May 092011

Antipersonnel Weapons


Vietnam Veterans of America tell us that landmines kill or maim 26,000 people, mostly civilians, a year. This maddening slaughter motivated President Bill Clinton to announce on May 16, 1996: “Today I am launching an international effort to ban antipersonnel landmines…. The United States will lead a global effort to eliminate these terrible weapons and to stop the enormous loss of human life.”

Unfortunately, despite the rhetoric, the U.S. refuses to ban or even suspend production of anti-personnel mines. So it is important to keep the pressure on Clinton to support the Canadian-led diplomatic initiative for a comprehensive treaty, to be signed in Ottawa December 3-4, banning production, stockpiling, export and use of antipersonnel mines.

Historically, the U.S. has been one of the world’s biggest producers and exporters of antipersonnel landmines. Until the mid 1970s, these were “dumb” mines, which can remain active for decades. Today, the Pentagon promotes the use of “smart” mines, those which carry a self-destruct mechanism. Four million dumb mines remain in the Pentagon stockpile of 15 million antipersonnel weapons. The stockpile includes one million Claymore mines, which the Pentagon prefers to call command-detonated munitions, rather than landmines. From 1969 to 1992, the U.S. exported 4.4 million mines to some 32 countries, including Afghanistan, Angola, Chile and El Salvador.

Clinton, like other fawning presidents, called to congratulate teams for winning the World Series, the National Basketball Association title and the Super Bowl. However, when Jody Williams, Coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmine (ISBLM], won a Nobel Peace Prize, she did not hear from the White House.

The United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, a coalition of more than 180 nongovernmental organizations across the country, is part of the ICBLM. Human Rights Watch, which serves as chair of USCBL’s Steering Committee, produced an invaluable resource [April 1997]: Exposing the Source U.S. Companies and the Production of Antipersonnel Mines. Exposing the Source indicates there are 47 U.S. companies which have been involved in the manufacture of mines, two of them from Maryland-Lockheed Martin, 6801 Rockledge Drive, Bethesda, MD 20817 (301-897-6561 or FAX: 301-8976252) and AAI Corp., P.O. Box 126, Hunt Valley, MD 21030-0126 (410-628-8710 or FAX: 410-683-6498). The report states that there is no production of antipersonnel mines currently underway.

Human Rights Watch wrote letters to the 47 companies notifying them they would be named in a report and would be a target of a stigmatization campaign carried out by USCBL. Surprisingly, 17, Motorola being the first, responded by agreeing to renounce future involvement in antipersonnel mine production. But the “Dirty Thirty” refused.

Lockheed Martin tried to have its name removed from the landmine list, claiming it has not produced landmines since the Vietnam era. Actually, though, Lockheed Martin New Jersey received landmine production contracts worth $52 million from 1985-90, and Lockheed Martin California obtained a landmine contract worth $850,000 in 1990.

AAI also expressed concern and requested that its name be removed from the Human Rights list as it would no longer accept landmine contracts. After receiving a congratulatory letter, though, AAI wrote back: “We do not wish to be so named.” It is assumed AAI would consider future contracts.

Alliant Techsystems in Hopkins, Minnesota was the major landmine-producing corporation, receiving $336 million in Pentagon contracts from 1985-95; and its Wisconsin subsidiary, Accudyne Corp., was awarded similar contracts worth $150 million in 1985-95.

Alliant CEO Richard Schwartz responded to Human Rights Watch’s letter: “The International Campaign to Ban Landmines has served an invaluable role in shedding light on a terrible problem that must be addressed.” But he refused to accept personal responsibility: “It is irresponsible to imply in any way that companies such as Alliant Techsystems have contributed to the world’s landmine problems. To do so wrongly maligns responsible U.S. citizens, and diverts resources that could be applied toward stigmatizing the governments that violate international law.”

Activists in Minnesota took umbrage with Alliant and blockaded the entrance to the company in April to protest its stance on landmines. In court, a Minnesota jury deadlocked for two days in late September trying to decide the fate of nine of the protesters. An arrangement was reached between the prosecution and the defense to allow the nine defendants to represent the other 70 also arrested at the demonstration. After an offer from the prosecution to accept wholesale acquittal if the jury acquitted any one of the defendants, the jury expeditiously returned a verdict of eight convictions and one acquittal. So the judge acquitted all Alliant protesters.

An estimated 110 million landmines are littered about in sixty-eight countries, Angola suffering from about 10 million of these weapons. Human Rights Watch believes that any use of antipersonnel mines is a violation of existing international humanitarian law. The weapon is inherently indiscriminate, and its use clearly fails to meet the proportionality test of humanitarian law: the short-term military benefits are far outweighed by the long-term human and socio-economic costs.

Supporters of a landmine ban might consider contacting the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, 2001 S. St., NW, Suite 740, Washington, D.C. 20009 1PH: 202-483-9222 or FAX: 202483-9312]) or Human Rights Watch, 1522 K Street, NW, #910, Washington, D.C. 20005-1202 (202-371-6592 or E.Mail: hrwdc  AT Stay tuned for further actions.


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This story was published on December 3, 1997.

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