President Obama announced that the U.S. will phase out anti-personnel landmines.
He stated the U.S. would seek to join the Ottawa Convention, which prohibits the use of such mines, and the government would no longer produce or acquire them.
The president made the announcement at Maputo, Mozambique, at a conference to review the Ottawa treaty. According to the United Nations, landmines planted during past conflicts,kill 15,000 people a year. Although that rate is dropping, the tragedy is still startling. Active landmines are believed to be in 59 countries.
Is the president’s phase out announcement not enough?
The president stopped short of announcing a full timeline for when the U.S. would be prepared to sign the treaty. According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the American government still holds 9 million landmines. Although the announcement means that the stockpile won’t be replenished, there were no stated plans to destroy the landmines.
Waiting for the 9 million to expire means the phase out will take many years. According to Sarah Margon Human Rights Watch Washington D.C. director:
“It’s a good first step, it’s overdue, we’ve been waiting for an announcement for quite some time, but it’s certainly not the end, there’s a long way to go. We’d like to see an end-date for the policy review and a clear indication of when they actually accede to the treaty.”
Nevertheless, the Human Rights Group welcomes the plan to phase out landmines.
HRW arms director Steve Goose stated, “The US has finally come out of the shadows in indicating it intends to join the landmine treaty, and let’s hope it will move ahead rapidly to come on board.”
Those shadows are large and include many countries that seem to have no intention to phase out landmines, including U.S. enemies and rival powers.
Now some critics say that the military is being denied a tool it may need in the future.
Until now, the U.S. was part of a group of countries that voted against the Ottawa convention on landmines. The members of that group included Uzbekistan, Cuba, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Libya, South Korea, Myanmar, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, and Vietnam.
In the past, Pentagon officials have argued that landmines were necessary to defend South Korea from the North (both countries are not part of the treaty).
Howard McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the President was playing politics.
“It is truly an expensive solution in search of a nonexistent problem. Irresponsible landmine use by other countries has come at a high humanitarian price, but America isn’t part of that problem,” according to the representative.
State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, “This announcement does not in any way affect the defense of the Korean Peninsula.”
Even though the U.S. is not part of the Ottawa convention, it contributes more than any other country to eradicate landmines, spending $2 billion in aid since 1993.
Will the President’s plan to phase out landmines and sign the Ottawa treaty make it through Congress? And is it necessary?
(Image Credit: Thomas Wanhoff/Landmine Museum)