A pressing humanitarian issue facing world leaders is the
killing and maiming of civilians, often children, by unattended
anti-personnel land mines (APLs). This horrible occurrence --
caused by the proliferation and indiscriminate use of these types
of mines by rogue groups -- is unconscionable. It should be
stopped. However, certain steps being considered by the Clinton
Administration will do little to achieve this goal.
The Administration is considering joining a Canadian-led effort
known as the Ottawa Conference that would seek to ban all land
mines. The Ottawa Conference is seriously flawed, and has attracted
little interest from many other countries. A ban on the production
and use of any type of land mine will disarm the few countries that
are willing to abide by an agreement, but it will do nothing to
force the cooperation of the countries and groups that use them
indiscriminately. Moreover, such a ban will prohibit the legitimate
use of self-destructing land mines, specifically those used by U.S.
armed forces to protect American ground troops in combat. These
American land mines are not part of the problem: They automatically
deactivate, are not used in civilian areas, and do not linger for
years in fields waiting for an unsuspecting civilian to tread on
If the U.S. approves a global ban of all land mines, American
soldiers will be put in greater danger and a harmful double
standard will be created in arms control: A country not causing the
problem -- the United States -- will disarm while rogue nations
proliferating civilian-killing mines will not join the agreement
and will not disarm. The Clinton Administration should not join the
Ottawa Conference. It should not sign an agreement that will do
little to address civilian casualties but much to harm U.S.
An Important Military Tool
Banning the use of illegal "dumb mines" is laudable.
Indiscriminately placed and incapable of self-destruction, these
unmarked mines are continually responsible for civilian casualties.
However, a global ban that would include "smart mines" will not
help to solve the humanitarian problem. Smart mines automatically
deactivate after prescribed periods of time. They are used in
accordance with international laws of warfare, and are laid in
well-marked areas threatened by hostile military forces -- not in
civilian areas. Such mines have proven to be an effective deterrent
to aggression against U.S. forces or their allies.
U.S. Army doctrine recognizes the effectiveness of smart mines
in protecting U.S. forces and denying terrain to an attacking
enemy. In certain scenarios, the Army estimates that the proper use
of smart APLs could cut American casualties in half by reducing the
mobility of opposing forces and offering an effective early warning
against attack. The responsible use of such mines, when deployed
against an attacking military force, will save U.S. lives and not
Today, the U.S. manufactures only mines that self-destruct, and
the self-destruct rate of 32,000 smart mines tested since 1976 is
99.996 percent. Furthermore, there are no reported cases of
unintended civilian injury or death by U.S. APLs in either 1995 or
1996. The mines used by the U.S. armed forces are rigidly
controlled and responsibly used, and have had no identifiable
impact on civilians. In other words, the use of mines by American
forces is not part of the land mine problem that the President
seeks to solve.
Even the Clinton Administration recognizes that the legal use of
APLs is a legitimate means of defense in U.S. military operations.
The Administration recently led a successful international effort
to promote the responsible use of land mines by strengthening the
Landmine Protocol in the U.N. Convention on Certain Conventional
Weapons (CCW). This convention establishes guidelines on the proper
use of mines and conventional weapons in war.
A Misdirected Policy
In spite of these facts, the Administration's policy is to
promote an eventual global ban on all anti-personnel land mines. It
has not said exactly how this goal might be reached. In the
meantime, the U.S. has not prohibited its use of land mines, but
has limited the legitimate use of less sophisticated dumb mines to
training exercises and the demilitarized zone in Korea.
The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly last November in
favor of a U.S.-sponsored resolution that called for a legally
binding international agreement to ban the use, stockpiling,
production, and transfer of all APLs. Ten states, including Russia,
China, North Korea, Syria, and Cuba, abstained on the grounds that
such mines were a legitimate means of self-defense and national
security. Without a commitment from those countries, the ban is
unlikely to be effective.
Supporters of the Ottawa Conference asked some 50 pro-ban
countries to sign a legally binding international agreement banning
the production and use of APLs. They hope to stigmatize the use of
all land mines and to shame nations that refuse to join the
conference into signing the treaty at a later date. China and
Russia will not participate in the Ottawa negotiations, and Cuba,
North Korea, and Syria have stated they oppose such a ban.
The Ottawa Conference's so-called solution to the irresponsible
use of dumb mines by rogue elements in places like Angola,
Cambodia, Bosnia, and Mozambique is misguided. By forcing the
world's responsible states to disarm, the conference will establish
a double standard for the use of critical weapons. Responsible
states like the U.S. will not be able to protect themselves in
wartime with the same weapons that rogue states certainly will
continue to possess and use.
This double standard in arms control is not new to the Clinton
Administration. In 1996, the Administration attempted to force the
Senate to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention and ban chemical
weapons despite the fact that countries such as Iraq, Libya, and
North Korea were not willing to participate. The Administration
signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in September 1996 to ban
explosive nuclear tests despite the fact that India and Pakistan
refused to go along. (Both countries are presumed to be capable of
manufacturing and testing nuclear weapons.)
This double standard also is not accidental. It is seen as a
precedent that will allow Congress and the American people to
believe it is acceptable for the U.S. to deprive itself of weapons
that other countries retain and most likely will use. If the U.S.
prohibits its own use of smart mines in the face of aggression,
then other categories of weapons, perhaps including nuclear
weapons, could be next.
A Better Approach
U.S. participation in the Ottawa Conference amounts to
unilateral disarmament and does little to solve the problem. The
U.S. should, however, take steps to address the scourge of
anti-personnel land mines in countries racked by conflict. It
should contribute more technological support to international
efforts to find and defuse mines in war-torn areas. And it should
begin negotiations in the U.N. Conference on Disarmament for a
comprehensive ban on the use of dumb mines. Such determined steps
will neither denude U.S. armed forces of a critical military
capability nor deprive the U.S. of an effective barrier to an
attack on its ground troops.
Rather than focus on an unenforceable global ban, signed by few
countries, and hope that rogue states will honor it, the
Administration should work aggressively to outlaw mines that do not
self-destruct. An enforceable pact, such as the comprehensive
international agreements of the recent Convention on Certain
Conventional Weapons, can help control the proliferation and use of
these unsophisticated mines. This approach will be far more
effective than an indiscriminate global ban in preventing the
humanitarian atrocity of civilian casualties.