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Mine Action and the Millennium Development Goals

Updated Wednesday, 18-Sep-2013 09:09:21 EDT

The author compares the U.N. Millennium Development Goals with the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention, and sees that both should be adjusted to assure future success.

A Comparative Analysis

There are many interesting parallels between the political dynamics related to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals1 and the goals of the Anti-personnel Mine Ban Convention.2 Both are completing their first five-year review process and consider the year 2005 to be a milestone regarding the assessment of previous achievements and projection of future needs. They equally use an endorsed action plan to better direct the efforts of the international community and similarly thrive on the synergy of more than 1,000 dedicated non-governmental organizations.

Global calls for a total ban on the use of anti-personnel landmines and for a "mine-free world" are identical in their characteristics to global calls for "making poverty history." Shocking catchphrases like "10 million children die of the consequences of extreme poverty every year," or "one child every three seconds" remind us of the way the tragic impact of landmines has been depicted on a global scale: "one landmine victim every 20 minutes."

The campaign to free the world of landmines started well before the Millennium Development Goals campaign, and with some similarities. They obviously differ in scope, size and dimension; however, both offer an increasing number of valuable insights on how to mobilize an often more-divided-than-unified donor community behind a well-known, ambitious vision for a better world.

Most readers are familiar with the relative successes of the Convention, so let's briefly analyze why the practice of the MDGs as a development framework has been more successful where others have failed. At present, the eight MDGs-which range from cutting extreme poverty in half to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015-form a blueprint agreed to by all the world's countries and the entire world's leading development institutions. All eight of the MDGs, and the corresponding 18 targets, are taken directly from the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000.3 The most touching development objectives are directly related to the lives of people, and that is the exact reason why they have galvanized unprecedented efforts to meet the needs of the world's poorest. This is much better compared to earlier abstract or economic goal settings such as 5-percent income growth or other gross-domestic-product-related formulas or quantifications. The first successful round of the MDGs goes hand-in-hand with the impressive support for the Convention and its comparable tangible humanitarian goals and deadlines. However, the latter is still far from having universal support.

In relative terms, how is the progress in reaching the MDGs compared to making the deadlines of the Convention?

Well, it is quite obvious that at the current rate of progress, we are neither on track to realize the MDGs in 2015, nor make many of the 10-year deadlines of the Convention for a mine-free status of mine-affected member states. Unfortunately, if there is not a greater sense of urgency, we are not going to be even close, especially in Africa. For the MDGs, the recently published 2005 Human Development Report4 serves as a wake-up call, indicating it is not a hopeless situation. Significant progress is considered possible and realistic; for this reason alone, a "we-can-do-it message" remains essential.

The report focuses on three pillars in order to rid the world of extreme poverty:

The first pillar is international aid and how resources should be best allocated for development. For decades, many billions of dollars have been spent with limited results. Many experts have drawn one main conclusion: when money is spent without the required governmental reform, international efforts are virtually doomed to fail.

The second pillar highlights the tremendous potential of fair trade-likely more important than the first pillar. The trade-instead-of-aid principle has a lot of relevance, but it might only reach its full potential in a world with more equality and less subsidized or protectionist economies.

The third pillar is security and post-conflict reconstruction. Loss of security or relapse to conflict can cause a loss of decades of development progress. It is evident that mine action can play a vital role in this domain.

With the Human Development Report having a critical role in reshaping the debate on development in an unequal world, it manages to link the three essential pillars for development in a more holistic way than the MDG framework. We then have to ask how and if we should (or could) pair mine action effectively with the MDGs. Do we need extra tools or need to pursue a further extension of the development debate to overcome the near absence of security-related goals and targets in the MDGs? To answer this question, we need first to take a closer look at the politics involved.

The Politics of Mine Action

Mine action, as a multidisciplinary and multidimensional activity, is manifestly present at the three different levels of politics: high, medium and low (explicated below). Combined, they influence how mine action resources are mobilized and allocated.

