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Problems With Current U.S. Policy.

U.S. officials insist that there are two major impediments to the U.S. joining the Mine Ban Treaty. The first is Korea, where the Pentagon contends that it must maintain the option to disperse antipersonnel landmines if North Korean troops advance on the South. Pentagon planners argue that planted mines are needed to channel enemy tanks and soldiers into corridors where they can be attacked. Pentagon fidelity to landmines for the Korean theater appears undiminished, despite the fact that the former U.S. commander in Korea, General James Hollingsworth, disputes their military utility, and the unity talks between North and South Korea diminish the likelihood of military conflict.

The U.S. says a second obstacle is that the treaty bans "mixed mines," i.e. antitank mines that are delivered in a canister along with antipersonnel landmines. The Pentagon insists that, to date, there is no replacement for such mixed mines, and that converting the arsenal or stripping the antipersonnel mines from the antitank mines would be prohibitively expensive.

More broadly, Pentagon planners argue that in conflict zones, landmines serve a number of tactical purposes: they safeguard troop positions and camps, channel enemy soldiers into a line of fire, and generally impede the forward motion of enemy troops. But in reality, antipersonnel landmines are not an important part of current military doctrine. American mixed mines were not used in Kosovo, for example, even though stopping enemy tanks was an important consideration.

U.S. policy on antipersonnel landmines was articulated by National Security Advisor Sandy Berger in a May 1998 letter and, a month later, in a classified Presidential Decision Directive. In these documents, the Clinton administration stated that by 2003 the U.S. would cease use of antipersonnel mines--except in Korea and except for mixed mines. By the year 2006, if "alternatives" have been found, the U.S. has pledged to cease use of all antipersonnel mines and to sign the treaty.

Although such conditionality was a grave disappointment to mine ban campaigners, the 1998 presidential directive did represent a U.S. shift toward support--in principle--for the treaty. This positive development was due largely to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who had for months pressured the White House and the Pentagon.

U.S. policy remains deeply problematic, because it conditions joining the treaty to the Pentagon's finding and fielding alternatives by the 2006 date. By refusing to task the Pentagon with a fixed date by which the U.S. must abandon all use of antipersonnel mines, this policy allows the Pentagon to set the pace for developing substitutes for a weapon it does not want to relinquish. There is thus a profound disincentive for finding and fielding alternatives: so long as no alternatives exist, the U.S. can continue to produce and use antipersonnel landmines.

Not surprisingly, the Pentagon has moved at a snail's pace. For the first two years, it appears the Pentagon did almost nothing to develop alternatives. Moreover, the Pentagon is focused upon finding a substitute weapon for landmines, despite the fact that alternatives could take many forms. As a Human Rights Watch/Arms Project report states, "Non-material solutions to compensate for the removal of antipersonnel landmines from the U.S. inventory could include changing tactics and doctrine, increasing the number of other weapons systems, or retrofitting existing mine systems to remove the antipersonnel mine components."

Recently the Pentagon has accelerated its search for material alternatives, but some of the technologies that appear closest to fruition are not compliant with the treaty. For example, one alternative to "dumb" mines that do not self-destruct is the so-called "man-in-the-loop." This consists of a munition similar to an M16 mine, and it can be command-detonated once the target has been identified as a combatant. However, the device could include a "battlefield override" feature. This would, in essence, take the man out of the loop and automatically detonate the mine-field if the command center is overrun by enemy soldiers. Such a feature would make the system indiscriminate and thus illegal under the treaty. Additionally, the Pentagon has requested $47.7 million to procure a new mixed, antitank mine system, the RADAM, that contains antipersonnel landmines. RADAM would also be prohibited by the treaty. The U.S. government will make a final decision on RADAM in 2001.

There are further problems. America's planned production of a high-tech version of antipersonnel mines (the RADAM system) encourages other countries to continue producing and using antipersonnel mines. The treaty does not just ban poor nations' weapons, it bans all antipersonnel landmines, including America's "smart" ones. By insisting that the cheap "dumb" mines used by others must be banned while exempting its own antipersonnel mines, the U.S. erodes the norm against them all. For the treaty to work, it is vitally important that the strongest countries give up their landmines along with the weakest.

The U.S. failure to join the treaty prevents it from becoming truly universal, providing comfort and cover to countries that are likely to use the weapon. Russia laid thousands of dumb mines in Chechnya during its spring 2000 bloody assault on the province, causing extensive civilian casualties. In 1999, Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's forces did the same in Kosovo.

Key Problems

* The U.S. lags far behind much of the world, with a policy that lets the Pentagon set the pace for finding alternatives.

* The Clinton administration has set 2006 as the expected date for the U.S. to sign the treaty, but only if the Pentagon finds alternatives to landmines.

* Most proposed U.S. alternatives will not be treaty compliant and thus will not bring the U.S. closer to signing.

Holly Burkhalter is the coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and the advocacy director of Physicians for Human Rights in Washington, DC.
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Author:Burkhalter, Holly
Publication:Foreign Policy in Focus
Date:Jul 10, 2000
Previous Article:The Mine Ban Treaty.
Next Article:Toward a New Foreign Policy.

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