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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Mines Advisory Group (MAG)

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
July 7, 2006


Lou McGrath, Mines Advisory Group (MAG)
Remarks at MASG Meeting
Geneva, Switzerland
July 7, 2006

Chair, honourable delegates, ladies and gentlemen, I and my colleagues at MAG are pleased to have been to be given this opportunity to address the Mine Action Support Group for the first time.

By way of introduction, MAG began its life eighteen years ago as an advisory service on mine and UXO clearance and, as an NGO, became an advocate for action to bring an end to the humanitarian impact of landmines. By 1992 we had completed surveys in several countries and had built major clearance programmes in Iraq and Cambodia. To date MAG has been involved in more than twenty countries where we have either established our own clearance programmes, provided training and assistance to existing national capacities or support to UN and NGO emergency and development projects. Of course we could not have achieved all that we have, without the financial backing of governments, institutions, trust funds, individuals and the general public, to all of whom we are extremely grateful.

Since those early days we have gone through many changes and have adapted our work according to the many challenges and demands that we have been faced with. The Mine Action sector itself is now reaching maturity and together we have built up a great deal of knowledge. It is knowledge that allows us all to become more innovative. Not in terms of developing hardware and technology,- after many years of development a flail is still a flail and a detector still a detector,- In MAG we see innovation not just in terms of technical deliverables, but also in terms of developing and applying ideas, approaches and systems. Such thinking has served MAG well and allowed us to become proactive rather than reactive.

To illustrate this, I would like to point out some innovations that MAG has applied as part of its organisational approach:

In 1997, as part of a strategic process we felt it important to take an honest look at ourselves, evaluate how we conducted our activities, and what would be required if we were to improve our services. We were in no doubt that using technical skills without quality information and data would not allow us implement appropriate and effective action nor would we get the best use from our limited resources. Different expertise was needed to assist our mine and explosive ordnance disposal teams in order maximise the effect of our work with populations that were at risk. The exercise bought clarity and was to completely change the way MAG had previously focussed its work. We called it Community Liaison and it is now a key component of our field activities. It drives our prioritization process and is responsible for collecting, collating, analysing and measuring baseline data, outcomes and impact.

It was also 1997 that we decided to move away from being a ‘stand alone’ specialist organisation. It became a main objective for MAG to integrate our services into the wider development context. While removing the threat of mines and UXO can often be a lifesaving activity in itself, there is no doubt if it is integrated with development plans and activities the impact can be maximised. We have formed and continue to form alliances with development partners whether their focus is for health, social welfare, economic or education purposes.

In the early years MAG built big programmes to contend with what we saw as relevant to the size of the mine and UXO problem within a country. We came realise that to sustain such large numbers of staff, would not only present logistical problems, but would limit our ability to respond to the smaller priority tasks. Unless we were prepared to change we acknowledged that programmes would eventually prove to be costly and thus limit the required support from our funding partners. In response to this we created and trialled the idea of training small multi- skilled teams, able to deal with all types of mine and UXO clearance. We called them Mine Action Teams or MATs and today this concept is a standard approach in all MAG programmes. New developments have included Village Assistance in Lao and Locality Demining in Cambodia.

I mention all these issues, not to ask for your applause, but rather to make you aware of how we have evolved, and to point you to how I believe innovation coupled with the will to adapt to the changing circumstances, has continued to win MAG the support and confidence, of all our partners. However while it may have been the humanitarian impact of landmines that drove us to build the organisation, we have long since realised that to mitigate one problem without the many others is often difficult, and to try can prove to be a costly exercise, not only in financial terms, but also in terms of human security. I am talking here about the recognised problems associated with small arms and light weapons.

This is not to say that landmines are no longer a threat. Nor is it the case, that because the Ottawa clock is ticking towards a decade, we can suddenly click our fingers and declare countries to be ‘mine free’. However, what we know to be true today is that given the right targeted support we can move faster than we have done in the past, in reaching the stage where in some countries, the impact of mines on people, could be reduced considerably. Multi year funding commitments from donors would of course assist all those involved in Mine Action to develop strategic plans that would enable a greater ability to predict and include a time factor.

Today I would like to ask that the Mine Action community to consider how it can use its expertise to assist those involved with this issue.

There is not a day goes by, in MAG, and I am sure it is the same for other clearance NGO’s, without our staff removing and destroying one or more items that sit outside the narrow category of those items covered by the Mine Ban Treaty. To deal with the threat posed by landmines and to ignore or be slow to respond to the threat posed by stockpiles of abandoned weapons and munitions is in this day and age something we could all live to regret.

