The Clinton administration announced Friday that it will not join a Canadian-led effort to seek an early international treaty to ban land mines. Instead, the United States will take a slower United Nations route that analysts agree is unlikely to achieve a ban in the near future.
The decision was a disappointment for the growing number of international organizations - including the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Catholic Church, veterans and relief organizations - that are urging quick action.
“This is deliberately aimed at not getting a ban any time soon,” said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch.
“This allows the U.S. to say it’s doing something while assuring there’s no rapid progress.”
In his decision, Clinton essentially charted a middle course between conflicting views of the State Department and the Pentagon. Defense officials are reluctant to give up the weapon, arguing that it is part of its strategy for defending South Korea and in other potential conflicts.
But the State Department is eager to reduce the toll of deaths and injuries from the devices, which now number an estimated 110 million around the world and kill or maim 25,000 or more civilians every year.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the longtime lead U.S. proponent of an international ban on land mines, said Friday he would monitor closely talks within the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, which are set to begin Monday, and that “if it goes as slowly as I think it will and we do not see a very strong movement by midyear, I will urge the administration to reconsider and become active” in the Canadian process.
The Ottawa Conference, which will hold its first set of working sessions in Vienna in February, aims to draft an international treaty banning the use, export, stockpiling and production of land mines by December.
But Russia and China, which have been major exporters and users of land mines, have indicated they would not sign such a treaty.
Proponents of the Ottawa process have said they hope to create a moral standard that all countries would one day feel compelled to respect.
The route the United States favors, the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, includes Russia and China and operates by consensus.
This means that any ban agreed upon would include these two countries, but it also means they would have a veto over even getting the talks started and on the outcome.
“We think we have a better chance of persuading” China and Russia with a “head-on approach,” said Robert Bell, defense specialist for the National Security Council.
xxxx Innocent victims There are an estimated 100 million land mines in 60 countries. They are weapons of choice for poorly funded insurgencies and state-funded counterinsurgencies, and their main victims are women and children. - Washington Post
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