmines. 27 Feb. 2004: "Since the early 1990s when the mine ban movement began in earnest, the number of mine producing countries has dropped from 54 to 14. Trade of the weapon has come almost to a halt, and more than 52 million antipersonnel landmines have been destroyed from the arsenals of the world. Nations have removed millions of landmines from communities devastated by the weapon and have provided medical and rehabilitative support to victims of landmines. Most importantly, say anti-landmine advocates, casualty rates from the weapon have dropped from approximately 26,000 people per year to 15,000-20,000 per year, though millions more continue to suffer the agricultural, economic, and psychological consequences wrought by the presence of the weapon in more than 80 countries worldwide."
  • Landmines do not respect the cessation of conflict. It is generally important for nations to respect cease fires and peace agreements following the cessation of hostilities. The use of landmines makes it impossible for this to happen.
  • War involves civilian casualties, but landmines are egregious. It is true that many weapons kill civilians during war, and that civilian casualties have long been part of war. But this is no excuse for using an indiscriminate weapon such as landmines, which inflict particularly tragic damage on civilians during and after conflicts. It is appropriate to ban a class of weapons on these grounds.[4]
Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch: “Joining the treaty is the right thing to do from both a humanitarian and a military perspective.”[6]


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No

  • Landmines can be deployed judiciously with 0 risk to citizens Jim Coles 3d, a civilian spokesman for the 37,000 American troops in South Korea: "The use of mines here is extensive but judicious, aimed at preventing breakthroughs and not just at blowing people up."[7] When the use of landmines is targeted and isolated in this particular way, the risks to civilians - both immediate and long-term - are minimal, while the defensive military value is very high.
  • Landmines serve a defensive purpose. Landmines, unlike other tools of war, serve a defensive purpose that prevent aggressors from crossing borders and invading other countries. This defensive tool is valuable as a means of protecting civilians from aggressors and the plight of war.
  • Landmines may kill civilians, but so do other weapons of war. Landmines are not uniquely bad in this way and the debate about them has distorted the public perception of landmines – in truth, they are little different to a hundred other types of weaponry that remain legal under the Ottawa ban.[8]
  • Geneva Conventions regulates use of landmines; ban is excessive. The appropriate use of landmines is governed by the Geneva Convention. This ensures that the use of landmines in specific instances is consistent with international humanitarian law and norms. The use of landmines in the DMS of Korea, for instance, can be justified under the Geneva Convention, because they pose no real threat to civilians, and serve a defensive purpose. The real issue is ensuring that landmines are used in this kind of a way under the Geneva Conventions, not whether we should ban them altogether.
  • General statements in favor of preserving land mines. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration had decided against signing the treaty: "We would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies."[9]
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Utility in war: Do land mines provide little military utility?

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Yes

  • US and others have securely gone w/o mines for years A 2010 letter from US senators to president Obama: "our NATO allies have addressed their force protection needs in accordance with their obligations under the Convention.' The US has already gone without using these weapons for almost two decades. It is time to make a commitment never to use them again."[10] The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, has had an export ban in place since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997.[11]
  • The usefulness of landmines is significantly over-represented: In 1996, military experts from 19 countries signed on to an ICRC policy statement based on an independent study that concluded that mines were of “limited military utility”.[12] This is in part because landmines can be defused by an enemy with relative ease. And, also, they can be worked-around, with tunnels and alternative routes. Finally, as seen below, they also inhibit the movement of those that plant them, which can be particularly dangerous if a military is flanked and forced to move across the mine field.
  • A combination of weapons can substitute for landmines A group of 15 retired top-ranking US officers publicly asked President Bill Clinton to support a total ban. They stated: "Given the wide range of weaponry available to military forces today, anti-personnel landmines are not essential."[13]
  • International norm against mines means no country is disadvantaged. If all countries are part of the mine ban treaty, than no country is disadvantaged by not producing and using mines. This equality offers protection.


