Time for a New US Mine Action Agenda

npa-deminer1It is time for a new US agenda for mine action.  The upcoming change in the presidency next year offers a new opportunity for fresh ideas and a new policy framework.  Both presidential candidates seem to have more potential for openness to mine action issues. John McCain’s wife, Cindy, is on the board of the HALO Trust.  Barack Obama has indicated an interest in acting more multilaterally and has supported restrictions on cluster munitions.

Current US mine action policy is characterized by unilateralism (failing to accede to international conventions on mines and UXO), securitization (using mine action assistance to pursue strategic objectives and using private security contractors, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan) and commercialization (the dominance of commercial companies in implementation and operations).

In contrast, the new framework should be based on the following three principles:

1) International law

2) Civilian control and demilitarization

3) Humanitarianism and protecting the vulnerable

 

This has the following implications for US mine action policy:

 

1) International Law: The US should accede to the Mine Ban Convention, Cluster Munition Convention and ratify the Explosive Remnants of War amendment to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

2) Humanitarian Demining and other mine action should be conducted, where possible, by civilian, non-profit or public agencies that prioritize protecting the vulnerable over commercial profit or military strategic gain. This means more assistance to international NGOs and governmental civil defense structures and less to commercial companies and military units.  It also means prioritizing tasks that have the greatest humanitarian, rather than commercial or military importance.

3) Civilian War Survivor Assistance: More money should be provided to assist the civilian victims of war, through the USAID Leahy Fund.

4) Research and Development: Too often US mine action R&D appropriations have been driven more by defense and high-tech research priorities than the low-tech needs of humanitarian deminers in the field.  More should be allocated to independent and humanitarian research, such as that done by the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining.

5) USAID and State should be given even greater control over US mine action policy; the role of the Defense Department should be reduced.

If you have opinions on how US mine action policy should (or should not) change in the next presidency, please use the comment section to share your views.

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~ by Matthew Bolton on 2 November 2008.

6 Responses to “Time for a New US Mine Action Agenda”

  1. [...] Time for a New US Mine Action Agenda It is time for a new US agenda for mine action.  The upcoming change in the presidency next year offers a new opportunity for fresh ideas and a new policy framework.  Both presidential candidates seem to have more potential for openness to mine action issues. John McCain’s wife, Cindy, is on the board of the HALO Trust.  Barack Obama has indicated an interest in acting more multilaterally and has supported restrictions on cluster munitions. Current US mine action policy is characterized by unilateralism (failing to accede to international conventions on mines and UXO), securitization (using mine action assistance to pursue strategic objectives and using private security contractors, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan) and commercialization (the dominance of commercial companies in implementation and operations). In contrast, the new framework should be based on the following three principles: 1) International law 2) Civilian control and demilitarization 3) Humanitarianism and protecting the vulnerable   This has the following implications for US mine action policy:   1) International Law: The US should accede to the Mine Ban Convention, Cluster Munition Convention and ratify the Explosive Remnants of War amendment to the Convention on Conventional Weapons. 2) Humanitarian Demining and other mine action should be conducted, where possible, by civilian, non-profit or public agencies that prioritize protecting the vulnerable [...] [...]

  2. Hello! I share your views on mnay points except points 3 and 5 wherein you mention USAID. I am sure the Leahy fund is worthey, however, I strongly fel that the paperwork required by USAID activities to be more hindrance for mine actiites and cringe to see more being done under their structure. Trimming and aiding more communities directly involved in the threat of all sorts of mines should be a real priority. Promoting a bureaucratic umbrella that would only complicate this effort seems far from appropriate.

  3. USAID shd be re-civilianised and USAID staffers shd get back to the field, not only in mine action, but in other sectors too.

    Commercialization is good; it is more efficient, more cost effective and even usually more financially visible than other forms of implementation. Their reporting and cooperation with other agencies is often superior but commercial companies shd not any longer be used as arms of the State Department, CIA or the Pentagon, their operations shd no longer be used as enticement or encouragement for the adoption of other policies or enterprises by potential beneficiaries.

  4. Dear Sir, Dear Madam,

    May i write comments in French : since six years I have leave the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action which I have founded in 1997 with a Lawyer nd my English become poor with the years…

    Best Regards

    Michel Diot

  5. It’s an interesting topic but one thatI doubt gets serious consideration in a new administration for a variety of reasons.

    1. Why Change? For a policy to “change” there has to be a reason for that change. Simply asking the U.S. to surrender it’s sovereignty to the capricious whims of a fickle international community that has spent the last twelve years hurling vicious invectives at the U.S. seems somewhat unreasonable. If you want the U.S. policy to change, give it a reason to change other than “Because we said so!” Reasonable people can disgree on specific approaches to a common objective but unreasonable demands and perpetual hostility toward the U.S. rightfully get ignored and go nowhere. For anything to change, the ascerbic, hate-filled anti-American rhetoric is going to have to disappear. Cooperation and collaboration get far more accomplished far quicker. Those who have reaped the largest share of U.S. funding for mine action have long learned this lesson.

    2. Commercial vs NGO. From past experience, there are benefits and problems with both but commercial companies and military organizations are the choice for the U.S. because they are far more accountable and contractually reliable than unaccountable NGOs and private parties that carry an enormous degree of risk. That said, I think the U.S. has efficietively balanced it’s approach over the years with huge sums going to NGOs for mine action work all over the globe so it’s really not an “either/or” proposition. The right tool for the right job.

    3. War Victims or Mine Victims. Civilian War Survivor assitance has been a massive distraction, both financially and programmatically, from the serious business of removing the threat. The ambiguity of the kinds of injuries and source of injuries that should or should not be funded will never be resolved and this is a financial bottomless pit with passionate advocates who will never be satisfied with any amount of funding. Maybe more funds should be provided to the “victims of war” but Mine Action was never established to be all things to every war victim. Basic humanitariansm aside, if you try to do everything, you do nothing well.

    4. I won’t disagree with the assumptions about R&D because I generally agree with them. I’m guessing between $180-200 million USD just in R&D since 1997. Has that resulted in any revolutionary breakthroughs in clearance and detection or simply a decades long incrementalism approach and marginal improvements to the same methodologies used since World War II? I could probably make a case both ways as could many others.

    5. Your final suggestion concerning the roles of both the Departments of State and Defense make assumptions that aren’t true. The State Department will never have control over the Defense Department and it’s legitimate and proper role in making professional decisions on how best to defend America and save American lives in a conflict. Unlike parlimentary systems, a new president in the U.S. would never come in and unilaterally begin usurping these traditional roles for petty politcal purposes…

    Simply said, if you want US policy to change, acknolwedge what has worked and what has NOT worked and articulate a common sense, cooperative, non-confrontational approach to fixing what is NOT working and why. How hard can that be?

  6. I agree with the previous blogger. The mine action community has become very comfortable dealing with the US as an outsider. If the US signed the treaty they would become more active in various forums than what $70 million a year has required them to do. The combination of being a signatory to the treaty and the largest country donor would give them a lot of more clout than they have now as a donor and it might be more than desired by the mine action community. It is not easy for an “enemy” to become a trusted friend.

    As long as Weapons Abatement and Removal (WRA) funds mine action it is unlikely USAID would also fund mine action. There’s a bit of bureaucracy involved. The USAID Leahy Fund is unique and is very unlikely to expand into mine clearance. USAID country offices could get involved under its development mandate but I doubt they will or should.

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