The signing of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Antipersonnel Mines and on Their Destruction in Ottawa, Canada, in December 1997, represents a great arms control and human rights triumph. The Mine Ban Treaty was the product of an unprecedented collaboration between over 1,000 nongovernmental groups (NGOs) and governments committed to outlawing a weapon whose principal victims are unarmed men, women, and children. The founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and its coordinator, Jody Williams, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.
Antipersonnel landmines lie scattered by the millions in Cambodia, Angola, Mozambique, Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, and dozens of other countries. In the mid-1990s, the State Department estimated that landmines were killing or maiming over 26,000 victims a year. These small, cheap explosives (costing as little as $5 apiece) are detonated not by command but by contact, making them uniquely indiscriminate. And, unlike any other weapon, landmines go on killing for decades after peace treaties have been signed and soldiers demobilized.
Initially, landmine activists lobbied governments to ban the weapon at the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) in April 1996. But standard UN diplomatic rules governing the CCW treaty process, including the requirement that states reach a consensus, permitted ban opponents such as India and China to water down the protocol to a lowest common denominator that imposed virtually no effective constraints on the weapon's use.
When ban activists came away empty-handed from the CCW, it became clear that following the UN's conventional rules for arms control treaties was not working. With Canada taking the lead, antimine governments called for a radically different approach. At an October 1996 meeting of governments and NGOs in Ottawa, the Canadians invited like-minded states to create a treaty that actually banned landmines and to return in December 1997 to sign a comprehensive mine ban treaty. This strategy required governments to publicly commit to a clear choice.
And choose they did, with every subsequent preparatory meeting throughout the year attracting dozens of new participants. The United States, however, largely ignored these deliberations. Not until the final treaty-drafting session in September 1997 in Oslo did Clinton administration officials attempt to enter the negotiations by peddling five treaty-weakening amendments, insisting that their entire package be accepted as the price of an American signature. The treaty participants summarily rejected the U.S. proposal, which included: 1) a geographic exception for Korea, 2) a waiver for American "mixed mine" systems, 3) an optional nine-year delay period, 4) a treaty opt-out clause, and 5) a provision permitting countries to sign with reservations. …