A Disappointing Decision on Landmines
by Charles Lemos, Tue Nov 24, 2009 at 07:51:29 PM EST
The Obama Administration announced late today that it will not sign an international convention banning landmines but would send observers to a review conference on the treaty in Cartagena, Colombia. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the Administration recently completed a review and had decided not to change the Bush-era policy.
"We decided that our land mine policy remains in effect," he said. "As a global provider of security, we have an interest in the discussions there," Kelly said. "But we will be there as an observer, obviously, because we haven't signed the convention, nor do we plan to sign the convention."
While the United States generally abides by the provisions of the treaty - the US has not used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported any since 1992 and has not produced them since 1997 - but rather under a 2004 Bush directive reserves the right to use and develop non-persistent (self-destructing/self-deactivating) landmines primarily for use on the Korean peninsula. Additionally, the United States stockpiles some 10 million antipersonnel mines and retains the option to use them.
"This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history," Vermont Senator Pat Leahy said in a statement. "The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. We don't need these weapons and most of our allies have long ago abandoned them. It is a lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress. The United States took some of the earliest and most effective steps to restrict the use of landmines. We should be leading this effort, not sitting on the sidelines."
More than 150 countries have agreed to the Mine Ban Treaty's provisions to end the production, use, stockpiling and trade in mines. Apart from the United States, other holdouts include: China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia. The meeting in Cartagena next week is to assess compliance with the now ten year old ban.
According to the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), landmines caused at least 5,197 casualties last year, a third of them children. A United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children, by Graça Machel, the UN Secretary-General's Expert on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children called landmines "an insidious and persistent danger" to children. An estimated 110 million land-mines of various types remain hidden and unexploded. Once laid, a mine may remain active for up to 50 years.
Three countries - Afghanistan, Angola and Cambodia - account for 85 percent of the world's landmine casualties. Angola alone has an estimated 10 million landmines and an amputee population of 70,000, of whom 8,000 are children. Since May 1995 children have made up about half the victims of the 50,000-100,000 anti-personnel mines laid in Rwanda. In Cambodia, an average of 20 percent of children injured by mines and unexploded ordnance die from their injuries. In Afghanistan, there are at least seven million landmines. Landmines remain a problem in at least 68 countries. The cost to remove all 110 million active mines is estimated at approximately $33 billion. Experts believe that under current conditions it would take more than 1,100 years to clear the entire world of minesprovided that no additional mines are planted.
The decision by the Administration is bitterly disappointing.