Have you ever been curious what the 153 countries of Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Andorra, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Congo (Brazzaville), Congo, DR, Cook Islands, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Kiribati, Latvia, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Malta, , Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Niue, Norway, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome e Principe, Senegal, Serbia and Montegro, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe all have in common?

Hint #1: The list includes both democracies and dictatorships, predominantly Christian and Muslim countries, big ones and small ones.

Hint #2: The list includes 15 of 16 NATO members as well as Japan and Australia.

Give up?
Answer: they are all signatories to the Treaty to Ban Land Mines.  It bans the manufacture of land mines.  It bans their use as well as any effort to assist or encourage another signatory to use them.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 people are killed every year by landmines and unexploded ordinance.  This equates to 40 people killed a day or 2 people per hour.  The vast majority of these victims are civilians who live in countries where there is no longer a war.  In Cambodia, to take one example, over 40,000 people have been injured and 18,000 killed outright by landmines since 1979.

Landmines do not just kill, they often hideously maim and disfigure people, often those least able to afford advanced medical care.  And a landmine cannot distinguish between an armed soldier and an innocent child.

The United States is not a signatory to the Land Mine Ban Treaty, which is a disgrace.  The good news is that since 1997 it has ceased manufacture of landmines (use of landmines ended in 1991).

The bad news is that according to a new report by Human Rights Watch, the Bush administration has decided to spend $1.3 billion dollars to manufacture landmines once again:

The United States, which has not manufactured antipersonnel mines since 1997, will make a decision in December whether to begin production of a new antipersonnel mine called Spider.

American officials have often claimed that U.S. mines are not a significant factor in the global landmine problem, and it is likely that this argument would be used in part to justify any decision to renew production of antipersonnel mines. However, the U.S. exported over 5.6 million antipersonnel mines to 38 countries between 1969 and 1992. Deminers in at least 29 mine-affected countries have reported the presence of nine different types of U.S.-manufactured antipersonnel mines and four types of antivehicle mines, including both non-self-destructing and self-destructing types.

Yet the United States says that the new landmines are part of a “smart” generation, which self-destruct (or de-activate) after a preset period of time.  It sounds marginally justifiable except that a smart mine is not a safe mine.  Some of the problems:

Self-destruct mechanisms are not 100% reliable. The Landmine Protocol of CCW (to which the US and China belong) allows a 10% failure rate. Technical experts say less sophisticated production methods can result in failure rates much higher.  

Smart mines are usually scattered by aircraft or artillery at a rate of thousands in a matter of minutes, with little precision; given the failure rate for self-destruction, many dangerous mines will remain on the ground. Because of the huge number of smart mines that are typically employed at one time, the danger to civilians could be greater than hand-laid dumb mines. We have already seen that smart mines are sometimes used in populated areas. Russian mines that are supposed to self-destruct are now causing civilian casualties in Chechnya.    

Because smart mines are usually scattered (or remotely-delivered), there is no way to accurately mark or map or fence the smart mine minefields.    

Civilians in smart mine fields not only face the danger of stepping on mines that have failed to self-destruct, but the danger of hundreds of those mines randomly self-destructing at unknown times.    

Because smart mines self-destruct, and do not last for an indefinite period of time, some nations might compensate by using greater numbers of mines and/or by using them repeatedly in the same area.    

The Landmine Protocol, in addition to self-destruct mechanisms on scatterable mines, requires a “self-deactivation” feature (a battery goes dead so the mine’s firing chain cannot be started, the mine becomes inert). But the protocol allows 120 days (17 weeks) before self-deactivation must occur. In warfare today, civilians often return to conflict zones in that period of time. And there is no guarantee that the batteries will in fact go dead in that period of time.    

It should also be noted that the restrictions on use of smart mines (such as reliability requirements) contained in the Landmine Protocol affect very few countries. Countries that are party to the protocol who haven’t already banned smart mines include the US, China, India, Pakistan, Finland, Israel, South Korea and Estonia.    

Smart mines will still deny land to civilians. Because they are usually remotely-delivered, smart mines are usually on the surface of the ground, not buried. The 10% or so of the mines that have failed to self-destruct (even if they have self-deactivated), and the mines that failed to arm when delivered (estimated at another 10%), will at least for a period of time be visible on the ground. Civilians will not enter the area, fearing that the visible mines are still dangerous. In many places, the mines will eventually be overgrown or otherwise obscured.    

A landmark study published in 1996 by the International Committee of the Red Cross cited the views of a military Group of Experts (more than 30 retired officers from about a dozen countries). With respect to smart mines, they concluded, “Because of the vast numbers [of mines] involved, and the complete absence of any [mine] marking, it is likely that the number of civilian casualties resulting from a large-scale strike with remotely delivered mines will greatly exceed the casualty rates seen with conventional minefields…. Even the doubtful benefit of self-destruction and self-deactivation at a later date will not prevent widespread casualties in the initial days after the strike. There is little doubt that the development of remotely delivered mines has increased the probability of a major rise in post-conflict mine casualties.”

If that wasn’t ironic enough, the U.S. State Department has spent nearly one billion dollars in removing land mines around the world since 1993 and is spending $69 million this year alone.  So with one hand the Pentagon will spend billions on making new ones and with the other hand the State Department will pay millions to remove them.

The “Spider” system is a product of Alliant Techsystems and Textron, Inc.  You might be happy to know Alliant Techsystems has done extraordinarily well since the Iraq war:

Alliant made a killing off the Iraq war. In August 2003, a couple months after Bush declared an official end to hostilities, Alliant reported that its first-quarter earnings had jumped 32 percent. Reported Bloomberg News: “The company is raising sales and profit forecasts as more money is being spent to supply United States troops in Iraq. Net income rose to $32.9 million, or 84 cents a share, in the quarter ended June 29 from $24.8 million, or 63 cents, a year earlier. Sales rose to $559 million from $520 million. Alliant benefited from the January acquisition of the satellite-parts maker Composite Optics, and the purchase last year of Boeing’s ordnance business. The company increased its forecast for 2004 orders to about $2 billion from expectations of $1.8 billion.”

Considering Alliant made just $670 million in 2002, that’s quite a profit boost.  Especially since it was sued 3 times by the federal government back during the Clinton administration.

Textron hasn’t done so bad either, especially since its former vice president is Anthony J. Principi, Bush’s Secretary of Veteran Affairs.  How ironic is that?  The man who is in charge of giving medical care to wounded soldiers is profiting off of wounding people.

Textron is the corporation which owns Bell Helicopter, the manufacturer of numerous military helicopters and aircraft.  It also manufactures all kinds of other things, up to and including armored vehicles.  And they’ve got some powerful friends:

In January, the Journal of Electronic Defense reported that Turkey was balking at Textron’s price of $65 million-per-helicopter and considering switching to helicopters made by a Russian-Israeli company. Then in December, US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz traveled to Turkey and offered to use the US Foreign Military Sales program to finance the deal. Specifically, according to the Journal, Wolfowitz offered to ease Turkey’s $4 billion to $5 billion debt with the program.

And just in case you think this is only about the new “smart” mines, I must sadly remind you that the U.S. currently has a stockpile of 10.4 million “dumb” land mines, which it is free to deploy, sell or exchange at any time so long as it does not sign the treaty.

Knowledge is power…


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