U.S. as odd man out on land mines Treaty ban: Personnel mine, like poison gas, to be outlawed as weapon.

September 20, 1997

ONE GOOD REASON for the U.S. to boycott the treaty outlawing anti-personnel land mines is that such mines along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) have helped to keep the peace in the Korean peninsula, where 38,000 American service personnel are risk, for four decades.

With the current insecurity and unpredictability of the dictatorship of North Korea, anything that might seem destabilizing in Korea is not a good idea. Some military opinions that invasion of South Korea could be prevented with modern smart weaponry, without reliance on anti-personnel mines, misses that psychological point.

The other reasons for Washington to boycott the Oslo treaty, which it belatedly joined in negotiating in hopes of watering it down, are not good ones. The U.S. would like to retain short-life self-destructing mines, which it alone makes. It wants a slower phase-in for the ban. It would retain anti-tampering devices on anti-tank mines, which are not outlawed. These reservations would not be worth the opprobrium that now will be heaped on the Clinton administration, which had earlier portrayed itself as anti-land mine. The use in Korea is worth it, until an accommodation of the two Koreas is achieved.

The treaty, which up to 100 nations will sign in December, will curtail the dreadful weapon which kills or maims some 25,000 people a year. Most are civilians in such anarchic countries as Angola, Cambodia or Bosnia. The weapons are cheap for poor governments and terrorists to buy, but expensive to dig up. Although such producers as the U.S., Russia and China will not sign, none is now exporting the weapon.

The ban on producing, using or exporting such weapons follows such prohibitions on exploding bullets (1863), dum-dum or fragmenting bullets (1895), poison gas (1925) and blinding lasers (1995). The first three have largely worked, which is the reason to believe the land mine prohibition might, too. The blinding laser ban is of a weapon not fully developed.

The Oslo negotiation reflected world impatience with the U.S.-approved negotiation that was getting nowhere. It is a triumph for the Canadian initiative, which left the U.S. and Britain behind. The U.S., without joining this ban in the immediate future, should pledge every effort to make it succeed, and influence the other non-signatories to do the same.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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