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What Are The Trump Administration’s Views On The Landmines Convention?

Land Mines Convention

Presidents Clinton and Obama had both stated specifically that they wanted to retain the option to use landmines in the Korean peninsula. It is quite reasonable to assume that the Trump administration will also be considering the option of using landmines if we do engage in direct conflict with North Korea.

In December of 1997, representatives from more than 100 countries from around the world met in Ottawa, Ontario to sign The Convention On The Prohibition Of The Use, Stockpiling, Production And Transfer Of Anti-Personnel Mines And On Their Destruction, which is more commonly referred to as “The 1997 Ottowa Convention,” or “The Landmines Convention.” Only two countries in the entirety of the Americas have not signed party to this treaty.

One of the two governments in the Americas which has not signed party to the Landmines Convention is the Republic Of Cuba. Historically, the Cuban government has not been known for having a particularly clean human rights record; they’re not widely known for paying attention to human rights issues, either in their domestic policy or in their foreign policy either.

Their rights record was abysmal during the 1940’s and the 1950’s under Fulgencio Batista, and their rights record has been among the worst in this hemisphere since the Castro regime took over in 1959.  During the Cold War era, the Cuban government had been widely known for sending their military as well as weapons to fight in various Cold War conflicts throughout Latin America, Africa as well as in Asia.

Cuba’s rights record does seem to be slowly improving since Raúl Castro became President in 2008, though no serious political analysts anywhere in the world realistically expect that anyone within the Cuban government has any intention of considering signing party to the Landmines Convention anytime in the near future

“Determined To Put An End To The Suffering And Casualties”

I’m going to concentrate the rest of this article as to exploring why the other country in this hemisphere whose government still continues to refuse to consider signing party to the Land Mines Convention refuses to do so, and why we’ll have more to gain if our Federal government actually does decide that the same international disarmament treaties which apply to the rest of the world could also actually be applicable to us.

Since 1997, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama have all refused to sign party to this treaty.

The Presidents only discussed their reasons for refusing to sign party to this treaty in press conferences or public statements a small handful of times while they were in office, and I can only write based on the information that our Federal government has made available to the public.

In the late 1990’s, former President Clinton had stated that he was refusing to consider signing party to the Land Mines Convention because he’d stated that he felt that North Korea was a rogue state, an aggressor state, and an unstable country, and he’d felt that it was still necessary to retain the option to use land mines in the Korean peninsula.

 I’m pretty far from alone in agreeing that North Korea is a rogue state and potentially quite unstable, they have in fact had the worst human rights record in the entire world for at least the past 10 years, though I don’t believe that the fact that the government of North Korea has such an abysmal human rights record necessitates us from continuing to refuse to sign party to the Land Mines Convention.

For obvious reasons, governments don’t announce which kinds of weapons they’re intending to use in specific locations during press conferences.  It is commonly believed that we aren’t presently using landmines anywhere in the world outside of the border zone between North and South Korea, although no one outside of our Federal government and our military knows for certain.

However as long as we’ve not signed party to the Land Mines Convention, we do still have the option to use them, we’d not be in violation of international law by not honoring the terms of a weapons treaty which our government continually refuses to sign.

President Bush (II)

While the Clinton administration did offer a very clear explanation as to why they felt it was necessary for us to keep the option to use landmines available, we know less about why former President Bush (II) would not consider signing party to this treaty.

In his 2004 State Of The Union address, former President Bush (II) had stated that “America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our country.” 

I don’t know if he had written that line from that speech himself or if one of his staff writers wrote that, and he’s never actually clarified precisely what he meant with that statement.  One interpretation of that statement is that former President Bush II would not consider signing party to various disarmament conventions because he’d also felt that the world was becoming so dangerous that in his opinion, it was still necessary to maintain our stockpiles of weapons.

The exception of the Korean peninsula

The Obama administration’s views on this treaty seem to have been very similar to the Clinton administration’s. The Obama administration seemed to support the end of the use of landmines throughout the world, with the specific exception of the Korean peninsula.

However, that’s not how disarmament treaties work; the goal of international disarmament treaties is for countries throughout the world to fully cease use of certain kinds of weapons, disarmament is not a process that works well with exceptions and exemptions.

What Are The Trump Administration’s Views On The Ottawa Treaty?

The President Of The United States cannot directly ratify this treaty, the President would need to get approval from a two- thirds vote in the Senate before ratifying this treaty.  The President, however, does have the option to tell Congress that he feels that disarmament is a priority issue not only for the U.S. but for the entire world, and Presidents do have the option to attempt to encourage the Senate to approve ratification of treaties.