It is true that the move towards recognising what is termed Explosive Remnants of War was a welcome shift. But this too can often be a narrow interpretation. Armed conflict and the remnants of conflict take many different forms and the funding could reflect this and give the ability to respond appropriately to whatever poses a risk. The donor communities resources should be adapted to take account of not only the wider conflict context and resulting contamination, but nowadays the greater threats we are faced with. Surely the threats posed by terrorism and organised crime are a concern to all nations.

Today, we see countries tightening their export controls on small arms and light weapons, improving regulations on arms brokerage and tightening their policing of end user certificates. However, what purpose is served if the ‘ill intentioned’ find it so easy to slip across the border of a former conflict region and have the choice of weapons and ammunition at their disposal.

Organisations implementing clearance programmes sometimes find it difficult to get support quickly enough, for projects that provide assistance in dealing with insecure stockpiles of small arms and light weapons, whether legitimately held or abandoned.

In one country in 2002, prior to a formal peace agreement, MAG had obtained permission from the relevant authorities to remove and destroy stockpiles of small arms and light weapons being held in insecure storage close to neighbouring borders. The stores held a variety of automatic weapons, propelled grenade launchers, landmines, mortars, ammunition and included man-portable anti aircraft missiles. On approaching one interested donor for support we were told that there were not enough landmines contained in the inventories that would allow them to fund the proposal. Fortunately sometime later we were able to find a donor who shared our concerns. However, one is left wondering, that given the time gap what weapons were all ready lost to us. In November of that year a civilian aircraft flying out of Mombasa narrowly missed disaster when a Sam 7 Strella was launched towards it. While not to suggest there is a connection between the two, this illustrates the threats we are faced with today.

In MAG we see the future role of Mine Action as being one that encompasses many different facets. That is, to address the threat and risks associated with the tools and debris of one completed conflict, being used to fight another. Recently MAG has worked with other organisations in the SALW sector and it is clear that the experience gained in 20 years of dealing with the mine threat and other ordnance places the sector well in approaching the problems and threats associated with Small arms and light weapons. The technical and management skills developed in approaching the problems of post conflict countries means that we are well prepared to support SALW initiatives in a very practical way. Both sectors wish to clear the threat and provide educational messages to change behaviour and we already have the skills to do both. Yesterday our work began assisting the Congolese army in destroying several thousand AK47’s.

I believe that now is the time for our sector to adapt to support conflict recovery in a holistic way. I don’t believe we can become a one stop shop or take on all these issues, such as the legal issues of control of arms and policing, but we can certainly present ourselves as the sector which can provide a practical service to many of the areas that concern us all.

The UN could play a role in the coordination and facilitation of this new era. While there have been many frustrations between the UNMAS and UNDP and the Mine Action NGOs to date, the new Head of UNMAS and person responsible for mine action in UNDP offer a positive future in clarifying the UN role and approach to these issues. The challenge is for all to adapt to the future, to meet the objectives of countries recovering from conflict, rather than looking back and recycling the same old solutions.

I referred earlier to more long-term funding as a desirable option for the future. There is a very practical reason for this. As we are all in the business of addressing complex emergencies and the many problems of supporting development following war that we all have a better chance of using resources and funding to support the outputs desired if planning over multiple years can be agreed. Surely all understand now that a 12 month funding cycle approach to the problems is a constraint on achieving objectives where recovery and capacity building are not just required, but essential if countries and regions are not to return to conflict.

The challenges of conflict recovery include social rebuilding, infrastructure and economic stabilisation and improvement. Our sector can remove the many threats to resources and untie the hands of those wishing to move forward, while allowing governments and other organisations to deliver their services and support beneficiaries. This impact should not be under estimated, and it is essential that the issues and benefits of mine action and SALW are included in country development plans. I have seen donor plans for countries that have suffered recent conflict who have not prioritised addressing the debris of the conflict over other pressing priorities. Our message is that a failure to recognise the constraint of contaminated land can be a huge impediment to development aspirations and objectives in some circumstances, and we would welcome a dialogue that allows these issues to be discussed, supported and managed.

To conclude, the knowledge and power to extend our vision and expertise into other areas which will help to reduce the suffering of many, and leave a better world for those who come after us, is what is required from all represented in this room. Let us not reinvent the wheel but work together in true coordination and cooperation and match knowledge, expertise and drive to support for longer term plans. I believe that this will be the most cost effective use of our tax payers money.

Thank you.

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