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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 19, October 1997

The Campaign to Ban Landmines:
Post-Oslo Developments

In Oslo on 17 September, nearly 100 States agreed the text of a treaty providing for a total ban on all anti-personnel landmines. The treaty is due to be opened for signature in Ottawa on 3 December - the culmination of the 'Ottawa Process', aimed at a fast-track accord and launched by Canada in October 1996. China and the US are among major mine-possessing States not intending to sign the treaty - the position of Russia is less clear. See last issue for a report on the Oslo Conference by Jo-Anne Velin. The following review surveys post-Oslo developments.

Nobel Peace Prize for ICBL and Jody Williams

It was announced in Oslo on 10 October that the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize would be awarded jointly to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the campaign's coordinator, Jody Williams. The ICBL, a loose coalition of anti-mines groups, was formed in 1992. According to the statement of the Nobel Committee: "The ICBL and Jody Williams started a process which in the space of a few years changed a ban on anti-personnel mines from a vision to a feasible reality." The Committee added that it wished "to express the hope that the Ottawa process will win even wider support. ... As a model for similar processes in the future, it could prove of decisive importance to the international effort for disarmament and peace."

The ICBL and Ms. Williams were showered with plaudits from many States and activists. A small selection of reaction, all made on 10 October, follows.

Statement by Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy
"I am delighted at the Nobel Committee's choice and offer my sincerest congratulations to Ms. Williams and all members of the ICBL, including its Canadian member, Mines Action Canada. The ICBL, whose nomination I endorsed last February, has mobilized and empowered millions of citizens worldwide with unprecedented speed and effectiveness."

Statement by Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi
"The Government of Japan highly appreciates the fervent efforts made by the ICBL and Jody Williams. ... I sincerely hope that the awarding of the prize will help further promote international efforts to overcome the problems [in the way of a ban]..."

South Africa
Statement by Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo
"This is a fitting tribute... They have, through hard work, persistence and determination, led the banning of an entire category of inhumane weapons and in so doing made the world safer, more humane and more caring."

United Kingdom
Statement by Foreign Secretary Robin Cook
"I am delighted by the news... This is a fitting tribute to the part played by Non-Governmental Organizations in the world-wide struggle against the humanitarian tragedy caused by anti-personnel landmines. The British Government has played an active part in this struggle, both in negotiating an international agreement...and in helping to alleviate the sufferings of the victims. In this, as in so many other areas, we have benefited from the commitment, experience and skills of NGOs."

United Nations
Statement by Secretary-General Kofi Annan
"This well-deserved honour is a victory for every child and mother and for all those vulnerable people who have been killed or maimed by these silent weapons. It also shows that when civil society and non-governmental organizations come together and work with Governments, a lot can happen in a relatively short time."
Statement by Security Council President, Hennadiy Udovenko (Ukraine)
"The awarding of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize to a coalition of more than 1,000 non-governmental organizations...in more than 60 countries is a recognition of the important role civil societies and NGOs play in helping the international community cope with vital issues of peace and security."

United States
Remarks by White House spokesperson Mike McCurry
"The President is absolutely rock-solid confident that he's got the right approach that protects our interests and works in the interest of eliminating the scourge of landmines... [However,] we warmly welcome the Nobel Prize going to...an organization that's been so active in the crusade against them."
Statement by Defense Secretary William Cohen
"They [the ICBL] have worked hard to raise public awareness of the humanitarian disaster resulting from long-lived mines that kill and maim harmless civilians..."

US Holds Firm Against Signing

The US is opposed to signing the Oslo Convention, principally on the grounds that mines are still needed on the Korean Peninsular, and that the Convention would outlaw anti-tank mines - see last issue for a detailed statement by President Clinton.

The US stance has naturally been both lauded and condemned domestically. On 18 September, the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Jesse Helms (Republican - North Carolina) issued a statement calling the President's opposition "a courageous act." The statement went on: "He has made the right decision, even though it may be misunderstood in some quarters." Helms suggested it was "vital" that the US retain so-called 'smart' mines, which are programmed to self-destruct and de-activate after a certain period of time: "any treaty that bans 'smart' mines is, in my view, a 'dumb' treaty."

The most prominent Congressional advocate of a total ban is Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat - Vermont). On 17 September, Leahy said he was "deeply disappointed" at the US position. He added that, in his view, the US had been caught unawares at Oslo:

"Our officials said we would only give up our mines if all nations did; knowing that, like the chemical weapons treaty, there is no chance of that happening for decades. And when they finally decided to participate in the Oslo negotiations, they went with demands that had no chance of being accepted and with little flexibility to negotiate..."

Representative Lane Evans (Democrat - Illinois) was even harsher, stating on 17 September that he did "not believe that our negotiators engaged in the discussions in good faith."

