Disarmament DiplomacyIssue No. 23, February 1998
Landmines DevelopmentsOn 4 February, prominent anti-landmines campaigner and Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams visited South Korea to argue the case for that country to join the December 1997 Ottawa Convention banning all anti-personnel landmines. Over 120 States had signed the Convention by the end of February, excluding a number of major mine-possessing and -deploying States such as South and North Korea, China, Russia and the United States.
Williams was given a tour of the heavily-mined Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. She told reporters, officials and South Korean soldiers:
"I understand the purpose of this trip, but it is not going to change my mind... They say the situation here is unique, but that is what the rest of the world said before... If North Korea attacks, the United States and South Korea will immediately strike deep into the north. Take out the mines and the North is not going to invade. ... When the United States removed tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea, the North did not immediately invade... South Korea also signed an anti-chemical weapons treaty even though North Korea didn't..."
On 5 February, Singapore - another Ottawa Convention non-signatory - announced the immediate extension of its moratorium on the export of landmines. It was not clear from reports how long the extension would apply for. A statement from Singapore's Foreign Ministry stressed that Singapore
"shares the humanitarian concerns which underpin the Ottawa Treaty."
On 27 February, Robert Sherman, a senior official in the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), defended the Clinton Administration against claims that it was pressurising NATO to retain stockpiles of US landmines. All NATO States with the exception of the US and Turkey have signed the Ottawa Convention. Sherman insisted:
"We are not saying anything about what they should do with the Treaty... All we're saying is that we need to be able to stockpile these mines and we're inviting the allies to figure out how to do it. But it's up to them."
Defense Department spokesperson Lt. Col. Bill Darley told reporters the same day:
"There's no effort to undermine the Treaty. The President has said we support the Treaty except...in a couple of aspects. But the Department of Defense must carry forth and do what we're directed to do."
The US position was slammed by Williams (27 February):
"The United States is trying to put a brake on the [ratification] process... They [US officials] want to allow the US to keep mines on European military bases, which is a violation of the Treaty. The US is trying to sow the seeds to maintain its policy."
On 12 February, the United Nations released a report by the Department of Humanitarian Affairs expressing considerable optimism about the potential for dramatically effective global de-mining in the next few years. According to a 11 February press release, the report - Multi-Country Study on the Development of Indigenous Mine-Action Capabilities - concludes that:
"Even in the most severe situations, with adequate resources and well-coordinated programmes, the most acute aspects of the landmine problem - namely, communities which are directly threatened - can be addressed in a matter of years, rather than decades."
Report: Nobel winner goes to South Korea, Associated Press, 3 February; Anti-mines campaigner visits Korean frontier, Reuters, 4 February; Singapore to extend landmine ban, United Press International, 5 February; United Nations study finds challenge of landmine crisis can be met within years, not decades, UN Press Release IHA/646, 11 February; Critics assail US over landmines, Associated Press, 27 February.
© 1998 The Acronym Institute.