Post Nairobi Summit: Perspectives on Global Policies to End the Landmine CrisisRichard G. Kidd, Director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement
Prepared Remarks at the United Nations Association of the United States of America (UNA-USA) Panel Discussion
New York, New York
March 5, 2005
I first came to the field of mine action in 1998 after 5-plus years as an UN [United Nations] emergency officer in a variety of conflicts. My first job in mine action was as the Director of Operations for the UN’s program in Afghanistan where I was tasked to use my experiences from other countries to move that program toward the future and make it more responsive to relief and development requirements. Thinking about, and trying to shape, the future of mine action is something that I have been at ever since and I am grateful to the United Nations Association for inviting me here today.
Given that the topic of today’s panel is framed in the context of the review conference for the Ottawa Convention, I must state quite clearly that I see the relevance of this Convention decreasing over time.
If we want to "save lives and promote reconstruction," -- a subject identified for this panel -- then this is exactly what we should do. However, as I will explain in my remarks, a fundamentalist approach to some provisions of the Ottawa Convention will only serve to divert resources from other more beneficial activities. Such a fundamentalist approach also perpetuates an unproductive dialogue anchored in disagreement rather than promoting a positive dialogue based on shared interests and common values.
Mine action is a dynamic, active enterprise. By its very nature, it is a process of discovery, of uncovering the unknown. A great deal has been learned in the field during the past seven years and some of this knowledge diverges from the tenets of the Ottawa Convention. Mine action has the potential, if allowed, to eliminate the most pressing effects of landmines in fairly short order. The future of mine action and the future of the Ottawa Convention, while sharing common goals and aspirations, are not the same -- and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
The greatest strength of the Ottawa Convention is its simplicity. Basically, the treaty states that all anti-personnel landmines (APL) are to be banned and that these devices must be destroyed wherever they are found. During the 1990s this simple but powerful message sustained an international coalition of non-governmental organizations and governments and quickly led to the drafting of a treaty in record time. That Convention, in turn, has generated many significant accomplishments, most notably the stigmatization of the use of this weapon against civilians, the destruction of some stockpiles, decreased trade in APL, and increased resources for mine action. These accomplishments are real and deserve recognition.
And yet the simplicity of the Ottawa Convention is also its greatest weakness. Its absolutist, abolitionist and overly idealistic approach, an approach that focuses exclusively on APL, overlooks the true threat posed by ALL landmines, assumes the availability of unlimited resources to achieve its aims, and fails to accommodate legitimate security interests of three out of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. As an organization devoted to the institutions of the UN, the UNA must surely recognize the significance of the last point.
At its most basic, the Ottawa Convention defines the humanitarian problem caused by landmines in terms of landmine size – small mines (APL) are bad and are to be banned, while big mines (anti-vehicle landmines, or AVL) are, if not good, at least not bad enough, and are therefore permitted. This analysis misses the mark. The humanitarian problem caused by all landmines, big and small, is a result of their long life, what is known as persistency, and their ability to linger on the battlefield long after legitimate military activity has ceased. The United States tackles this issue head-on with an unqualified commitment to eliminate all persistent mines of all types by date certain. Such a broad commitment has not yet been made by any other country.
While the Ottawa Convention allow signatories to retain large and deadly AVL, but many technologically advanced countries have chosen to interpret their Ottawa commitments to allow the use of sensitive fuzes and/or anti-handling devices affixed to these mines – making them as or more dangerous than APL. Many of these same countries retain mines with little to no metal content, making them all but undetectable to deminers and ensuring their long-term threat to innocents. By contrast, the United States has again taken a forward-leaning position by eliminating all such non-detectable mines from its active inventory.
Yet the most significant factor limiting the future impact of the Ottawa Convention is not one of policy but one of economics. By requiring the removal each and every last APL, without regard to cost or benefit, in order to achieve the stated aim of a "mine free" world, the Ottawa Convention creates huge economic inefficiencies, inefficiencies that will in the end curtail its implementation and applicability. Through the impact survey process and fifteen years of experience, mine action practitioners know and recognize that a major proportion of the world’s mines exist in marginal land where no one lives or works. In a world of scarce resources and competing humanitarian demands -- HIV/AIDS, malaria, poverty, food security, etc. -- we can not afford the opportunity costs of spending $3 million to clear 8 landmines as one NGO did in Chad.
While many donor nations talk about achieving a "mine-free" world, none are supplying -- or will ever supply -- the funds required to make this happen. Nor can developing countries be expected to expend the huge resources necessary to chase after the last mine deployed somewhere within their borders. The European Community’s new landmine strategy appears to recognize this reality in that it pledges to provide funds to achieve a "zero victim" world, a laudable and ambitious goal, but not a "mine free" world.
The Ottawa Convention also creates other distortions to effective mine action. Throughout the world, in Sri Lanka, Laos and elsewhere, there are examples of vital humanitarian mine action assistance being denied by donor nations that are party to the Ottawa Convention in order to pressure these governments to sign. Also, too many mine-affected countries are failing to take national ownership of their programs, based on the false assumption that if they sign the Ottawa Convention, others will take care of the problem. Finally, by perpetuating a myth that the Ottawa Convention ended mine laying, we, the international community, risk missing a major lesson from the conflicts in Cambodia, Angola, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq -- namely that mine laying ceased when peace was achieved. Mine laying is stopped not by a signature on a piece of paper, but by peace, a peace often brought about through the use of military force, collective international action, or both.
