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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 14, April 1997

Verification Issue Cleaves Landmine Ban Supporters
By Jo-Anne Velin


As the more than 50 States that say they want an early, comprehensive ban on anti-personnel mine (APM) production, use, transfers, and stockpiling start writing down what that ban should contain, deep divisions are cleaving the pro-ban group into two camps: on the one hand, the 'Friends of Ottawa' (supporters of the Canadian initiative, launched in Ottawa in October 1996, to conclude a treaty by the end of 1997) support a simple APM ban text that does not include a formal verification regime built into the document; on the other, the 'Friends of the Conference on Disarmament' advocate moving negotiations for an APM ban into the CD - where past weapons conventions have specified detailed verification rules and procedures.

The verification of a landmines ban would be a very different matter to the verification of treaties dealing with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Nuclear weapons, in particular, require special, secure storage areas - and, usually, substantial State support for their development. WMD-acquisition programmes cut a wide trail.

It is otherwise with anti-personnel landmines. These can be shockingly simple devices, cranked out in a garage from innocuous parts used in thousands of harmless devices, and can be assembled by just about anyone, just about anywhere.

Canada argues that, because conventional verification won't work for APM unless countries are willing to spend millions of dollars sniffing under every thatch, an APM ban is better off, for now, with a cooperative system that encourages compliance by the signatories: a policy to use carrots, not sticks.

Until a firmer decision is made on what, if any, verification will work in an early, comprehensive APL ban, the tussle between the CD process and the Ottawa process will continue to drag negotiations slowly across the bog.

A seminar hosted by the German government, outside Bonn from 24-25 April, tried to resolve the heart of the matter without suggesting treaty text or issuing any kind of formal declaration. Attended by 121 delegations (about 70 sent down the road from their Embassies in Bonn to observe and take notes), plus the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the UN, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the meeting was too short to knit a compromise together - something, indeed, the organisers did not set out to achieve - and was perhaps not worth the cost and effort expended by delegates flying in to table their own positions on the verification issue. This kind of 'sounding out' can be achieved with simpler means, i.e. by telegram and telephone. Nevertheless, the high number of delegates indicates how the landmines issue has begun to crawl up the multilateral agenda - good news for an eventual ban regardless of which forum takes it on.

Update: Ottawa Process Rescheduled

Last October, Canada's Foreign Minister, Lloyd Axworthy, proposed that a convention banning APM be opened for signature in Ottawa in December of this year. The initiative grew out of widespread disappointment among pro-ban States - and pressure from public campaigns - with the strengthened but still weak landmine controls contained in the revised Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Convention Weapons (CCW), agreed at the CCW Review Conference in Geneva last year (see Disarmament Diplomacy No. 5, May 1996). Revised Protocol II is not expected to come into force until after mid-1998.

Within the Ottawa Process an informal working group of 11 States, known loosely as a 'core group', seems to contain deep differences on how to manage the potential nuts-and-bolts implementation of any reporting and inspection mechanism that ends up in the ban envisaged for December 1997. Costs are no small consideration. Pressure coming from outside to add a bit of muscle to the Ottawa Process ban has been interpreted to mean adding requirements that could easily entail several reporting steps, big meetings, and substantial administrative costs. Some proposals that might survive at this level long enough to make it into the Oslo negotiations include providing some sort of support for countries that do sign the ban but which need help meeting ban obligations; an annual reporting system, though details on where, by whom, to whom, and for how many years hence are far from sorted out; and collecting baseline data - composed of nationally-prepared mine surveys, declaration of stockpiles, identification of affected terrain, etc - to use as a reference for monitoring change. Sending teams to investigate complaints is also being suggested, but no solution appears to have been agreed yet that could reduce the effort, cost, time, and burden of proof, attached to authorising traditional challenge inspections.

From a negotiator's point of view, the original Ottawa Process schedule appears to have been optimistic. It was to have consisted of three sessions (in Vienna, Brussels and Oslo) of just a few days each, prior to the December signing conference. A rather solid working draft treaty text was to have been presented in Brussels at the end of June, accompanied by much high-level endorsement and ample publicity. Now, negotiators say that the Brussels participants will state only the "principles" that set the ban's parameters - still with a lot of fanfare, but lacking the substance that close monitors of the ban process will be looking for.

