27 Nov Where Is the United States on the Ottawa Landmines Ban Convention?
Where is the Obama administration on the Ottawa Landmines Ban Convention? After some clarifications, it appears that the US is conducting a “broad” review of antipersonnel landmine policy and the Ottawa Convention, while maintaining the previous Bush administration stance on an “interim” basis. This Reuter’s story, in the Washington Post, gives some of the ins and outs. Meanwhile, the Cartagena review conference on the Ottawa Convention opens; GenevaLunch blog has details. From the WP story:
A review of U.S. landmines policy is ongoing and will take awhile to complete, a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday, clarifying an earlier comment that the Obama administration had concluded it needed the weapons.
“The administration is committed to a comprehensive review of its landmines policy. That review is still ongoing,” spokesman Ian Kelly said in a statement.
Speaking ahead of a review conference next weekend in Cartagena, Colombia, on the 10-year-old international Mine Ban Treaty, Kelly said the U.S. policy review was “going to take some time” and while it continued the current policy of declining to join the accord would remain in force.
This clarification followed an earlier briefing in which the Obama administration indicated that its review had concluded, to the contrary, that the US needed the weapons. Following criticism by Senator Leahy, the new statement was issued:
Kelly had told a briefing on Tuesday the “administration undertook a policy review and we decided that our land mine policy remains in effect.”
“We determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention,” he said.
Those comments had drawn fire from Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat who is a longtime advocate of the treaty, and expressions of concerns from anti-mine campaigners.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday said the administration had conducted an interim review in light of the upcoming summit in Cartagena, and decided the old policy should remain in force so long as the broader review continued.
One of the interesting questions for international legal academics is what, in any direction, one should make of the fact that known landmine casualties worldwide a dozen or so years ago were on the order of 20,000 a year (I haven’t gone back to pull up the estimates, but these are in the general order, and good enough for this point; usual data source is Landmine Monitor). Whereas last year, known casualties were listed as 5,197, according the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. I would say that the decline is likely attributable to the reduced use of landmines and the stigma surrounding their use, on account of the treaty. But one might question that, I suppose, and instead look to a general decline in warfare of the kind in which indiscriminate use of landmines is found (for various reasons, I don’t think that is causally right, but I won’t try to explain that here).
Much more importantly, however, even at 20,000 casualties a year, well, the US drunk driving fatality rate is somewhere around 40,000 a year. In a world of 6,800,000,000 people, 5,197 is not even a tremor. What would one say if one were to apply cost benefit analysis of, for example, the kind that John Mueller applies to terrorism risks (likelihood of being killed in a terrorism attack versus lightning strike, e.g.), to the money, time, efforts, etc., put into the landmines ban campaign? Should it instead have gone into malaria or AIDS reduction?
I think the Mueller comparisons on terrorism are an unsophisticated-at-best way of approaching risk analysis and cost benefit analysis – the alternatives under comparison have to be genuine alternatives, not merely hypotheticals. (I tried to explain this, and not very successfully, I’m afraid, in this paper on the assumptions underlying CBA in war on terror discussions.) But if this method is tendentious in landmines analysis of whether the effort to ban mines was “worth it” for 5,000 or so casualties (casualities, note, not necessarily lives), and I agree it is, it is tendentious for the same reasons that it is in the case of terrorism-lightning comparisons.
(Update: Liz raises an important issue in the comments – landmines on the Korean peninsula. I’ll try to get back to this re Cartagena, but as a general matter, I talk about this in an article from a few years ago on the US military and the laws of war.)
(I have some other things to say re the Cartagena review conference, but I’ll hold them for another post.)