Again, similar to the article that I wrote which appears in our April 10th, 2017 issue about the UN Convention On The Law Of The Sea, as an editorial columnist, I don’t like to attempt to guess as to what politicians and candidates may or may not be thinking, I write based on statements that they’ve said and on their voting records.  So far since President Trump assumed office, as well as during the campaigns in 2016, Donald Trump has not said one single word about this treaty- he’s not stated that he’s in favor of it, and no one on his staff has stated specifically that they’re opposed to it either.  The only seemingly logical assumption that I can comfortably make here is that the Trump administration’s silence on this issue implies that this treaty is a low priority on their agenda.  We have no idea whether anyone within the Trump cabinet has even proposed discussing or even thinking about discussing signing party to and ratifying this treaty yet.

Limitations Of The Terms Of The Land Mines Convention

Unlike The Convention On The Prohibition Of The Development, Production And Stockpiling Of Bacteriological (Biological) and Toxin Weapons And On Their Destruction (written in 1972, entered into effect in 1975) and The Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (written in 1992, entered into effect in 1997), the 1997 Land Mines Convention was not a direct continuation of terms that had been established in the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Two UN General Assembly resolutions from the 1960’s (Resolution 2162B from 1966 and Resolution 2603 from 1969) meant that every UN member state would have to abide by the terms of subsequent disarmament treaties such as the Biological Weapons Convention and the Chemical Weapons Convention.  The use of land mines is in fact specifically permitted under the terms of Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (originally written in 1980, Protocol II is from 1996); the 1996 protocol states specifically that any military which uses land mines needs to keep a written record of the location of each mine, and then subsequently remove each mine after conflicts are concluded.  In reality, this approach almost never works; mines from every 20th-century war in which they were used are still being discovered.

Participation in the Land Mines Convention is entirely voluntary and optional.  There are no severe penalties for not signing party to it, for not ratifying it or for violating it.  The Land Mines Convention was more of a treaty of goodwill in which numerous governments from around the world agreed that the continued use of landmines anywhere in the world in the 21st century would create far more problems than these weapons could ever solve, but this treaty is not considered to be part of a customary international law.  When this treaty had initially first been written back in 1997, there were a number of credible political analysts and academics throughout the world who had expressed doubts that a treaty which was essentially an effort of collective goodwill would be effective at international disarmament, and this has continued to be one of the serious criticisms of this treaty over the course of the past 20 years.

Effectiveness Of The Land Mines Convention Throughout The World Since 1997

Although participating in the Land Mines Treaty is entirely optional, the treaty has been largely successful in reducing the number of mines that are still in use throughout the world since 1997.  The U.S. has been destroying our older stockpiles of mines from the 20th century, though we are still currently manufacturing new mines.  Destroying mines is actually a relatively simple process, our military simply detonates them at a bombing range.  Destroying our older stockpiles of mines has been voluntary, we’ve not been doing this under direct orders from the UN Mine Action Service.  We have also been assisting the militaries in a handful of other countries throughout the world who have signed party to The Land Mines Convention with safely dismantling and destroying their stockpiles of mines from the 20th century.

 As an American, the example that I’m most familiar with is our military’s use of land mines in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos during the 1960’s and the early years of the 1970’s.  The last of our troops exited from Vietnam at the end of April of 1975.  And when did the weapons that we’d buried in those countries leave?

This is much less commonly known, but the answer is that when our troops withdrew, they’d left behind many thousands of mines which are still buried throughout some regions of Vietnam, and now more than 40 years after President Ford had ordered the withdrawal of the last of our soldiers from Vietnam, the landmines that we’d buried there are still continuing to injure and kill both humans as well as animals.  In recent years, a group of Vietnam veterans has volunteered to return to Vietnam to remove the remaining mines that our military had buried there back in the 1960’s and the 1970’s.  It is important to note here that this group of Vietnam veterans is doing this purely for humanitarian reasons, they are not doing this specifically as compliance with the terms of any international disarmament treaties, they simply don’t want to see more people and animals getting injured and killed for a 5th consecutive decade as the result of weapons that were left behind from a war that ended in 1975.

Why Don’t We See More Coverage Of This Topic On News Shows On Television Or In Newspapers?

If you’ve not lived in, worked in or traveled through a region of the world which still has active minefields in it, and if you don’t have friends or family members who live in one of those regions, chances are that this is not an issue that you have reason to think about terribly often.

Similar to the article that I wrote about the U.S. government’s non-ratification of the UNCLOS in our April 10th, 2017 issue, when candidates from the two major parties run for Congress, for President or Vice President, I think that they try to mention a number UN treaties and conventions as infrequently as they can for a very specific reason.

