BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
In Cartagena, Colombia this week, hundreds of activists, government officials and international leaders will converge to participate in the second summit for a world free of anti-personnel landmines.
The U.S. will be represented there, but only “as an observer,” according to the State Department.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters during a press briefing last week that the Obama Administration “determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention,” adding that “we haven’t signed the convention, nor do we plan to sign the convention.”
The announcement came as a surprise to anti-landmine activists worldwide, who had been expecting a more public review of the Bush Administration’s decision not to sign onto the 1997 agreement known as the Mine Ban or Ottawa Treaty.
“In essence, this was a stealth review done in complete secrecy,” Director of Human Rights Watch’s Arms Division Steven Goose told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now last week.
Goose also gave voice to the apparent confusion over why the Obama Administration would side with the previous administration and the military-industrial complex by not signing onto such a convention, even though the U.S. is nearly in compliance with the Ottawa Treaty’s demands already.
“It seems that they have simply decided to allow the Pentagon to dictate terms,” Goose said. “There is a real sensitivity of not wanting to upset the apple cart.”
Every other country that is a member of NATO has signed onto the treaty, amounting to a total of 158 countries that have signed. China and Russia join the U.S. and 36 other countries in refusing to sign. However, Goose pointed out that the State Department announcement means the U.S. is the only country to say it will never sign the treaty, as other countries have signalled their willingness in the future.
“This is the most successful humanitarian and disarmament treaty of the past decade, if not more, and the U.S. is on the outside looking in. It makes no sense,” Goose added.
Such criticism may have had an effect, however.
Kelly released a statement the next day that indicated that the review was incomplete and ongoing.
This article by Jim Lobe at the Inter Press Service suggests that the reversal from Kelly came in response to the outrage expressed by groups supporting the landmine ban (and not by way of correcting an administrative mistake in the earlier briefing).
Kelly also released an announcement that the administration had chosen to send a delegate to the second review conference for the Ottawa Treaty meeting for the first time, while at the same time identifying the U.S. as “the world leader in humanitarian mine action.”
Kelly’s office continued the PR blitz this week, releasing a statement Monday underlining all the wonderful things the U.S. has done to minimize the deleterious effects of landmine use.
And that may be the strangest part of this story. With the millions of dollars the U.S. government spends to remove landmines and to educate at-risk communities about the dangers of the explosive devices in other countries, the nation has gone far beyond just being in compliance with most of the precepts of the treaty.
Furthermore, the United States hasn’t used landmines in 18 years, since the first Gulf War. We have not exported landmines since 1992. But the problem is, we didn’t actually stop making them until 1997. The result is that the U.S. is estimated to have anywhere from 10 million to more than 11 million landmines stockpiled.
With stockpiles full and anti-personnel mines themselves highly controversial, such weaponry is not currently being produced in this country. But the Bush Administration reserved the right to use such mines on the north/south border of the Korean Peninsula in 2004. Furthermore, some American companies still reserve the right to produce landmines, if there should ever be an increased demand (currently the only countries identified as using landmines are Russia and Burma/Myanmar).
Human Rights Watch compiled a list of 47 U.S. producers of landmines and/or their component parts, including subsidiaries of General Electric and Motorola. The group approached these companies with a request for them to pledge to not produce such materials in the future. General Electric was just one of the 28 companies that refused the request.
So, as the U.S. delegates an observer to attend this week’s meetings in Cartagena, we still can’t tell activists and victims that U.S.-made landmines will never end up in their fields or backyards.
Regardless of our altruistic efforts to minimize landmine casualties, we’ve been foiled by the attachment to deadly goods made in America. We’re not in compliance with the small but important part of the treaty that forbids stockpiling, retaining and transferring landmines. Furthermore, American companies can still produce such weaponry as soon as they determine there’s a renewed market for it.
The timing of the State Department announcement and the review conference are both inopportune for the Obama Administration. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) is a network of groups working to eliminate landmines and cluster munitions, an effort that earned them the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. In a statement released after the State Department announcement but before the apparent retraction, ICBL called the decision “shameful,” and a “slap in the face to landmine survivors, their families and affected communities everywhere –- especially because in just a few short weeks, [Obama] will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.”
The administration is doing its best to frame this as a decision to preserve the status quo by continuing to use the same excuses for not signing the treaty as the Clinton Administration did. But because Clinton had pledged to have the treaty signed by 2006, Obama is continuing a Bush-era decision, not Clinton’s, according to the ICBL, who says such reasoning is “no longer relevant.”
And perhaps that’s the worst part of it all: Our representative in Colombia can’t even say why the country that calls itself “the world leader in humanitarian mine action,” and is led by a Nobel laureate, won’t sign on to the ban on landmines.
BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
Image courtesy of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.