Disarmament Insight


Monday, 26 November 2007

Landmines: Dead Sea Goals

The eighth meeting of states parties (8MSP) of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty met last week on the shores of the Dead Sea in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan - a beautiful, bleak place.

A decade ago, when the Mine Ban Treaty was agreed in Oslo, Jody Williams (then coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and 1997 Nobel Prize Laureate with the ICBL) wrote that the agreement was an example of the "the new diplomacy" - one founded upon common humanitarian concerns, rather than traditional national security pre-occupations.

Others were sceptical. But the Mine Ban Treaty has been extremely successful. Today it has 156 states parties (Palau announced its accession during 8MSP) and has retained a remarkable and vigorous focus on implementation.

Testament to its success is that, although remaining outside the treaty, countries like China, India and Pakistan send observers, and China even speaks now and then. The United States (which didn't attend) fumes from time to time that the Mine Ban Treaty is "absolutist" (presumably because it completely prohibits anti-personnel mines). But the US also insists that it shares the Convention's humanitarian aims, and remains a major donor to many of the same mine action activities. Most importantly, while lacking accession from countries such as these, the Mine Ban Treaty regime has, in just a decade, been remarkably successful in creating and powerfully reinforcing international stigma against a weapon that previously was the bane of civilians in many parts of the world.

Mine Ban Treaty state parties and NGOs like to portray the Mine Ban Treaty as a good news story. And it is. The Mine Ban Treaty regime is not without its problems though, and there are significant challenges ahead.

One spring threatening to pop out of the Mine Ban Treaty sofa at 8MSP were Turkey's concerns about interactions between NGOs like the Geneva Call with armed non-state groups to persuade them to stop using mines: basically Turkey fears this legitimizes these violent actors. This matter was, at least for now, managed in the Dead Sea Progress report, but the issue will probably rear its head again next year.

The European Commission and some others promoted the need for "mainstreaming" of mine action funding - that is, the mixing of dedicated national and regional organization budgets for mine action into general humanitarian or developmental budgets, as the EC has done. This was criticized in particular by South Africa, which argued that there is potential for such approaches to violate Article 6.2 of the Treaty. South Africa said it doesn't buy into the thinking that mainstreaming is necessarily better: the point is to ensure mined land is cleared, and people are helped. Mainstreaming could lead to a reduction of resources for mine action.

The ICBL and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued their very active roles in helping states to implement the treaty, including by drawing necessary attention to practical challenges. For example, there are growing concerns that several states will miss treaty deadlines, like for clearance and stockpile destruction. And the ICBL suggested the Mine Ban Treaty consider moving toward some agreement on "mines other than anti-personnel mines" (MOTAPM) - the CCW had attempted to tackle MOTAPM again this year but agreement was (again) thwarted by Russia and others.

Significantly, the ICBL also observed that there is a tendency of states to be conflict averse in confronting these types of issues. It pointed out - rightly, in my view - that this doesn't serve the longer-term interests of the Mine Ban Treaty well. This is where the Treaty as unambiguous good news story can sometimes be a bit unhelpful: in view of so many difficulties in multilateral disarmament and arms control, state representatives often seem hesitant to rock the boat when it's needed (South Africa is a laudable exception).

In other words, a bit of confrontation can be a good thing. This is something that those participating in the so-called Oslo process on cluster munitions will need to bear in mind in coming months too, as tough issues like definitions have to be tackled, which are sure to divide views.

The litmus test for any form of disarmament as humanitarian action is whether it makes a positive difference for people on the ground. Treaty universalization and mine clearance are worthy and perhaps even slightly sexy topics. But more resources need to be dedicated to assisting victims of mines and other forms of explosive remnants of war. According to Landmine Monitor, as little as one per cent of total mine action funding can be traced to victim assistance (although the actual figure is no doubt higher, as it's often not possible to separate such funding from general health and other budgets). These victims - people - will need help throughout their lives. In Jordan some were present: let's ensure states and donor organizations continue to hear their voices.

John Borrie


The Dead Sea Progress report should be online in the next day or two at one or more of the following links:



UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, Geneva branch.

Photo by author.