Shalikashvili orders study of military's mine policy Action partly prompted by sentiment in Congress against the devices

March 17, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - With the daily threat of land mines to U.S. soldiers in Bosnia having brought the issue home, Gen. John Shalikashvili, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has ordered a review of the military's long-standing opposition to banning the use of land mines, which kill or maim more than 20,000 people a year, primarily civilians.

In asking for the review last week during a meeting with the chiefs of the military services, General Shalikashvili said he was "inclined to eliminate all anti-personnel land mines," a senior Pentagon official said.

The Pentagon was prompted to review its policy in part by a strong bipartisan anti-mine sentiment in Congress, led by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, as well as by a growing international campaign to ban anti-personnel mines, Pentagon officials said.

These separate congressional and international campaigns against mines gained momentum after U.S. soldiers began arriving in December in Bosnia, where an estimated 3 million land mines have been planted.

Three U.S. soldiers have been wounded by the weapons, and one has been killed.

Nearly a dozen countries have banned the use of land mines. Mr. Leahy and other advocates of a ban argue that if the United States renounced their manufacture, sale and use, many other countries would follow.

While they concede that there would still be outlaw states, they counter that an international ban backed by sanctions would result in a substantial overall reduction in the use of land mines.

Pentagon officials say General Shalikashvili acted after he and Defense Secretary William J. Perry received a confidential letter from the U.S. representative to the United Nations, Madeleine K. Albright, who recently returned from a trip to Angola.

That country has many youths and children whose limbs were ripped off in land-mine explosions.

Ms. Albright wrote that a new policy on land mines was urgently needed, because the administration's current policy would not achieve their elimination "within our lifetimes."

She sent copies to other senior administration officials; parts of the letter were read to the New York Times by a supporter of the ban who had received a copy.

Two years ago in a speech at the United Nations, President Clinton called for the "eventual elimination" of land mines.

Under current policy, the administration supports an amendment the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons that would allow the use of only "smart" mines, which deactivate or destroy themselves after a few weeks or months.

The United States was barred by Congress in 1993 from exporting land mines for three years. Another law prohibits the United States from using land mines for one year in 1999.

There are an estimated 100 million land mines planted in 62 countries, and an official with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency said last week that the number is increasing by 2 million a year.

The State Department has said that 600 people a month are killed or wounded by mines; the American Red Cross has estimated that it is twice that many.

Last week, the Dutch government renounced the use of land mines, joining Canada, Mexico, Belgium, Austria, Norway and five other countries; France recently prohibited the production and export of land mines.

Twenty-four countries have called for an international ban, according to the latest tally by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based human rights organization, which has been a leader in an international campaign for a ban.

Last fall, the International Committee of the Red Cross opened a campaign to ban anti-personnel land mines. It was a highly unusual step for the Swiss organization, which is not an advocacy organization and only once before has called for a weapons ban of chemical weapons, back in the 1920s.

"We've simply seen too much," said Urs Boegli, director of the Red Cross's land mine campaign, explaining why the organization had acted.

More than any other single organization, the Red Cross works in conflicts around the world, he said.

He added that the Red Cross had begun its ban campaign only after having fought unsuccessfully to strengthen the 1980 conventional weapons treaty to restrict their use.

China and Russia, which each have stockpiles of more than 100 million mines, have been the major countries blocking the amendment to the convention.

In the Pentagon, the Office of Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict has pushed for a complete ban on all anti-personnel mines "smart" and "dumb" except in limited situations, such as along the border between North and South Korea.

Land mines should be put in the category of chemical weapons, said Timothy Connolly, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations. Even though they have military utility, chemical weapons have been banned because of their devastating consequences, to soldiers and civilians.

"Some day, and that day has to be sooner rather than later, we are going to reach that same conclusion about anti-personnel land mines," Mr. Connolly, who was an Army captain during the Persian Gulf war, said during an interview last week.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.