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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 28, July 1998

Britain Rushes to Ratify Ottawa Convention

On 10 July, the House of Commons approved the domestic legislation required to allow the United Kingdom to ratify the Ottawa Landmines Convention. The legislation was rushed through, with all-party support, ahead of the Summer Recess. Reservations were expressed, however, by the Conservative Party's spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Michael Howard, with regard to Clause 5 of the legislation - described by Mr. Howard as "incompatible with the Convention" - which would allow for British military personnel to take part in NATO exercises involving the use of landmines by US military forces. Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr. Cook sought to allay this concern:

"Clause 5 does not provide British service men with any loophole to take part in the deployment of landmines. British forces will be instructed in their rules of engagement for any exercise or operation that they must not use, possess, transport or handle landmines. Without Clause 5, any British Army officer present at a NATO planning meeting who heard that American forces taking part may possess landmines would be obliged to say that he must leave the meeting, or render himself liable to a prison sentence of 14 years. I cannot believe that [the Conservative spokesperson]...wants to put our service men in that position. If he presses the point, he will effectively be arguing that it is impossible for Britain to implement the Ottawa Convention without withdrawing from the NATO integrated command. ...

[O]ur position for British service men is similar to that made by the Government of Canada, who were the driving force behind the Convention and who would certainly do nothing to undermine it. It is humbug that the Conservatives who, in power, kept their distance from the Convention, should now complain that the Bill does not go far enough."

Editor's note: The Convention, opened for signature in December 1997, enters into force after 40 ratifications. Speaking in South Korea on 24 July, Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy said that 127 States had signed, and 30 States had ratified, the accord. Axworthy expressed confidence that the Convention would become law this year.

Reports: Landmines - Britain will ratify Ottawa Convention, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 1 July; Landmines Bill, UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Daily Bulletin, 13 July; Canadian Minister visits Korean landmine field, Reuters, 24 July.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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