Figure 1: The politics of mine action.

The high politics of mine action entail the strategic and political interactions on mine action legal instruments or related issues between sovereign states themselves, between states and the United Nations, and in a particular way, between states and the civil society or regional organizations. Today the "Ottawa model" is exemplary for other disarmament activities (e.g., small arms) on how the high politics of mine action have been very effective in moving the world towards a "mine free" state.

Low politics can be defined as the socio-economic or development factors influencing the implementation of mine action. More specifically, low politics are the impact of mine contamination on nation-building processes and national development programs, as shown in Landmine Impact Surveys. The very important politics at this level require sufficient national and local ownership of the mine problem to be truly effective. National and local decision-making should even have the ability to reprioritize funding originally intended for mine action whenever other more urgent socio-economic or development needs arise.

Having defined the high and low politics of mine action, it is suggested that there are also medium politics. These are the political dynamics within international organizations, regional organizations or the civil society itself-the interactions among non-governmental organizations, the United Nations, the International Committee for the Red Cross and regional political bodies such as the European Union and the Organization of American States, who altogether comprise the medium politics of mine action. Some of the more critical voices might call them the middling politics of mine action, since phenomena such as funding competition, turf protection and "clubbiness" mentality could sporadically form obstacles between the high and low politics of mine action.

Indeed, to optimize the global results of the politics of mine action, these three levels should act in harmony. This becomes more challenging beyond the emergency response phase of mine action. When there are high numbers of mine victims, the three political levels of mine action tend to remain well synchronized. However, the views of donor countries, the United Nations, NGOs, the World Bank and mine-affected states regarding the utility of certain mine action projects-especially when there are many competing demands-quickly diverge and consequently complicate the allocation of resources when mine action should be included in development and post-conflict restoration programmes.

On the other hand, mine action has significantly matured over the last years towards an increasingly efficient and effective combined effort to quickly address humanitarian emergencies, reduce security risks and threats, and contribute to development and post-conflict reconstruction. However, once beyond emergency relief, an external consultative process becomes essential. It will not only help converge the views of the actors at the different political levels of mine action but also better integrate mine action into overall strategic aims of the development and/or post-conflict restoration plans.

Linking up Mine Action with the MDGs

Having highlighted some aspects of the politics of mine action, how can we facilitate their effective inclusion into the current realm of global development goal-setting? The millennium goals are focused and concrete, but they do not particularly reach out to the different political levels of mine action or other disarmament activities. Past, vague or even disputable statements might not suffice in today's strife for clinical economics and a more quantifiable, reliable and especially comparable measurement of socio-economic benefits amongst programmes and projects.

Since 2005 is presented as a breakthrough year in reaching the MDGs, mine action should immediately review how it can fit in and benefit from the Millennium momentum. Is this currently happening? Only to a limited extent. For a number of reasons, mine action's mainstreaming in broader development goals has been a somewhat slow process. One does not have to go back too far in time to discover that mine action was kept deliberately outside the development debate to protect and accentuate its humanitarian imperative. This also confusingly led to redundant terminology such as humanitarian mine action-as if developmental mine action had still to be created.

Which mechanism can harmonize the multilevel mine action politics towards the MDGs? Will it be sufficient to enhance current external consultative processes and set aside concerns that this might reduce mine action funding due to other more competitive development activities? Should we better explore the opportunities to more substantially integrate mine action into substrategies relative to the MDGs? Once more, being the world's time-bound and quantified targets, the MDGs are what they are: eight strategic development goals. The mine action community might not obtain the desired result by creating a specific ninth MDG solely for addressing mine action purposes. Certain significantly mine-affected countries have done this or are in the process of doing so, but mobilizing additional resources beyond the funding required for the internationally endorsed MDGs is still to be seen, especially since the current funding is already largely insufficient.