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No

  • Land mines are effective at containing military threats. Land mines serve a basic function. They prevent troops and tanks from crossing a certain territorial border. This is an important means of self-defense. And, it is valuable to consider that it serves a defensive purpose, as opposed to an offensive purpose.[15]
  • Landmines help defend large swaths of territory at little cost. They permit the defense of an area without requiring large numbers of personnel. This is a legitimate aim both in warfare, when military personnel are spread too thinly to protect all civilians, and in poor countries during peacetime, who would rather invest in their infrastructure than funding the military capacity that would otherwise be required to defend the same ground. In the future, landmines may not be needed. However, whilst armies still depend on conventional weapons and movement – moving tanks and large infantry groups – and borders are weak, the defensive tactic of landmines is highly appropriate: it is cheap, affordable, and maintains borders. Their existence can slow or stop an advance, delaying or even halting conflict; they can deter invasion in the first place. By guarding wide areas from swift armed advance on civilians, they can prevent genocide.[16]
  • Land mines are an important option to maintain. Militaries around the world benefit from being able to keep the tactic of land mines on the table. While the use of land mines should be discouraged in general, a full-on ban eliminates the option of using landmines when it may be necessary and valuable for national defense and even humanitarian reasons during some conflicts.
  • Landmines can protect peacekeepers. Landmines are used to protect peacekeepers abroad. Stopping their use would endanger the lives of peacekeepers and make the USA less likely to enter into such operations – part of the reason the USA refused to sign the Ottawa treaty in 1997, and has declined to do so since.[17]
  • Nations will have to develop larger armies if they can't deploy landmines. Without landmines, a country may feel it is necessary to expand the size of its army in order to protect its borders and people. This can become very costly for a nation. And, once an army is up and running, the country may get the idea, why not use it?.


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In Korea: Are landmines unnecessary between North and South Korea?

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Yes

  • North Korea's tunnel network under DMZ undermines landmines. North Korea has built an extensive tunnel network underneath the landmines in the DMZ, which would allow its forces to move underneath the mined area unobstructed.[19]
  • Mines in DMZ controlled by S. Korea; unaffected by US joining Human Rights Campaign: "Letters from US Senators in 2010 to Obama in support of joining the ban addressed two issues raised over the years by those who were hesitant to join the treaty. One is whether land mines would have to be removed from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The letters note that the mines there are the responsibility of South Korea, not the United States, and that if the United States joins the treaty, mines in the DMZ would not be affected."[20]
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No

  • Only thing between the gun and the bird The mines are effectively the only things blocking the North Korean menace. Although South Korea's defenses are also formidable, it can be easily crashed by the lines of North Korean artillery and by its irregular and unconventional weaponry, which South Korea is not equipped against, as its armed forces are not suited to fight against irregular forces, which North Korea is mostly made of. That being, South Korea is vulnerable North Korea. And the only thing standing between the gun and the bird is the mines, yet the people sitting behind desks are talking about banning them...
  • Defending against North Korean blitzkrieg requires landmines Without it, North Korea’s million man army could easily cross into South Korea and take Seoul before defences could be organised. South Korea is a key ally of the USA and to join in the ban on landmines would be to betray that ally. The failure of the Ottawa Convention to grant an exception for the Korean peninsula was the key reason for USA non-participation.[21]
  • Landmines in Korea would force attackers into vulnerable territory. These zones are called "killing zones" in the military. By making it more difficult and potentially costly in terms of lives for aggressors to launch attacks, land-mines - even if not covering the entirety of a border - help deter aggressors.
  • Landmines in the Korean DMZ do not threaten civilians This is an important fact in defense of the United States' policies. It illustrates that the United States uses landmines only for a specific zone in a single country, rather than deploying landmines in a widespread effort. This is important because most of the costs associated with landmines relate to the broad use of them in war zones and civilian areas. The United States is certainly not doing this in Korea. US policy, therefore, is not susceptible to the many arguments against landmines.
  • Removing landmines from the DMZ harder than "no new mines". There is a difference between the United States agreeing to stop producing and deploying land mines in new places and it agreeing to actively remove its existing landmines from the DMZ. Such active removal of landmines is more disruptive to existing US strategic calculus in North Korea. A "no new mines" policy, if anything, is superior.
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US-arguments: Other arguments related to the United States.

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Yes

  • Mine Ban Treaty does not ban anti-tank mines. The US has expressed concern regarding the Ottawa Treaty in relation to how it would effect anti-tank mines. Yet, the treaty does not actually ban the use of these mines.


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No

  • The US has already signed a landmine treaty. The US signed the Amended Mines Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). This regulates the use of mines. It is, therefore, not necessary for it to sign the Ottawa Treaty.
  • Geneva Conventions regulates use of landmines; ban is excessive. The appropriate use of landmines is governed by the Geneva Convention. This ensures that the use of landmines in specific instances is consistent with international humanitarian law and norms. The use of landmines in the DMS of Korea, for instance, can be justified under the Geneva Convention, because they pose no real threat to civilians.
  • US policy actively combats landmines. The US goes to extensive lengths to clear landmines around the world. Its policy is generally opposed to the use of landmines. It reserves the use of landmines only for a very select few instances, namely, North Korea.


