In a First, U.S. Attends Landmine Meeting

Jeff Abramson

For the first time since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force in 1999, the United States officially participated in a meeting of states-parties, joining more than 120 other countries in Colombia Nov. 30-Dec. 4 at the treaty’s second five-year review conference.

At the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, the United States reiterated its recent decision to conduct a review of its policies on landmines. Also at the meeting, the treaty’s member states agreed to a detailed action plan and granted deadline extensions to four states for landmine clearance.

The United States, which has not signed the treaty and had never officially attended an annual meeting of states-parties or a five-year review conference, participated as an observer state. James Lawrence, head of the U.S. delegation and director of the Department of State’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, said Dec. 1, “The administration’s decision to attend this review conference is the result of an on-going comprehensive review of U.S. landmine policy initiated at the direction of President Obama.” He indicated that the review “will take some time to complete.”

That statement contradicted one made Nov. 24 by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly that a review had already been concluded and that the United States would not be joining the treaty. That announcement immediately drew criticism from nongovernmental organizations and longtime anti-landmine leader Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who said, “This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history.” On Nov. 25, Kelly changed the statement, saying that the Obama administration “is committed to a comprehensive review of its landmine policy. That review is still on-going.”

In 2004 the Bush administration declared that the United States would not join the treaty. That decision overrode pledges made by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to set the United States on the path to sign the pact in 2006. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The 1997 treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, prohibits the use, stockpiling, transfer, and production of anti-personnel landmines, defined as “a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person.” The treaty also applies to some mixed landmine systems that have both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle devices, but does not rule out the use of purely anti-vehicle landmines. One hundred fifty-six countries are parties to the treaty, including all NATO countries, other than the United States and Poland. Poland signed the treaty in 1997 and has said it expects to ratify it in 2012.

The United States has not deployed anti-personnel landmines since 1992 and is the world’s top funder of landmine clearance and victim assistance activities. In his statement to the conference, Lawrence reiterated U.S. policy to “end all [U.S.] use of persistent mines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, by the end of next year, in 2010.” After 2010, U.S. policy allows for the use of so-called smart mines, which are designed to self-destruct and self-deactivate within a specified period of time. The treaty and U.S. policy also allow for the use of so-called man-in-the-loop mines, which are designed to be detonated by a live controller, as opposed to victim contact.

Like the United States, China and Russia attended the meeting as observers. Together, those three countries maintain approximately 145 million stockpiled anti-personnel landmines, the vast majority of the global total, according to the latest Landmine Monitor Report, an annual publication supported by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and widely regarded as the de facto monitoring regime for the treaty. In a statement to the summit, Chinese delegation leader Cheng Jingye highlighted Beijing’s commitment not to export anti-personnel landmines as well as its support of Protocol 2 to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), which specifically deals with the use of mines. As with cluster munitions, China, Russia, and the United States have preferred to address controls on landmines within the CCW rather than through other treaties. (See ACT, December 2009.)

Under the Mine Ban Treaty, countries have 10 years from the time the pact enters into force for them to clear areas of anti-personnel mines and four years to destroy their stockpiles, with the exception of the minimum number necessary for the development of and training in mine detection, clearance, and destruction techniques. At the Cartagena meeting, Albania, Greece, Rwanda, and Zambia announced that they had cleared all known mined areas within their borders. With the treaty now 10 years old, however, a number of countries have sought extensions to their mine clearance deadlines. In 2008, 15 states sought and were granted extensions. (See ACT, January/February 2009.) In Cartagena, Argentina, Cambodia, and Tajikistan received extensions until 2020 to clear mine-affected areas, and Uganda received an extension until 2012. Ukraine announced in 2009 that it would likely miss its 2010 stockpile destruction deadline. Belarus, Greece, and Turkey failed to meet stockpile destruction deadlines in 2008 and remain in violation of the treaty.

The conference adopted a 67-point action plan that included commitments across a range of issues, including victim assistance, mine clearance, risk education, stockpile destruction, and international cooperation. “This plan spells out in concrete terms what we will do to better meet the needs of landmine survivors,” said the president of the Cartagena conference, Norway’s Susan Eckey. “It is a strong plan that will require a shared commitment to be implemented. Doing so will get us closer to our aim of a world without anti-personnel mines.”