Candidates know that many millions of Americans are intimidated by the concept that international law supersedes the authority of domestic law, 21st century international law is often glossed over in high school history and government classes, many millions of Americans have no familiarity with even the most basic fundamental concepts as to how modern international law actually operates, and that if they were to begin discussing UN conventions and treaties during their campaigns, they would be fast-tracking themselves to ensuring that they’ll almost certainly lose the elections.  When the candidates don’t discuss these issues, the media tends not to cover them either unless any reporters opt to make it a priority to attract attention and publicity to the issues.

“Recognizing That A Total Ban Of Anti-Personnel Mines Would Also Be An Important Confidence Building Measure”

Military officers have been well aware for many centuries that land mines do in fact successfully deter any invading armies, terrorists, rogue militias or other criminal gangs who are attempting to cross borders at land crossings, and that mines are indeed a notably effective tool for securing the perimeters of military bases and other facilities or zones that need to be secured.

However, landmines are indiscriminate weapons; in addition to killing or severely injuring enemy combatants, land mines end up killing and maiming civilians, animals and anyone and anything that inadvertently steps on them, often including both soldiers as well as civilians for many decades after the end of a conflict.  People who live in countries which had been involved in wars know to be careful when traveling through certain areas- animals obviously have no ability to comprehend this.  While the destruction of animals may sound trivial in comparison to the destruction that land mines continue to enact on humans in the years and decades after a conflict ends, we need to remember that in many countries in the developing world, people are still very dependent on livestock as their sources of food as well as for their livelihood.  People who live in impoverished rural areas in some regions cannot afford to lose any of their animals- people save up money for many weeks or months to purchase their livestock; when an animal is destroyed, families need to find other sources for food and revenue, and in many regions in the developing world, their options are notably limited.

While the destruction of animals may sound trivial in comparison to the destruction that land mines continue to enact on humans in the years and decades after a conflict ends, we need to remember that in many countries in the developing world, people are still very dependent on livestock as their sources of food as well as for their livelihood.  People who live in impoverished rural areas in some regions cannot afford to lose any of their animals- people save up money for many weeks or months to purchase their livestock; when an animal is destroyed, families need to find other sources for food and revenue, and in many regions in the developing world, their options are notably limited.

There are exhibits on display in military history museums throughout the world which show the various forms of land mines that have been in use in different regions of the world since the 13th century.  Today, in the 21st century, intelligence agencies and militaries around the world have access to satellite surveillance, aerial drones and precision-guided bombs and missiles.  Countries throughout the world can easily now secure their border zones without burying mines which will remain active for many decades.

With the exception of the border zone between North and South Korea, we probably aren’t using land mines anywhere in the world, and we’ve probably not used them anywhere else since the Vietnam war had ended in 1975.  This issue is again becoming increasingly relevant because in February of this year President Trump had stated that he’d “deal very strongly” with what he’d referred to as the “big, big problem” of North Korea; presumably, he means that he’d be willing to authorize military actions.

 We don’t yet know the specific details of any plans that the Trump administration is considering, but the Trump administration does presently seem to be serious about considering the option to authorize the use of military force in North Korea. 

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t like to guess as to what our politicians may or may not be contemplating, however former Presidents Clinton and Obama had both stated specifically that wanted to retain the option to use landmines in the Korean peninsula, so I do feel that it is quite reasonable to assume that the Trump administration will also likely be considering the option of using landmines if we do engage in direct conflict with North Korea.

And as I’ve mentioned earlier, the North Korean government does indeed possess the worst human rights record anywhere in the world in the 21st century, Kim Jong Un’s government does need to be removed from power, and I’m far from alone in believing that many of the administrators within the North Korean government should be tried for human rights abuses.  However, I also believe the continued use of land mines in the Korean peninsula will create more problems than these weapons could ever solve; we need only look at the numerous countries throughout the world in which mines that had been buried during the conflicts of the 20th century are still continuing to injure and kill people today to see that these particular weapons are again likely to create more problems for future generations than they could ever possibly solve.

Until we sign party to the Land Mines Convention, we’re sending a very clear message to the rest of the world that our Federal government feels that some disarmament treaties may be appropriate for quite a few other countries, but we’re not going to participate.  We are the host country to the main branch of the UN headquarters, we’re one of only 5 countries in the world who has been holding a permanent seat on the Security Council since 1946, if we’re serious about peacekeeping and preventing future wars, we do need to show the rest of the world that we too are willing to participate in disarmament treaties.

 

 

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About the author

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz

Scott Benowitz is a staff writer for Afterimage Review. He holds an MSc in Comparative Politics from The London School of Economics & Political Science and a B.A. in International Studies from Reed College in Portland, Oregon. Scott lives in Rye, N.Y. photo credit: Liza Margulies

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