To mark the tenth anniversary of the highly successful Mine Ban Treaty, arms control experts are calling on President Obama to get in line with key U.S. allies and the international community by bringing the United States into the agreement.
"The Mine Ban Treaty anniversary offers the Obama administration, as well as that of other holdout countries, a chance to change course and join the global norm against weapons that have a humanitarian impact that far outweighs any possible military advantage derived from them," said Jeff Abramson, conventional arms research analyst at the Arms Control Association.
As a senator, Barack Obama was supportive of restricting procurement of victim-activated landmines. During the campaign, Obama told Arms Control Today that he would "regain our leadership...[by] honoring U.S. commitments to seek alternatives to landmines," but thus far has not taken up the issue.
By far the world's largest funder of mine action assistance, the United States has not used antipersonnel landmines since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, has prohibited their export since 1992, and has not produced new antipersonnel mines since 1997. The Clinton administration set up a path for the United States to join the Mine Ban Treaty but the Bush administration rejected the treaty.
"For an administration promising to 'renew America's security and standing in the world through a new era of American leadership,' acting to support the Mine Ban Treaty is a vital step," Abramson said.
The Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, was concluded in 1997 and entered into force March 1, 1999. Ten years ago, 71 countries were party to the treaty. Today, 156 countries are legally bound by it. Each of these countries has committed to complete the clearance of mine-impacted land under their jurisdiction and to destroying their stockpiles of antipersonnel landmines, with the exception of the "minimum number absolutely necessary" for detection and destruction training.
The use and trade of landmines has virtually ceased and the number of mines in existence has been greatly reduced. In the mid 1990s it was estimated that more than 130 countries stockpiled a global total of 260 million antipersonnel landmines. According to the most recent Landmine Monitor annual report, the global stockpile is down nearly 100 million, now totaling 167 million worldwide. The vast majority of that stockpile is owned by three of the 39 countries not party to the treaty: China (110 million estimated landmines stockpiled), Russia (24.5 million estimated), and the United States (10.4 million). Most countries party to the treaty maintain no stockpile, not even for training purposes.
Despite this progress, there remains much to do to reach the treaty's goal of a mine-free world. In 2007, there were 5,426 casualties attributed to mines, explosive remnants of war, and victim-activated improvised explosive devices. That number that has been gradually decreasing since the treaty came into force, but some countries are starting to miss their four-year deadlines for stockpile destruction and 10-year deadlines for mine clearance. Outside assistance to help mine-impacted countries dipped in 2007 and may be further impacted by the global economic situation.
"U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty would provide the leadership needed to permanently end the danger from these weapons and alleviate the suffering of those already impacted," said Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association.
Abramson also noted that, "The Mine Ban treaty is one of a number of existing and emerging international arms control agreements for which positive U.S. leadership is needed, including on the Convention on Cluster Munitions and an arms trade treaty."
In the past three months, 95 countries signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions. That agreement is patterned after the Mine Ban Treaty and supported by the United Kingdom and a majority of NATO countries. The Bush administration argued against the convention, but leaders of 67 national organizations recently asked Obama to review that assessment.
The United States is also the world's top arms supplier but has not supported a global effort to develop a global arms trade treaty (ATT). Such a treaty, which could protect U.S. national interests and global security from the worst effects of the trafficking of military equipment, has been on the international agenda for years. Next week, a UN open-ended working group will hold its first week-long session to discuss the topic.