LETTERS: Blind spot in arms protocol

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The Independent Online
From Ms Ann Peters

Sir: I would like to correct a false impression in Christopher Bellamy's article "US cancels laser weapon that can cause blindness" (14 October). The US did not cancel its portable "Laser Countermeasure System" directly in response to the new international ban on blinding laser weapons. The US decision came a week earlier as delegations, including those from the US and the UK, crafted the protocol's language to let such anti-optical laser weapons escape any international regulation despite their potential to blind.

It is unfortunate that diplomats negotiated a far weaker protocol on a limited category of blinding laser weapons at a time when laser weapons are not widely deployed within countries' arsenals. Perhaps the US Department of Defense decision reflects a recognition that the military utility of this particular anti-optical laser weapon is overshadowed by the humanitarian impact on soldiers and society as a whole.

The new ban on blinding laser weapons also has not come into force yet. Twenty states now must consent to be bound by the ban before it becomes international law. The UK should take the lead and ratify the new protocol on blinding laser weapons without delay. It must send the clear message that deliberate blinding is an unacceptable way to wage war and must work towards removing any loopholes in the protocol.

Yours sincerely,

Ann Peters

Arms Project

Human Rights Watch

London, N1

20 October