Statement of Daryl G. Kimball, Executive Director
Today, on the final day of the Third Review Conference of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty in Maputo, Mozambique, the United States formally announced that it will not produce or acquire any new anti-personnel land mines and will not replace the existing U.S. stockpile of landmines. The statement from U.S. Ambassador Griffiths from the U.S. Embassy in Maputo also states that "...we are diligently pursuing other solutions that would be compliant with the Convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the Convention."
The U.S. statement from Maputo is useful in that it underscores landmines are not essential to U.S. security and are on their way out, but it falls short of what can and should be done. The United States currently has no plans to produce antipersonnel mines barred by the treaty, and there are no victim-activated munitions being funded in the procurement or the research and development budgets of any of the armed services or the Department of Defense.
Without a commitment to destroy some or all of the United States existing stockpile of landmines and on a schedule, the pledge not to produce or acquire landmines will have little material effect on existing U.S. stockpiles (which number in the millions) for many, many years to come. And until and unless the Obama administration changes other aspects of current U.S. policy on landmines, the 2004 George W. Bush administration policy permitting the indefinite use of self-destructing, self-deactivating antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world remains in effect.
According to the U.S. statement issued today, the Obama administration will continue its landmine policy review (underway since November 2009) and also pursue solutions, including a study on military alternatives to land mines, that would allow the United States to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty in the future.
That too is positive, but the failure of President Obama to provide more decisive and prompt leadership on this issue is disappointing. He and his national security team have taken far too long to review U.S. landmine policy. The White House has apparently not even attached a deadline for the completion of its inter-agency land mine policy review or to the completion of the study on alternatives to landmines.
Landmines are indiscriminate weapons that kill and maim innocent civilians, often long after a conflict is over. The United States has not used landmines since 1991, and President Bill Clinton was the first leader to call for the "eventual elimination" of antipersonnel mines in September 1994. The United States participated in the Ottawa Process that led to the conclusion of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997, and the Clinton administration set the goal of joining the treaty by 2006. More than thirty years after the last time it used landmines, the United States has not yet acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty.
The Mine Ban Treaty, also know as the Ottawa Convention, prohibits the use, development, production, acquisition, retention, stockpiling, or transfer of anti-personnel landmines (APLs), which are defined by the treaty as mines "designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons." APLs that are command-detonated, are not prohibited, nor are anti-vehicle mines. The treaty also forbids signatories from assisting or encouraging any other state or party from engaging in the activities outlawed by the treaty. Each state-party is expected to destroy all APLs stockpiled in arsenals, except those retained for demining training, within four years of becoming bound by the treaty. Within 10 years of its entry into force date, each country is required to destroy all APLs under its jurisdiction and control, including those planted in the soil.
Since the U.S. landmine policy review began in 2009, the Obama Administration has received letters of support for the United States to join the Mine Ban Treaty from treaty from 68 Senators, key NATO allies, senior military veterans, dozens of leaders from non-governmental organizations, victims of U.S. landmines, and more than 200,000 concerned Americans.
It is past time for President Obama to fulfill the United States' long-standing pledge to join the Mine Ban Treaty. This would help to convince the other countries not yet party to join and strengthen the norm against the weapon, thereby ensuring it is not used in the future and creates no additional humanitarian and socioeconomic damage.
The United States can and should commit to a ban on the stockpiling and use of these inhumane weapons, which are no longer essential to U.S. security, nor is their use vital to fulfilling the our responsibilities to help ensure the security of allies.