US cancels laser weapon that can cause blindness

CHRISTOPHER BELLAMY

Defence Correspondent

The United States has cancelled a new laser weapon after an international ban on laser devices specifically designed to blind people came into force on Thursday. But a conference on "inhumane weapons" in Vienna failed to agree on the other main issue - anti-personnel mines - and human rights groups also criticised the laser ban for not going far enough.

The Foreign Office hopes the review conference on the 1980 Inhumane Weapons Convention will reconvene in December, after the 35 nations taking part have had time to consider their positions. David Davis, a Foreign Office minister, yesterday said he was disappointed that the talks had been suspended. "We are determined the convention should be strengthened to bring an end to the irresponsible use of anti-personnel landmines," he said. "But the determined obstruction of a number of countries has made this impossible."

Whereas laser blinding weapons are a new form of warfare, as yet unused, land mines kill an estimated 26,000 people a year. Millions are scattered across Africa and South-east Asia, where they have been favoured by Third World regimes because they are a cheap but highly effective way of denying territory to an opponent. But they remain years after conflicts have ended, and are particularly dangerous to farmers, children and animals.

Western countries, including Britain, want tight controls on manufacturing and exporting anti-personnel mines and want them to self-destruct after a set period.

However, a number of countries which still manufacture and use such mines have resisted detailed negotiations. They are understood to include Russia, China, Pakistan, India and Mexico. "Better to suspend it and spend time banging a few heads together," a British diplomatic source said of the conference. One dispute was over verification: Western countries want to be able to carry out inspections, like those specified in other armaments treaties.

The conference passed a protocol prohibiting the use and transfer of weapons designed to cause permanent blindness to the naked eye. But it permits laser weapons to be used against optical instruments, which could cause blindness indirectly. The US-based Human Rights Watch welcomed the ban but said "the protocol is seriously flawed, because it allows an entire category of possible weapons to escape possible regulation".

The US immediately announced it was cancelling its new "Laser Countermeasure System", which is primarily aimed at optical instruments and other sensors, but which it accepted was also dangerous to the human eye.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition