Some Progress on Landmines

By Faulkner, Frank | Contemporary Review, July 1998 | Go to article overview

Some Progress on Landmines


Faulkner, Frank, Contemporary Review


ON 3-4 December, 1997, 122 states gathered in Ottawa, Canada, to sign the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and their Destruction. The express purpose of the Convention is quite unequivocal: to outlaw a complete weapon system, with a view to protecting non-combatant communities from the effects of a blatantly indiscriminate form of warfare that victimises afflicted regions beyond its perceived military utility. This remarkable exercise in arms control has been followed by the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and its global co-ordinator, Jody Williams of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF).

Much of the credit must also be given to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who, in embarking upon high-profile visits to mined regions of Angola and Bosnia-Herzegovina, invested the Campaign with plentiful supplies of `the oxygen of publicity' underwritten, by implication, of the Royal imprimatur. Furthermore, the tragic death of `The People's Princess' has resulted in, amongst other considerations, the institution of the Diana Memorial Trust, a body that will allocate funding to the Princess's many charitable interests, including organisations working to rid the earth of antipersonnel mines (APMs). Laudable as such an undertaking may be, there is a recognition that total eradication of these devices has to be the ultimate goal, and that the journey towards that end will be fraught with difficulties and disappointments, and perhaps the protection of vested interests. Accordingly, the remainder of this article will endeavour to point out some of the impediments to a comprehensive and durable ban on these weapons. For reasons of brevity, however, the deliberations entered into here will not be able to cover all the minutiae relevant to the argument, but will nonetheless seek to analyse the principal aspects of an inherently complex debate.

With any formal, legally-binding document, one of the main problems is formulating an obligatory, watertight definition of the subject matter. The purpose of an enterprise of this nature is two-fold: first, to remove any possible textual ambiguities that may arise; and secondly, as a consequence. to anticipate and prevent loopholes that may be subject to exploitation at some future date. This is particularly critical to the matter in question, as failure to achieve these objectives may imperil the lives of those peoples the Convention has been constructed to safeguard. It is worth pointing out at this juncture, however, that whatever the shortcomings of the Ottawa Process and Convention, it nonetheless represents a marked improvement on the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which was noted for its serious inadequacies.

Nicola Short, MA student in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford, identifies three problems relative to the definition of an APM. The initial item sire addresses refers to the ambiguities contained within the word `vehicle'; this is illustrated in the second aspect of definition, which reads: `Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered antipersonnel mines as a result of being so equipped.' Short goes on to ask, is a bicycle a vehicle? Because the text is couched in language that may be interpreted to mean military vehicles (APMs arc, it can be argued, exclusively military in nature), then the logical terminological outcome would suggest a tank or perhaps an armoured personnel carrier. Besides, any mine featuring anti-handling components becomes anti-personnel it' disturbed by a human being.

Leading on from, and directly associated with the last remark, is the exemption of anti-handling devices (AHDs); these munitions effectively convert anti-vehicle ordnance into de facto APMs when the anti-disturbance mechanism is reconfigured to accept much lighter pressures or more acute angles of tilt. …

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