US Takes a Small Step to Reduce Outlawed Land Mines
June 29, 2014
Hayes Brown / ThinkProgress & Rick Gladstone / The New York Times
The US has announced that it will no longer produce new anti-personnel land mines, letting its current stockpile of 10-13 million weapons "dwindle." The US will also consider recognizing the 15-year-old global treaty that bans the use of the weapons that have killed an estimated 20,000 people (mostly civilians) annually. In the meantime, one arms control expert notes: "The US is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire."
US Pledges To Stop Producing New Landmines
Hayes Brown / ThinkProgress
(June 27, 2014) -- The United States announced on Friday that it will no longer produce new anti-personnel landmines (APL), letting its current stockpile dwindle and moving towards finally implementing a treaty banning the use of the weapons that have killed an estimated 20,000 people annually.
The pronouncement came at a conference being held in Mozambique reviewing the progress of the Ottawa Treaty, also known as the the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention or just the Landmine Ban Treaty, fifteen years after its passage. Because the US has never acceded to the terms of the treaty, Washington was only present as an observer. While there, however, US ambassador to Mozambique Douglas Griffiths declared that the US will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire.
Since its completion in 1997, 161 countries have signed onto the Landmine Ban Treaty, with a few notable exceptions such as India, Pakistan, Russia, and China -- and the United States. When President Obama first took office in 2009, activists hoped that the new administration would reverse the decision to hold back from the treaty. Instead, however, the State Department decided to hold its course. "This administration undertook a policy review and we decided that our landmine policy remains in effect," spokesman Ian Kelly said at the time.
Now, however, the US has softened that stance some, though not saying that it would be joining the Landmine Ban Treaty anytime in the immediate future. "Our delegation in [Maputo, Mozambique] made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention," National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said in a statement announcing the shift. "They also noted we are conducting a high fidelity modeling and simulation effort to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of APL. Other aspects of our landmine policy remain under consideration and we will share outcomes from that process as we are in a position to do so."
This new announcement builds on previous commitments, the White House said in a fact sheet accompanying the announcement, "to end the use of all non-detectable mines and all persistent mines, which can remain active for years after the end of a conflict." In layman's terms, in the past administrations have chosen to draw the line between so-called "dumb mines," which last indefinitely, and "smart mines" that deactivate on their own.
While the Clinton administration refused to sign onto the Ottawa Convention, it did decide to ban its use of "dumb mines" everywhere but on the border between North and South Korea, already destroying 3.3 million AP mines back in 1999. At present, the US is estimated to have approximately 9 million self-destructing anti-personnel mines in its stockpile.
As recently as two days ago, the US was being criticized for not taking more action on banning its own use of landmines. Now, Stephen Goose, executive director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, told the New York Times after the announcement that his organization is "very pleased with the US announcement that it intends to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty, and that it has instituted a new policy banning future production of antipersonnel mines."
But, he added, it makes "little sense to acknowledge that the weapons must be banned due to the humanitarian harm they cause, and yet insist on being able to use them," he said. "The US should set a target date for joining the Mine Ban Treaty, should commit to no use of antipersonnel mines until it accedes, and should begin destruction of its stocks."
Every year, according to the United Nations, landmines kill between 15,000 to 20,000 people -- mostly women, children, and the elderly -- and maim an untold number more. The United States is the world's single largest financial supporter of de-mining efforts, Hayden noted in her statement, "providing more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs." Despite that, landmines still continue to make headlines, as in the case of the recent flooding in Bosnia, where torrential rain uncovered and shifted the location of hundreds of mines left over from the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
US Lays Groundwork to Reduce Land Mines and Join Global Treaty
Rick Gladstone / The New York Times
(June 27, 2014) -- After five years of study, the Obama administration put the United States on a course Friday to eventually sign the global treaty that bans antipersonnel land mines, announcing steps that will gradually reduce the American stockpile and find ways to adjust for any military disadvantage in purging the weapons.