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"Smart mines": Are smart mines an insufficient alternative?

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Yes

  • Not all "smart mines" will work as designed. All weapons have a failure rate. Civilians hold all the risks surrounding these weapons potentially failing, and exploding well after a conflict.


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No

  • Mine Ban Treaty fails to distinguish between different kinds of mines. The Americans have mines that can deactivate themselves and can self-destruct. America only manufactures smart mines, and since 1976 the USA has tested 32,000 mines with a successful self-destruction rate of 99.996 per cent. The ban also fails to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible users. Under American deployment, only smart mines are used, and they are used responsibly, being set and removed in a methodical manner.[22]
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Clearing mines: Is clearing mines an insufficient solution?

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Yes

  • War-time use of landmines hampers post-war reconstruction. It is absurd to suggest that there are two separate issues about landmines: wartime use and post-conflict removal. The two are inextricably interlinked. Most nations that deploy landmines, including those manufactured by the United States, never clear them afterwards. As demonstrated by decades of inaction on the part of nations after determined lobbying by passionate activists, it is folly to rely on goodwill or trust to remove landmines. It is simple – if they are manufactured and deployed, innocent people inevitably die. The USA should not dirty its hands by the trade in these wicked weapons.[23]
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No

  • Efforts to clear landmines should be improved, instead banning them. The use of land mines in war time or a tense environment is a totally separate issue to cleaning them up in peace time; efforts to blur the two together by pro-ban commentators should be resisted. The latter can be fixed without banning the former. The proposition completely accepts that the consequence of keeping land mines legal is an obligation on the part of those that use them to fund clean-up efforts, and the USA is indeed doing this in many troubled countries. The attention of the very humanitarian organisations calling for a ban will ensure this obligation is met.


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Small nations: Would landmine ban benefit or harm small countries?

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Yes

  • Landmines provide a false sense of security: They are often purchased and placed by nations that are fearful of their surrounding neighbours, rather than entering into diplomatic arena to improve relations. They are the symbol of exactly the wrong approach to international affairs. Small, underdeveloped countries should channel their efforts into improving their economies – they should not be encouraged (or frightened by scaremongering) by the USA into buying the USA’s military equipment.
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No

  • Banning landmines disadvantages smaller countries. These countries are unable to develop the higher-technology military capacity that has made mines less useful to richer nations. Because of this, banning landmines harms precisely the kind of nation most likely to need them for defensive purposes.
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Enforcement: Is a ban on landmines enforceable over time?

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Yes

  • A ban can be enforced slowly over time. It is obviously true that only those nations that obey laws will obey the law. That is a rationale for never passing any law. There will certainly be some nations that seek to ignore the ban – but as it gains stature and is embedded in the world’s view as a concrete rule that should never be broken, such nations will eventually come around, especially if the diplomatic and moral might of the United States is seen to be behind the ban. For examples, foreign officers trained at US Military Colleges will increasingly view the use of mines as unacceptable. Even if they do not, at least usage will have been vastly reduced by all those nations that do obey the terms of the Convention. Moral pressure is felt by the ruling regimes of almost all countries – setting an example will increase pressure on others to do the same. Even if they don’t, doing the right thing in and of itself is very important. Ultimately, this is about what kind of global society you want to live in. Do you wish to live in a society that tries hard to stop the use of such horrible weapons, and occasionally fails, or one that never even bothers to try?[24]


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No

  • The ban has an asymmetric effect. it only stops nations that obey the law from using landmines. Most nations contemplating invasion will ignore it, deploying them aggressively to defend captured territory. On the other hand, many nations that would use landmines defensively for themselves, or for multinational defence of another vulnerable nation or people, will observe the ban and thus weaken themselves and expose those they guard. The landmine should in fact be a primary tool of the United Nations efforts to protect those in its care. Nations that want to use landmines will do so regardless of the position taken by the USA (or any other nation) - as demonstrated by the current prolific use of mines despite the mass of signatories to the Ottawa convention. And if we might one day face an enemy deploying landmines, we must expose our soldiers to their use in training so that we do not expose them to serious harm.[25]


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Wildlife: Do land mines threaten wild life?

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Yes


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No

  • DMZ is literally the most wild area In South Korea, the DMZ is well-known to be a heaven for wildlife. It's cluttered with mines, yet it has many types of animals that are endangered in South Korea. For example, recently, a pack of tigers thought to be extinct in South Korea was seen. This is proof that the DMZ, although cluttered with mines, are safe for the wilderness.
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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No

See also

External links and resources

Books:

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