Washington has announced it won’t make or buy any more anti-personnel landmines (APL), but declined to destroy the 3 million units of existing stock. Washington still expects to join the international agreement banning such weapons at some point.
“The United States took the step of declaring it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel landmines in the future, including to replace existing stockpiles as they expire,” the White House said in a statement following the declaration of such intent made by the US delegation at the Mine Ban Treaty conference in Mozambique.
The conference, with over 1,000 international participants, was organized in Mozambique’s Maputo for a good reason. War in Mozambique ended in 1992, but despite decades of international efforts to clear unexploded munitions in the country, landmine casualties continue to occur.
Landmines kill, according to UN estimates, from 15,000 to 20,000 people a year in dozens of countries and cripple many thousands more. Landmines are scattered throughout an estimated 78 countries and the majority of victims are civilian: children, women and the elderly, making up approximately 80 percent of the casualties.
“Our delegation in Maputo made clear that we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention — the treaty banning the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of APL,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. She stressed that: “Other aspects of our land-mine policy remain under consideration.”
“We're signaling our clear aspiration to eventually accede to the Ottawa Convention,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed to reporters.
The Mine Ban Treaty signed in Ottawa in 1997 is aimed at eliminating anti-personnel landmines worldwide.
President Bill Clinton declared a goal to join the Ottawa treaty, but later American top brass talked the Bush administration into pulling back.
So far, 161 UN member states have signed the document, but 34 countries haven’t - among them the US, China and Russia.
The stockpile of anti-personnel landmines is estimated at 110 million worldwide, most of which are already embedded. Landmines are cheap, between US$3 and US$75, but they are disastrously effective, particularly because their form and color attract children.
Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden pointed out: “The US shares the humanitarian goals of the Ottawa Convention and is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, providing more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs.”
The US has not produced landmines since the late 1990s, but up until now has reserved the right and capability to resume production at any time.
The US still possesses over 3 million anti-personnel landmines stockpiled in inventory, admitted Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary. The latest statement said that the Pentagon is not going to replace expired mines, but it hasn’t announced that the mines will be eliminated.
The Pentagon claims it has used anti-personnel mines on very rare occasions in its latest military campaigns.
The last time the US army used anti-personnel mines extensively was during the 1991 Gulf War. The Pentagon claims that in the latest Afghan campaign landmines were used only once, in 2002.
One of the advocates of a total ban on landmines is Vermont Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who said that the White House's decision is “incremental, but significant,” adding that: “An obvious next step is for the Pentagon to destroy its remaining stockpile of mines, which do not belong in the arsenal of civilized nations,” said Leahy, as quoted by Reuters.
Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said in a statement that America’s message from Maputo “is useful in that it underscores land mines are not essential to US security and are on their way out, but it falls short of what can and should be done,” said Kimball, as quoted by the Washington Post.
“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 US stockpiles for many, many years to come,” Kimball said.
While the US decision has been hailed by arms control groups, some American lawmakers have a different view on the issue.
Representative Randy Forbes pointed out that this decision could threaten security in the Korean Peninsula, where landmines are being used in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea, whereas Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said that the decision is “bad for the security of our men and women in uniform.”
“The president owes our military an explanation for ignoring their advice and putting them at risk, all for a Friday morning press release,” said McKeon.
General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has maintained recently that landmines are an “important tool in the arsenal of the armed forces of the United States.”
Steve Goose, head of delegation for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, told AP in a telephone interview from the Mozambique conference that the US should set a date to join the Mine Ban Treaty and start the elimination of landmine stockpiles.
“While they are saying they are working toward banning them in the future, they are leaving open the option of continuing to use them in the meantime, which is kind of a contradictory way to approach things,” Goose said.