WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States recently changed its stance on the Mine Ban Treaty at the end of June, announcing its intentions to join the treaty, engage in landmine reduction and cease the production of antipersonnel mines.
Antipersonnel mines are hidden explosives, buried in the ground and designed to detonate when people step on or near them.
U.S. Ambassador Douglas Griffiths said the U.S. is currently pursuing solutions that would allow the country to sign the treaty. However, some feel that the announcement holds little weight as there has yet to be any decisions on the date for accession by the U.S. or, ultimately, any definitive word on if the U.S. will even join the treaty.
“With this announcement, the U.S. has changed its mine ban stance and has laid the foundation for accession to the treaty,” said Steve Goose, Head of Delegation of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. “The message to the international community is clear; the Mine Ban Treaty is the only solution to eliminate the suffering caused by landmines.”
As of late, the U.S. is reserving its right to use the 10 million antipersonnel mines currently in its possession. Many disarmament advocates hoped that the Obama Administration would work toward signing the 15-year-old treaty within his first term in office.
The Administration claims it has been evaluating the provisions of the treaty since 2009.
The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty calls for the end of all production, trade and use of antipersonnel land mines. It also requires the clearance of land where weapons have been laid, the administration of aid to all victims and the destruction of all stockpiles of the mines.
The explosive devices appeal to poorer countries because they are cheap and easy to deploy. In 1994, landmines killed or seriously injured around 26,000 people a year, with the figures dropping to 4,000 a year by 2014.
American defense officials refuse to support a blanket ban of landmines as they consider them to be “an important tool” in the American arsenal, and once used them in South Korea to prevent invasion from North Korea. However, other Americans find the U.S. reluctance to sign the treaty inexcusable.
“If landmines were littering this country — in schoolyards, along roads, in cornfields, in our national parks — and hundreds of American children were being crippled, how long would it take before the White House sent the Mine Ban Treaty to the Senate for ratification?” said Vermont Senator Patrick J. Leahy.
Many view the argument by American defense officials as weak because the Pentagon has not used land mines since 1991, nor exported them since 1992, despite U.S. involvement in land wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Third Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty in Maputo, Mozambique brought together representatives from 161 signers as well as other participants, including U.S. Ambassador Griffiths, to discuss how to strengthen the enforcement of the treaty.
The U.S. is one of 36 countries to not have signed the treaty, making it the only NATO member that is not apart of it.
According to a report by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, only five countries since 2009 have used antipersonnel landmines.
Despite the United States’ mixed messages about the treaty, it remains the leader in disarmament and is considered the largest financial contributor to global mine clearance and victim assistance, providing more than $2.3 billion between 1993 and 2013 as well as saving thousands of lives.
While the administration appears to be headed in the right direction after their announcement at the international conference in Mozambique, many are pushing the U.S. to be more definitive in its intentions.
“President Obama needs to set a specific goal for signing the treaty and destroying the stockpile,” wrote the Editorial Board of The New York Times. “That action may make it more likely that other non-signers like China, Russia and Iran can be pressed into doing the same.”
– Blythe Riggan