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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 20, November 1997

Build-Up to Landmines Convention Signing

The run-up to the launch of the 'Ottawa Process' Convention banning anti-personnel mines - drawn up in Oslo in September and due to be opened for signature in Ottawa, birthplace of Canada's 1996 fast-track initiative, on 3-4 December - saw a number of States clarify, or re-state, their position. Two of the most important States, as ever, are the US and Russia. The US will not be signing, citing special responsibilities, in particular in the Korean Peninsular (see below). On 21 October, Department of Defense spokesperson Kenneth Bacon expressed concern that the Convention could ban the storage of US landmines on the territory of States Parties. Bacon stated: "The question is, under the treaty could somebody interpret the treaty to say we could no longer keep our mines in storage abroad... We are now working with our allies to make certain they understand what the issue is and that they define possession in a way that allows us to keep our landmines stored abroad." The US, Bacon added, was seeking "legal ruling from the countries [concerned] that weapons stockpiled there by the United States will continue to be stockpiled there despite the treaty." The US has landmine stocks in some NATO countries, as well as Japan and other Asia-Pacific States, reportedly including Australia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand. By mid-November, Japan seemed very likely to be an initial signatory - a position subsequently confirmed (on 27 November - see next issue). On 21 October, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi made clear he was aware of US concerns: "We want to have the first round of working-level consultations [on this issue] between Japan and the United States as soon as possible."

On 31 October, the US announced details of a vast and ambitious demining programme, the 'Demining 2010 Initiative', with the aim of ensuring, in the words of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, "that civilians in every country on every continent are secure from the threat of landmines by the end of the first decade of the next century." See Documents and Sources for details. The same day, the US announced it would be attending the Ottawa signing as an observer, a move welcomed (31 October) by Canada's Prime Minister: "We welcome all countries, participants and observers, and we are particularly pleased that the United States will be represented at the conference." Mr. Chretien also praised the US demining initiative and said he looked "forward to the United States joining us in the coming months and years as Ottawa Process II leads to an increased global response to humanitarian demining and landmine victim assistance."

Russia's position is somewhat confused. In the last issue, we reported an apparent undertaking by President Yeltsin to sign the Convention. However, no date has been attached to this commitment. In Moscow on 20 October, Yeltsin and Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien issued a joint statement simply hailing "the progress of the international community towards the Convention on the Landmines Ban." It was clear from remarks made by Russia's Defence Minister, Igor Sergeyev, on 14 November (see Documents and Sources), that the Defence Ministry retains profound doubts about the wisdom of Russia joining the ban.

On 12 November, Romania's President, Emil Constantinescu, announced that his country would be signing the ban. "Signing the Convention," he argued, "will be an important step forward for the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of our country." "This will not affect Romania's defence capacity," he added.

Editor's notes:

the signing of the Ottawa Convention will be featured in the next issue. By 4 December, the end of the signing conference, there were 122 signatories. The Canadian Government has established a web-site to document the conference. The address is www.mines.gc.ca

In the coverage of landmines developments provided in the last issue, (Post-Oslo Landmines Developments, Issue No.18, pp.54-56) it was wrongly stated that the US opposed the Ottawa Convention in part because it would outlaw anti-tank mines. The Convention in fact exempts such mines. The US, however, wishes to reserve the right to deploy anti-tank weapons that are in fact a combination of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines. The Editor apologises for his mistake.

Reports: Chretien, Yeltsin make progress against landmines, Associated Press, 20 October; Yeltsin backs landmine ban, may go to Canada, Reuters, 20 October; US seeks to keep landmine stockpiles overseas, Reuters, 21 October; Japan agrees to sign landmine treaty soon, United Press International, 21 October; Albright outlines new US initiative on landmines, United States Information Service, 31 October; US plans to clear landmines by 2010, Reuters, 31 October; Axworthy welcomes US demining initiative, Canadian Foreign Ministry, Press Release 1997 No. 176, 31 October; Romanian President urges signing of landmine Convention, Reuters, 13 November.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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