Sign the Mine Ban Treaty

Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview
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Sign the Mine Ban Treaty

Richard A. Matthew and Ted Gaulin get much of it right in "Time to Sign the Mine Ban Treaty" (Issues, Spring 2003) in terms of both the issues surrounding the Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) and the larger context of the pulls on U.S. foreign policy between "the muscle-flexing appeal of realism and the utopian promise of liberalism."

Although many have, I have never bought the United States' Korea justification for not signing the treaty. I believe this to be another example of the military being unwilling to give up anything for fear of perhaps being compelled to give up something more. In 1994, then-Secretary of the Army General Gordon Sullivan wrote to Senator Patrick Leahy, an MBT champion, that if Leahy succeeded in the effort to ban U.S. landmines he would put other weapons systems at risk "due to humanitarian concerns."

The U.S. military was also opposed to outlawing the use of poison gas in 1925. In that case, they were overruled by their commander in chief, who factored the military concerns into the broader humanitarian and legal context. Unfortunately, this has not been the case with landmines. Although President Clinton was rhetorically in support of a ban, he abdicated policy decisions to a military around which he was never really comfortable.

Under the current administration, I believe that the unilateralist muscle-flexing side of U.S. foreign policy has crushed much hope of meaningful support for multilateralism and adopting a policy of greater adherence to international law as a better solution than military force to the multiple problems facing the globe. The administration's management of the situation leading up to the Iraq operation and its attitude since leave no room for doubt about that.

In current U.S. warfighting scenarios, high mobility is critical. In such fighting, landmines can pose as much risk to the movements of one's own troops as to those of the enemy. The authors rightly point out that other U.S. allies, with similar techniques and modern equipment such as the British, have embraced the landmine ban. But it is also interesting to note that militaries around the world that could never contemplate approaching U.S. military superiority have also given them up--without the financial or technological possibility of replacing them.

The authors note that the benefit of the United States joining the MBT far outweighs the costs of giving up the weapon. They also describe the two priorities that have guided U.S. policy since World War I: creating a values-based world order and the preservation of U.S. preeminence through military dominance. I believe that the fact that the United States will not sign the MBT, given the cost-benefit analysis described by the authors, only underscores the fact that the current priority dominating U.S. policy is not simply to preserve U.S. dominance but to ensure that no power will ever rise again, like the former Soviet Union did, to even begin to challenge it.


Nobel Peace Laureate

International Committee to Ban Landmines

Washington, DC

U.S. foreign policy vacillates between liberalism and realism. On the one hand, the United States has exerted much effort to create multilateral regimes that address collective problems and promote the rule of international law. On the other hand, it has been hesitant to endow such institutions with full authority because, like many states, it sees itself as the best guarantor of its own self-interest. In this latter sense, it uses its power to shape world affairs as it sees fit. Successive administrations have weighed heavily on one side or the other, and even within administrations this tension tends to define foreign policy debate and practice.

Richard A. Matthew and Ted Gaulin explain the U.S. position toward the ban on antipersonnel landmines (APLs) in this way. Rhetorically, the U.S. espouses the promise of a world free of APLs but in practice refuses to take the essential step for creating that world by refusing to sign the international Mine Ban Treaty (MBT).

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Sign the Mine Ban Treaty


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