Now is not 1997. Most major donor nations have recognized that the "politics" and artificially manufactured acrimony surrounding the Ottawa process has, to some extent, impeded practical progress and on-the-ground cooperation. At bilateral meetings and international gatherings, we note a decrease in rhetoric about Ottawa -- at least by governments -- replaced by more business-like discussions about how to best make progress in the field. As the largest donor to mine action, the United States welcomes this development and is willing to cooperate closely with all countries to improve the effectiveness of mine action and strengthen international collaboration.
Many positive examples exist throughout the world of what mine action’s future could and should be.
In Yemen, the landmine impact survey identified 296 affected communities. Of these, 14 accounted for roughly 75% of all the casualties. The Government of Yemen redirected its clearance resources away from high-density minefields to high-impacted communities. Now those 14 communities have been cleared and casualties have gone down accordingly.
In Chad, we have learned that cached munitions sites, not landmines, are the number one casualty producing threat. The Government of Chad, the United States Government, and Mines Advisory Group (MAG) are now planning a radical new approach that shifts away from unproductive large area clearance, to focus instead on the caches that are killing people.
In Afghanistan, the recently completed landmine impact survey clearly indicates that with current resources, all minefields that have produced casualties, all minefields that block roads, and all minefields that block irrigation systems can, with sound planning and good management, be cleared well before the end of the decade. What once seemed like a diffuse and interminable problem is now both identifiable and manageable.
With a dozen impact surveys completed or underway, high quality information now exists to support sophisticated strategic planning efforts with clear priorities for allocating resources and measuring results.
In the next two to four years, we can expect to remove the worst hazards from a large number of medium- and low-impacted countries. In Afghanistan, Cambodia and other states with major levels of contamination, clearance may go on for a few years more.
In all cases, there should be no plans to waste the unlimited resources required to achieve "mine-free" status. Instead, affected governments will use indigenous capacities and, in most cases, their own funds, to institute risk management approaches based on mine risk education, minefield marking, survivors’ assistance and limited clearance in response to new casualties and/or changes in land use patterns.
As the rancor of the past dissipates, we can also expect to see more productive dialogue and progress in venues like the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons (or CCW). Within the CCW, the recently completed protocol on Explosive Remnants of War and the ongoing discussions on mines other than anti-personnel mines are clear examples that the CCW process can and does work. Similarly, with many states signaling a willingness to consider a U.S.-led ban on the transfer of all persistent mines, we are optimistic that within a few years trade in ALL persistent mines, of all types, can be stopped.
One strikingly positive development in mine action that holds the potential to accelerate clearance and unleash powerful creative forces is the increased involvement of private citizens’ groups in fundraising, project design and integration of mine action with development. Governments can only do so much and the involvement of civil society and private citizens is essential in solving the problems generated by landmines, unexploded ordnance or small arms/light weapons. Programs like UNA-USA’s Adopt-A-Minefield are not only bringing new resources to mine action, but perhaps even more importantly, new perspectives. They inject a heightened level of scrutiny and accountability to the process. No serious donor will ever adopt a minefield costing hundreds of thousands of dollars to clear without delivering any quantifiable benefits. This scrutiny forces prioritization and sound resource allocations.
In January I was in Cambodia observed an area where a minefield had been cleared, a village rebuilt, and a well dug, all through donations from two private American groups: a Rotary Club in Seattle, Washington and Freedom Fields USA from Carmel, California. In Afghanistan, Roots of Peace, of San Rafael, California, not only raised the funds to clear minefields, but also brought in new grape varieties AND built a cold chain to transport grapes to market -- increasing the value of the crop ten-fold. In Angola, the Humpty Dumpty Institute monetized USDA surplus dried milk, using the proceeds to clear mines from transportation arteries. The creativity and energy that such action-oriented groups -- and I would put UNA in this category -- holds great promise and sets an example for others, including governments, to follow.
The United States Government is proud to support public-private partnerships such as those I’ve just mentioned. I would also like to note, for the record, that the U.S. Government is also the world’s largest donor to mine action. We have provided assistance to mine action since 1988 and expect our total contribution to mine action to pass the one billion dollar mark this year.
In the end, I have an upbeat assessment about the future of mine action. The mine action community, while not forgetting there it has come from, is poised to move on.
In mine affected countries the power of survey data and sound strategic planning will focus scarce resources where they will generate the highest returns. As the most pressing impacts of landmines are removed, collective efforts will shift from large-scale clearance by outside organizations, to smaller more indigenous and more sustainable programs focused on managing risk within local conditions and resources.
In the international arena, nations will take steps to eliminate the threat posed by all landmines of all types, including AVL and mines with sensitive fuzes. Likewise, ending the trade in all persistent mines is a worthy and achievable goal, as is ending the use of non-detectable mines of all types.
And while the money will not be there to make the world "mine free," the funds, commitment and insight already exists to make it "mine-safe." We can remove the most pressing impacts of landmines within years, and then redirect those funds to other areas and other causes where they will do more "to save lives and promote reconstruction."