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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 26, May 1998

Shift in US Landmines Policy

On late May, it was reported that President Clinton had decided to aim for US accession to the Ottawa Landmines Convention by 2006, on condition that alternative technologies had been adequately developed. The President also instructed the Pentagon to develop alternatives to the current US practice of combining anti-personnel mines with anti-tank mines. The moves were detailed in a 22 May letter from National Security Advisor Sandy Berger to prominent anti-landmines campaigner Senator Patrick Leahy (Democrat - Vermont). The letter - describing the intent to join the Convention by 2006 as "a solemn commitment on the part of this Administration" - also revealed that the US would destroy all non-self-destructing mines, apart from those deployed or required for use on the Korean Peninsular, by 1999; and would end the deployment of such mines - again aside from Korea - by 2003. Leahy told reporters (22 May) of his pleasure at the developments: "[I'm] greatly encouraged... [T]here is no longer any doubt that we will sign. As far as I'm concerned, the only question is whether we will get there before 2006." Leahy also announced that he would support a Presidential waiver of a Congressionally-mandated one-year moratorium on landmine-deployment outside Korea due to take effect from 12 February 1999. On 6 May, Pentagon spokesperson Kenneth Bacon had expressed the Administration's unhappiness at the prospect of the moratorium: "Obviously, a moratorium...runs contrary to the idea of giving the military time to transition away from anti-personnel landmines to some alternative."

Berger's letter was warmly received by delegates (including Leahy) to an international demining conference in Washington, 20-22 May. UK Foreign Office Minister of State Tony Lloyd also expressed satisfaction (23 May): "Britain is working for a truly global ban on anti-personnel landmines. I therefore welcome the US announcement. It is crucial that major players such as the US add their full weight to the campaign to rid the world of these dreadful weapons, and we shall be delighted when they sign the Ottawa Convention."

Reports: US military seeks repeal of landmine ban, Reuters, 6 May; Clinton may sign landmine treaty, Associated Press, 22 May; US focusing attention on removing landmines, aiding victims, United States Information Service, 22 May; US to sign landmine pact - eventually, Reuters, 22 May; Landmines - Change in US policy: Statement by Foreign Office Minister of State Tony Lloyd, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 23 May.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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