Consequently, the subordinate planning level of the MDGs is likely a much more suitable mechanism since it allows a more substantial and tangible inclusion of national mine action goals and strategic plans into concepts such as poverty-reduction strategy papers, national development plans, security-sector reform plans, emergency-response plans and needs-analysis frameworks. Nevertheless, there are also potential pitfalls and obstacles. Frequently, there is a lack of nationally driven plans. Those that exist suffer from unrealistic expectations, fragmentation, gaps or duplication. One should expect to detect inadequate links between priorities in the political and security arena and the economic and social arena. Unfortunately, new indigenous governments overloaded with too many planning decisions are also more the rule than the exception, often giving way to an early loss of momentum in the process of post-conflict restoration.


Due to its complexity and cross-cutting characteristics, mine action will have to continue to firmly make its case to improve its mainstreaming into development activities in mine-affected states. This should not cause concern but rather acceptance of a broader prioritization process, whereby no scarce funding should go to the "demining of mountaintops or deserts" whilst the population in the valley is suffering-or worse, dying from the consequences of extreme poverty. There is no rationale that can justify this-neither a humanitarian, nor a development or even an Ottawa Convention one. The straightforward rationale to prevail should be the prioritization of those humanitarian and/or development projects that most significantly reduce human suffering or create the biggest socio-economic benefits. In this regard, the strategic guidance from the MDG framework is very helpful and the option to extend Convention deadlines very useful.

Figure 2: Linking up mine action with the MDGs.

Mine action should focus on the subordinate planning level to the MDGs rather than create additional Millennium Goals. Appropriate and coordinated action should be undertaken at the three political levels of mine action to encourage governments to include mine action impact assessments in all development planning, and to incorporate a concrete and practical strategic plan for mine action in the national development plan and poverty-reduction strategies. In this regard, mechanisms should be pursued where all partners work through a common national assessment of needs. Mere information-sharing is not enough. The needs-analysis framework and above-mentioned strategies should provide the necessary information and logical underpinning for an overarching MDG strategy and accompanying nation-specific action plan. To regard the MDGs as a stand-alone concept is quite impracticable.

Analyzing a post-conflict environment is very complex, especially with an ongoing mixture of development aid and emergency relief efforts. Success in creating a better understanding has been limited. The number of highly volatile factors makes it a daunting task to indicate reliable, long-term socio-economic benefits. To maintain its credibility, the mine action sector should avoid overstating the beneficial developmental impact of mine clearance, such as automatically calling the majority of their projects "high priority" if land can have any use in the future or referring to impressive socio-economic benefits that were "calculated" years ago.

As a closing note, it is important to continuously underline the real human costs and human faces behind all the figures, goals or deadlines. Human development is still much more than the MDGs, Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper or even the Convention, but they remain critical yardsticks. Therefore, the campaigns for a "mine-free world" or "making poverty history" should not refrain from using the confrontational element of detailing the human costs of missed targets and deadlines. Once more, business as usual will not be sufficient. The credibility of the big and powerful donor countries is clearly at stake if these historical promissory notes do not get beyond the many pledges made at fancy summits and banquets.

All graphics by Filip Van Der Linden/MAIC.


Filip Van Der Linden is a former secretary of the New York-based Mine Action Support Group. He contributed to strategic planning for the Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan. His interest in mine action resulted in his Ph.D. candidacy on the politics of mine action from the Department of Political and Social Science at the University of Antwerp-Belgium. He now works for the United Nations.


  1. United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Accessed Oct. 10, 2005.
  2. Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. Ottawa, Canada. Sept. 18, 1997. Accessed 10 Oct. 2005.
  3. More detailed information on the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000, the eight MDGs, its related 18 targets and 46 indicators can be found on the United Nations' Web site:
  4. For more information visit the Human Development Report Web site: Accessed Dec. 22, 2005.

Contact Information

Filip Van Der Linden
United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations
Military Planning Service
United Nations Headquarters
DPKOMPS, Room S-2222 F
New York, NY 10017
Tel: +1 917 367 2168
Fax: +1 917 367 2204