Over the past dozen years, numbers of countries and facilities producing antipersonnel landmines (APMs) have declined dramatically, from 54 to 16 or fewer around the world. Recently, this trend has been a direct result of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and the Mine Ban Treaty. Decisions to end landmine production have necessitated action either to close or to convert manufacturing plants, as well as to address community economic, social, and environmental impacts of ending production. The fate of people and facilities engaged in such deadly work has been a low priority for mine ban advocates in the past.
Rebuild International, a consortium of Canadian companies and non-governmental organizations, advocates more attention and resources to defence conversion in the future, both as a direct intervention to inhibit renewed production and promote demining, and as an additional inducement for reluctant countries to sign the Treaty. Remaining producers are going to be much tougher to address than those of the past. While landmine production is not a huge generator of employment nor of export-based profits, our field research indicates that terminating production can loom very large in specific smaller communities affected, as well as leaving a costly environmental legacy. As well, APMs are cheaper and easier to transport and to sell in arms bazaars than are many other weapons systems, so risks of reentry into production and/or evading export bans are real in some countries.
Quite a number of major producers have already signed the Convention, and among these there have been actions to close plants, to phase out APM production lines, and/or to convert plants. From our research there appeared to be very few success stories to date in the field of conversion, due to a lack of focused external assistance. Generally those with the fewest resources and least ability to create alternative employment have had the most problems organizing this process as well.
In a number of countries, APMs are just one among a whole "family" of weapons systems and technologies the production of which is distorting development priorities and contributing in many cases to repression. Defence conversion is an integral part of ending a culture of violence and stimulating positive, peace-oriented development. Technically, converting landmine production facilities is a relatively easy place to begin wider military conversion programs. It is an opportunity to build on success in forming new ventures. Especially in current and former command economies, is that many landmine producers are already engaged in some civilian production, and can more readily shift resources and management attention to this avenue for future earnings, compared to other defence-oriented production.
At the same time, APM production plants may be difficult to market as targets for foreign or domestic investment because of their former occupation. They are often laced with toxic substances, and may be mined themselves to prevent intrusion. They may be located away from convenient infrastructure and services that would attract investors, especially if overall economic conditions are risky as they are in most countries of the Balkans, the former Soviet Union and parts of Eurasia. In brief, in most countries outside Western Europe and North America, conversion is unlikely to be successful without targeted development assessment and investment, coupled with risk management regimes.
For further information on landmine plant conversion and on Rebuild International, please contact:
C. David Crenna, The Bayswater Consulting Group Inc., Suite 312, 29 Beechwood Avenue, Ottawa, Canada. Phone: (613) 741-7107. Fax: (613) 741-6360. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.