Vienna Conference Fails

In September and October, a review conference was held in Vienna on the "Convention on Conventional Weapons." The official participants were representatives of the signatory states, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were also represented, plus victims in their wheelchairs. The NGOs hoped to persuade the governments to ban antipersonnel landmines and the newly developed laser weapons that work by blinding soldiers.

The NGOs carried on demonstrations and exhibitions to inform the world about landmines. They set up a mine-field in the centre of Vienna, where a Buddhist monk sat meditating. They showed a film and held a photo exhibit. In a procession, they formally delivered 1.7 million petitions, which had been collected spontaneously in 53 countries. Some 200 Austrian children carried to the President of Parliament six tons of shoes, filled with hand-drawn butterflies, symbolizing the unneeded shoes of the present and future amputee victims.

On September 28, more than 20 NGO speakers addressed the delegates. Victims told how they had been injured. Song Kosal, an eleven-year-old girl from Cambodia who had lost her legs, expressed a wish that all children can one day run and play freely.

Nicoletta Dentico, spokeswoman for the Italian Campaign to Ban Landmines urged that the principle of "the polluter pays" be applied to landmine manufacturers, who should have to pay for clearing the mines they produce.

It may cost as little as $3 to produce a land mine. It costs $300-$1000 to remove one. The Red Cross estimates that land mines kill about 800 people and injure thousands each month. An estimated 110 million land mines currently exist on the earth, and the number is constantly increasing as the number of new mines laid exceeds the rate of removal. Several land mines were laid during the civil conflicts in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mozambique, and Bosnia-Hercegovina.

A study in these four countries showed that a total of 57,339 animals had been lost to land mines. Without the mines, agricultural land use in the Afghani sample alone could increase by 88-200 percent. One in three men were at high risk. Around one in 10 of the victims was under 15 years old, the highest proportion of children being in Afghanistan because of their employment as herders.

In the opening session, an immediate, total ban on anti-personnel landmines was endorsed by the U.N. Secretary-General, UNICEF, UNHCR, UNDHA, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and the Holy See. The following countries supported an immediate ban on landmines: Sweden, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Cambodia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Ireland. Others called for their "eventual" elimination--with the emphasis on "eventual." Canada not call for a ban. (Let them know how you feel about that!)

Military considerations dominated the discussion at the Review Conference, with most nations considering antipersonnel mines a legitimate weapon. By the end, no significant progress had been made toward a ban.

The effort to ban blinding laser weapons also failed. This new weapon has not yet been produced in large numbers, though the U.S. and China have both been producing and displaying prototypes of it. The time to stop it is before it has become a regular part of arsenals. Since the ban failed, proliferation will continue. The conference will resume in Geneva 15-19 January, followed by a second session 22 April-May 3.

The "Euro-Deterrent" Initiative

On 29 September, the German Parliament debated the future of nuclear weapons in Europe, following France's call for open discussions on the issue and its apparent advocacy of a European nuclear force. The debate revealed how split the German political Parties are on the issue, although the public appear overwhelmingly opposed to the establishment of any "Euro-deterrent." According to Greenpeace, one poll showed 87% of respondents opposed to the idea.

German support for at least seriously considering the option resides principally in the senior coalition partner, Chancellor Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU). The Party's Foreign Affairs spokesperson in Parliament, Karl Lamers, said he regarded France's overture as being "of extraordinary importance."

The leader of the Greens, Joschka Fischer, suggested that France's real motivation was to throw a spanner in the E.U. works prior to the 1996 Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC): "This is just a sleight-of-hand game by the French side to stall the process of European integration even more.... The European integration process is being threatened dramatically."

The prevalent feeling in the main Opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), and the junior coalition partners, the Free Democrats (FDP), to which Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel belongs, is that Germany needs no supplementary nuclear protection to that provided by NATO.

Dfax and Agence France Presse International News.

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1995

Peace Magazine Nov-Dec 1995, page 31. Some rights reserved.

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