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Western Press Review: World Community -- Sans U.S. -- Set To Ban Landmines

  • Don Hill

Prague, 18 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- A world revolted and shamed by the legacy of anti-personnel landmines determined in Oslo yesterday to ban their continued manufacture, retention and use. The agreement reached by about 100 nations -- and the refusal of the United States to concur -- attracted widespread press commentary in both the United States and elsewhere in the West.

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: There is a slight chance for these contemptible weapons to be banned

Commentator Tomas Avenarius says: "Half-way good news from Oslo where almost 100 countries have reached agreement on a draft agreement banning landmines. The signatories put themselves under obligation never and under no circumstances to use, develop, produce, acquire, store or pass on anti-personnel mines to other parties. If the treaty is ratified in December, there will be a slight chance that one of the most contemptible weapons in the history of war -- and wars over the years have not been short of terrible weapons -- will be banned."

NEW YORK TIMES: Clinton should make America a leader, not a lagger

But the editorial says that the U.S. refusal to join in the ban takes pressure off other major powers to give up the weapons. "About 100 countries agreed (yesterday) on a treaty that will prohibit them from producing, using or stockpiling anti-personnel land mines and require them to remove mines they have already sown. Regrettably, the Clinton administration, after having failed to persuade other countries to agree to several loopholes sought by the Pentagon, withheld American support. That eliminates pressure on other holdout countries, like Russia, China and India, to join the land mine ban."

The editorial continues: "The administration did try in recent days to soften some of the Pentagon's demands. But its attempts at compromise foundered."

It says: "The administration's quest for a compromise has been spurred by public opinion. Supporters of a mine ban now include many Congressional Republicans and retired military leaders like Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf." And concludes: "Clinton repeatedly identifies himself with the cause of banning land mines, which, as he noted Wednesday, kill or maim 25,000 people a year. With approximately 100 nations agreed on treaty language and much of world opinion behind them, Clinton should rethink his position and make America a leader, not a lagger, in this important campaign."

THE TIMES: The sticking point is keeping mines deployed along South Korea's border with North Korea.

Michael Binyon and Tom Rhodes write in a news analysis today: "The sticking point was America's demand to be allowed to keep mines deployed along South Korea's border with North Korea. The Pentagon has argued forcefully that, with the unstable situation in the Communist North and hundreds of thousands of North Korean troops deployed very close to the border, removal of the mines would increase the risk of invasion."

The writers say: "Neither Russia nor China was present in Oslo, although Moscow has already declared a moratorium on the sale and use of mines. China is the main manufacturer of the cheap mines increasingly used by insurgents and guerrillas in the Third World. It is estimated that every year they kill or maim 26,000 people."

LOS ANGELES TIMES: The treaty is a diplomatic setback for the administration

Norman Kempster and Craig Turner says that the U.S administration of President Bill Clinton has taken a diplomatic setback on the landmine issue. They write: "Despite a vow by the president to seek alternatives to land mines and to take other steps curtailing U.S. reliance on the explosives, rejection of the treaty is something of a diplomatic setback for the administration. It means that the U.S. military will continue to use a type of weapon that most other countries, including its closest defense partners, have deemed illegal, in a category with poison gas and nerve agents." They add: "There never was much support for the U.S. position among other countries, according to sources familiar with the talks."

FINANCIAL TIMES: A clash is averted

Tom Burt and Bruce Clark in an anaylysis write that the U.S. armed forces position in Korea was the United States' foremost concern. The issue has abraded Clinton's relations with his own military commanders, they say. Burt and Clark write: "Mr. Clintons refusal to sign averts the prospect of a clash over the issue between the U.S. administration and armed service chiefs. Relations between the White House and the services were strained over the weekend when the administration offered to sign the treaty, subject to granting of a nine-year delay before the removal of mines from the Korean peninsula."

INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE: Washington does not set a moral example

Charles Trueheart writes today in an analysis that, "The ban campaigners (in Oslo) seemed more relieved that the United States had not been able to inject loopholes into the text than they were dismayed that Washington would not set a moral example to holdout countries becoming a party to the treaty."

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER: The global movement to ban land mines has become more visible

Jodi Enda writes in a news analysis that President Clinton had to resist a worldwide popular-opinion campaign to reject the landmines ban. She says: "Spurning international pressure and a public-relations campaign fueled by images of children missing limbs, President Clinton rejected (yesterday) a treaty that would ban land mines, on grounds that it would endanger U.S. troops abroad." Enda says: "The global movement to ban land mines became more visible since the recent death of Diana, princess of Wales, who had toured developing countries and embraced children who lost legs and arms to buried explosives. Despite his rejection of the draft treaty, Clinton reiterated his long-time support for the eventual elimination of land mines and touted the United States' leadership in their removal around the world."

CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Advocates claim mines deter a North Korean blitz invasion.

Jonathan S. Landay discussed the nature of the U.S. reluctance to accept a landmine ban in Korea. He wrote: "Land mines are welcomed by American troops along the Demilitarized Zone (between North and South Korea). Advocates claim they deter a North Korean blitz invasion. Without them, such an invasion would kill an additional 6,000 U.S. and South Korean troops, say official estimates."

The news analysis also presented an arms-control expert's counter-argument. Landay wrote: "Says Carl Conetta, an analyst with the Project on Defense Alternatives, (a U.S. public-policy institute), 'The (U.S.) military is constitutionally resistant to the involvement of arms controllers in setting strategic concepts.' United States and South Korean officials say that using antipersonnel land mines will save lives. Computerized war games predict that as many as 6,000 U.S. and South Korean soldiers would die if the weapons were removed. Mr. Conetta disputes those numbers, saying they are based on the notion that these things are irreplaceable. If the United States (were) intent on joining the treaty, he says, it would consider other approaches that are costly but just as practical."