Volume 2, Issue 2, February 28, 2011
National and International Support
The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, typically referred to as the "Ottawa Convention" or "Mine Ban Treaty," seeks to end the use of victim-activated anti-personnel landmines (APLs) worldwide. Opened for signature on December 3, 1997, today 156 countries are states-parties to Mine Ban Treaty, including all NATO members except the United States (Poland has signed and intends to ratify the treaty in 2012). The use of treaty-banned landmines has essentially ceased in all Western hemisphere countries with the exception of Cuba and the United States.
Last year, the Obama administration received significant support in for a decision to accede to the treaty, should it choose to do so. In May, a bipartisan group of 68 U.S. Senators wrote a joint letter stating:
"We are confident that through a thorough, deliberative review the Administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Convention and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible."
In November, a group of 16 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates called upon their fellow Nobel Laureate, Barack Obama, to bring the United States into the treaty regime. They said:
"We understand that policy deliberations can be complicated, particularly on military matters and arms control. Yet in this instance we believe that there is a clear case to be made for the moral and humanitarian imperative for the US to relinquish antipersonnel mines and join the Mine Ban Treaty - especially since it has closely followed the core obligations of the Mine Ban Treaty for many years now."
Also in 2010, leaders of 65 U.S. national nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and a large number of former senior military leaders wrote separate letters to President Obama encouraged him to join the treaty. In their letter to the President, NGO leaders wrote:
"The last steps to joining the treaty are now achievable, and vitally important to United States efforts to protect civilians during and after armed conflict, strengthen international norms, and isolate irresponsible regimes."
The United States is not known to have used antipersonnel landmines since 1991, has not exported them since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997. Despite significant military engagements in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has found other solutions than to use the weapons banned by the Mine Ban Treaty.
President Bill Clinton sought to put the United States on a path to accede to the treaty by 2006. In 2004, the Bush administration announced that Washington would not join the treaty and set 2010 as the final year in which the United States would permit use of persistent landmines. Now, in 2011, that policy is in effect and the United States no longer plans to use so-called "dumb" landmines, even on the Korean peninsula.
Current U.S. policy does, however, allow for the use of so-called "smart" landmines, those equipped with self-destruct or self-deactivation mechanisms. Such landmines are barred under the treaty because they remain victim-activated and many have questioned the reliability of their safety features. The desire to retain the ability to use such landmines remains the primary difference between U.S. policy and Mine Ban Treaty requirements.
In November 2009, Obama administration officials made clear that they were conducting a comprehensive review of U.S. landmines policy and later that year officially attended as observers a Mine Ban Treaty annual states-parties meetings for the first time. Officials again attended the state-parties meeting in 2010.
The Mine Ban Treaty does not prohibit command-detonated, or so called "man in the loop" mines, which are not victim-activated. Such landmines exist and are in the U.S. stockpile.
Although potential future conflict in Korea has been cited as a reason to retain mines, such logic is outdated. Mines currently in place in South Korea are not under U.S. ownership and pose no barrier to U.S. accession to the treaty. If the United States were to accede to the treaty, it would be barred from emplacing new landmines and cooperating with any South Korean use of treaty-banned weapons, but otherwise would be able to maintain its military relationship with Seoul.
It is difficult to imagine how U.S. accession to the treaty would negatively impact defense activities in any realistic conflict scenario on the peninsula. U.S. and South Korea capabilities other than landmines are much more critical, especially given that Seoul's short-warning vulnerability would be to missiles or naval-based activities against which landmines serve no purpose.-JEFF ABRAMSON
Additional Resources on the Mine Ban Treaty:
"Mine Ban Treaty by the Numbers" Arms Control Association Issue Brief, Volume 1, Number 37, November 23, 2010.
"Momentum Building for U.S. Accession to the Mine Ban Treaty" Arms Control Association Issue Brief, Volume 1, Number 6, May 25, 2010.
Arms Control Association landmine resources page.