On June 27, the Obama administration agreed to sign the global treaty that bans antipersonnel landmines, which include steps that will eventually reduce the American stocks in foreign countries.
While the United States is the largest single donor to landmine decontamination efforts and medical care for mine victims, they have yet to officially join the treaty to reduce landmines.
The treaty is known as the Ottawa Convention, which 161 nations have already signed. This treaty was negotiated during Bill Clinton’s Presidency in the 90’s, then renounced during George W. Bush’s term. The Obama administration continued to say the treaty was “under review” until recently.
So far, the treaty has reduced the use and dangerous effects of antipersonnel land mines, cutting the number of deaths and injuries per year from 26,000 to a mere 4,000 a year currently. Most of the countries with left-over landmines are currently at peace, but about half of the deaths from old mines have been children.
On June 27, Douglas M. Griffiths, the U.S. ambassador to Mozambique, spoke at a conference in Maputo, stating that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace expired ones. This action should in theory reduce the 10 million mines in the United States’ possession. Griffiths also said that the United States was “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.”
As far as actually reducing the mines, however, the U.S. doesn’t seem as committed. Stephen Goose of the arms division at Human Rights Watch says:
“No target date has been set for accession by the U.S., and no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty, the U.S. is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire.”
The United States has not used land mines since 1991, but they still hold a stockpile of more than 9 million of them.
Other key nations – Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea specifically- have yet to sign the treaty or agree to sign it. Disarmament advocates believe that if the United States doesn’t sign the treaty, other nations will not sign it either.
Those in favor of banning land mines believe that the United States did not go far enough in their efforts to stop land mine usage. While the U.S. has agreed not to produce or acquire new mines or to replace expired ones, they made no agreement regarding their already existing mines, which are still potentially fatal to innocent passerby.
Not only are critics commenting on the international safety of the issue, but are stating it reflects Obama’s leadership, saying that, “Failure of President Obama to provide more decisive and prompt leadership on this issue is disappointing.” There is also fear that the treaty will get passed up while Obama is in office and the decision will be pushed onto his successor.
Stephen Goose believes the best move for the United States is to set a target date to join the treaty, in order to give themselves time to think it over, yet remain accountable and not let the issue continue to be swept under the rug.
– Courtney Prentice