Tellingly, Norway has invited delegations to change their original plans to spend a couple of days in Oslo in October polishing up a final draft, and prepare instead for a full-fledged negotiation lasting two weeks at the beginning of September. Until the Brussels meeting is over, Norway is unwilling to say what it's planning in any detail. Norway doesn't "want Brussels to fail; [it's] keeping a low profile until that's over," said one source in the core group.

What Should the CD Decide?

The Ottawa Process is vying for pro-ban support and attention with the CD - even though technically they could be compatible approaches and have been presented as such, not least by Canada. A number of key CD States, most notably the US, UK and France have - while not opposing or criticising Canada's initiative - stated their support for CD negotiations. Sceptics believe that none of these countries is keen to ban APM anytime soon (though the new Labour government in the UK is widely expected to shift British policy in this direction), and are cynically using the CD to slow down or stall the process. Others, who plead the good faith of the proposers, stress that in the CD, obtaining a ban might take longer but that it would include most of the world's important mine producers and users, especially China, India, Pakistan and Russia, as well as currently staunch opposers of a ban such as Israel, South Korea and Turkey. In this context, however, the landmines issues will become part of the CD agenda trade-offs between nuclear and conventional topics, and sources in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) believe that APM would be used to overshadow negotiations on nuclear issues - a development that the NAM will be desperate to avoid.

From the diplomatic point of view, this leaves the APM ban movement practically hanging in mid-air at this time. Several States say they are watching to see what the US will do during the coming session of the CD. Insiders say that the US is unsure how long it will continue to advocate negotiating an APM ban in the CD, and is now preparing for a possible shift to the Ottawa Process by the end of the summer. Pressures within the US to support a comprehensive ban are mounting, while security obligations, and the real concern that the US could end up without a suitable alternative when a ban enters into force, are leaving the US's negotiators groping for new ideas and alternatives. One CD negotiator observed:

"[The US] will be working hard to get landmines into the CD. No doubt about that. But at some point [it] may have to step back and try another approach, just because public pressure to sign a ban is so strong there."

The CD hasn't been written off yet, but some pro-ban countries, like Germany, are expected to wait until the end of this coming CD session before making a decision about where they will focus their APM ban effort. The critical months are imminent: the Oslo round of the Ottawa Process will begin on 1 September, and negotiating teams will be under much political pressure from Ottawa and its supporters to come up with a final APM ban draft by the end of it.

Conclusion: Prospects for Progress and the Complication of Exceptions

If the US does make the switch, according to diplomats from like-minded States commenting on the US position, then the final Ottawa Process text would have to contain clear exceptions to the "comprehensive" ban conditions - to allow for the minefield between North and South Korea, and other hostile, fixed-line situations(1). If exceptions end up in the ban at all, they may only do so if, perhaps, a reasonable transition period to phase them out is included to sugar the pill. However, at this stage, it's not clear how many pro-ban States would accept this fix. Several sources within the Ottawa Process core group say that exceptions would not be welcome at all in the final ban text. Strong arguments in favour of aiming for a clear humanitarian norm are competing at this stage with those that advocate pushing for a broader base of influential signatories.


1. In bilateral meetings the US has given assurances to South Korea that it will protect its right to maintain the strip of minefields dividing the Korean Peninsular. The same sources say that no alternative technology or system has been explicitly proposed that could replace the minefields in the near future.

Jo-Anne Velin is a freelance journalist based in Geneva.

Editor's note: on 7 May, the Foreign Ministers of France (Herve de Charette), Germany (Klaus Kinkel), and the United Kingdom (Robin Cook) issued the following joint statement:

"The three Foreign Ministers of France, Germany and the UK have agreed that they will intensify their close cooperation in the field of arms control and disarmament.

They agreed to give particular priority to the early conclusion of an effective, legally-binding international agreement to ban world-wide the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.

They are determined to make every effort to prevent the creation of more minefields in the future and are deeply concerned at the continuing toll in human life and suffering from minefields laid down in the past.

They accordingly agreed that France, Germany and the UK would work together in international fora to achieve this goal."

(British Foreign & Commonwealth Office text, 7 May)

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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