The announcement, made on the final day of a conference in Maputo, Mozambique, assessing the progress of the 15-year-old treaty, was a modest surprise to disarmament advocates. They had grown frustrated with what they viewed as the administration's ambivalence on the treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, which 161 nations have signed.
Many disarmament advocates had hoped that President Obama would move quickly to sign the treaty in his first term. The agreement had been negotiated with American encouragement during President Bill Clinton's tenure in the 1990s, then renounced during the eight years that President George W. Bush was in office. But the Obama administration repeatedly declined to commit to signing the treaty, saying it was under review.
On Friday, the American ambassador to Mozambique, Douglas M. Griffiths, speaking on behalf of an American observer delegation at the conference, announced that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace old ones that expire, which will have the practical effect of reducing the estimated 10 million mines in the American stockpile. Mr. Griffiths also said the United States was "diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention."
While he gave no date, the language was still the first explicit commitment that the United States intended to sign the treaty.
"With this announcement, the US has changed its mine ban stance and has laid the foundation for accession to the treaty," said Stephen Goose, the executive director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch who led the conference delegation from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Nobel laureate group that helped clear the way for the Ottawa Convention in 1999. At the same time, Mr. Goose expressed disappointment, saying the American change had not gone nearly far enough.
"No target date has been set for accession by the US, and no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty," he said. "The US is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire."
Physicians for Human Rights, a founding member of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, also issued a qualified endorsement of the American statement, coupled with a rejoinder that it was insufficient.
"We remain concerned about anything less than a full commitment to sign the mine ban treaty as soon as possible," said Widney Brown, the group's director of programs.
Other disarmament advocates were equally pointed in their criticism. Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, expressed concern about the absence of a timetable to destroy the stockpile. Without that, he said, the announcement would have little practical effect "for many, many years to come."
Mr. Griffiths, in an indication that the United States is researching ways to replicate the strategic value of antipersonnel land mines without their collateral damage, also said in the announcement that the American policy included experimental work "to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of antipersonnel land mines."
American defense officials have argued that these weapons have an important purpose -- in deterring ground invasions, for example -- and that the United States would put itself at a disadvantage by renouncing them. A number of potential American adversaries -- notably Russia, China and Iran -- have not signed the treaty.
Disarmament advocates have argued that the American reluctance to sign might be dissuading the other recalcitrant nations from joining.
The treaty is regarded as a triumph of the disarmament movement and has sharply reduced the use and destructive effects of antipersonnel land mines, which were killing or maiming 26,000 people a year when it first took effect. That figure has fallen to about 4,000 a year as a growing number of countries have destroyed old buried mines.
Antipersonnel land mines, once common but now almost universally regarded as insidious and indiscriminate, are designed to detonate when people step on or near them. They can lie dormant for decades. Half the victims have been children.
Although it has not joined the treaty, the United States remains the largest single donor to the cause of land mine decontamination and medical care for victims, providing more than $2.3 billion since 1993 for conventional weapons destruction programs in other countries, according to a White House statement.
The United States has also taken steps over the years to purge from its stockpile the most dangerous types of antipersonnel land mines, so-called dumb mines that cannot be disarmed, as well as nonmetallic mines that made detection difficult.
Several members of the Obama administration, including the national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, have argued strongly that the United States cannot be in the position of refusing to sign the treaty. Mr. Obama's decision essentially moves toward approval, but makes it unlikely that the United States will become a signer -- a decision subject to Senate approval -- during his presidency.
The Pentagon's main objection to the treaty focuses on American difficulties defending South Korea from North Korea. The Demilitarized Zone between them is filled with land mines -- periodically they detonate, as animals step on them -- and they are considered a central element of South Korea's first-line defense against a North Korean invasion.
But to destroy Seoul, the South Korean capital, the North does not need a land invasion: Its artillery could wreak great damage. So advocates of signing the treaty have argued that the mines along the zone are an outdated Cold War relic.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.
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