However, by far the harshest criticism of the President came from Jody Williams. Despite his statement of congratulation at her Nobel laureate, quoted above, the President, Ms. Williams revealed on 13 October, had not personally contacted her. If he were to, she remarked, "I would say the same thing to him on the telephone that I've said on TV." Namely:

"I have said repeatedly...that Mr. Clinton is neither statesman nor commander-in-chief on this issue. He abdicated power. He let [the] Pentagon formulate foreign policy. That is awful in the world's largest democracy..."

On 22 September, 200 pro-ban campaigners held a demonstration outside Congress criticising the Administration. They were addressed by Senator Leahy, who observed: "The United States should have joined our good neighbour, Canada... I wish I could be here to say 'Isn't it wonderful that we did the right thing in Oslo'."

Apparent Shift in Russian Policy

On 10 October, speaking in Strasbourg after meeting with President Chirac, President Yeltsin announced an apparent volte face in Russian policy. Russia opposed the Ottawa Process as obstructing the search for a consensus agreement at the Conference on Disarmament (CD), and appeared to hold firm to that line at the Oslo Conference, which it attended as an observer. Yeltsin told reporters:

"Even though major Western powers say 'no', I say we support and will strive for the goal of resolving once and for all this problem and sign the Convention..."

President Chirac was clearly delighted by Yeltsin's comments: "I would like to say how much I rejoiced that President Yeltsin decided to study the problem of anti-personnel mines and back an evolution going towards the Convention that will be signed in Ottawa..."

Russian officials were quick to point out that Yeltsin's remarks did not imply Russian signature in December. According to a Kremlin press release: "The President has confirmed our positive attitude in principle towards the signing of the Convention - when necessary conditions are created. There has been no talk in Strasbourg about a concrete date of Russia joining this important international accord."

Asking about Yeltsin's remarks, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry observed (10 October):

"President Yeltsin's statement today may prove useful if we see how it is refined and developed in the conversations [at the CD] in Geneva. The Russian Federation was not present in Ottawa during the Ottawa Process and we will attempt to learn more about the position that the President articulated today."

Position of Other States

Editor's note: the position of many of those States opposed to or not currently inclined to sign the Oslo Conference text are set out in the review of the UN General Assembly and Committee General Debates in this and the last issue.

One such State is South Korea. On 10 October, an editorial in the Choson Ilbo newspaper set out the essence of the opposition: "The argument for banning the use of landmines is right because they indiscriminately destroy human lives... Despite the loftiness of the cause, however...it is not realistic [for South Korea to join]."

Japan's position appears to have shifted into a much more positive gear since Oslo. On 14 October, Japan's Foreign Minister, Keizo Obuchi, said he hoped Japan would be able to sign the Oslo Convention when it opened for signature: "I would be greatly pleased by a settlement in that direction," he told reporters.

Other Developments

On 1 October, the US announced it would be contributing an additional $1 million to assist UN demining programmes in Afghanistan; bringing the total US contribution to demining in that country up to $17.2 million. The announcement was made by the US Ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson: "Demining is critical to the delivery of other forms of humanitarian assistance... Unfortunately, it will take years of dedicated and expensive effort to clear the remaining mines..."

On 15 October, the Khmer Rouge described the right to possess and lay mines as "an inalienable right of all Cambodians." In a radio broadcast, the Khmer Rouge stated: "Cambodian people have the right to use all kinds of weapons for self-defense, to protect their country from being washed out by the Vietnamese communists..."

Reports: Congress members criticize US failure to sign landmine ban, United States Information Service, 17 September; Helms praises Clinton refusal to accept landmine treaty, Congressional Report, 18 September; Backers of global ban on landmines rally on Capitol steps, Congressional Report, 22 September; US donates $1 million for Afghan demining, United States Information Service, 1 October; Yeltsin says Russia will back landmines ban, Reuters, 10 October; Koreas want to keep landmines, Associated Press, 10 October; Anti-landmine activists win Nobel peace prize, Reuters, 10 October; White House Press Briefing, 10 October; Text - Secretary Cohen congratulates anti-landmine group, United States Information Service, 10 October; Clinton 'rock solid' against landmines pact, Reuters, 10 October; UK Foreign Office statement, 10 October; Assembly President gratified by awarding of Nobel peace prize to International Campaign to Ban Landmines, UN Press Release GA/SM/6, 10 October; Secretary-General congratulates International Campaign to Ban Landmines, UN Press Release DC/2592, 10 October; Statement by Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi, Japanese Foreign Ministry statement, 10 October; Axworthy congratulates ICBL, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Press Release, NO. 162, 10 October; Statement on the awarding of the 1997 Nobel peace prize, South African Foreign Ministry statement, 10 October; Russia - no date fixed to join landmines ban, Reuters, 12 October; Nobel peace laureate says Clinton snubbed her, Reuters, 13 October; Khmer Rouge defend landmine use, Associated Press, 15 October; Japan leader wants landmine treaty, Associated Press, 15 October.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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