A Step Closer to Banning Landmines Editorial


The Obama administration has vowed not to use the weapons outside the Korean Peninsula. Now it should close that exception.

Anti-personnel landmines have been repudiated for the heavy toll they take on civilians and the lingering threat that buried munitions pose long after hostilities have ceased. Yet, the United States is among the few countries that have not signed a 1997 treaty banning their use.

The Obama administration took a long overdue step this week by agreeing to destroy the bulk of America's three million landmines and vowing not to use the weapons outside the Korean Peninsula. The announcement builds on the White House's decision this summer to stop producing and acquiring anti-personnel mines. The Korean exception was made to appease the Pentagon, which has long resisted giving up landmines, even though they have not been used in America's most recent wars.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has argued that landmines can be a "valuable tool in the arsenal of the United States." South Korean landmines are a key component of the demilitarized zone along the border between the North and the South. United States defense officials want to keep a stockpile of American landmines in the region because they could help deter an invading North Korean force.

Those landmines use technology that makes it possible to have them self-destruct after a few hours or days. Military officials argue that these munitions, known as smart mines, could be deployed without the risk that they would injure people years after a war ended.

But the Pentagon could easily draw up plans for South Korea that exclude American landmines, as Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, has urged for years . The administration should demand that it present alternatives. That would allow the United States, which has played a leading role in anti-landmine efforts abroad, to join the 162 signatories of the Ottawa treaty. With Washington on board, the other major holdouts, China, Russia and Iran, would have a harder time justifying their stance.

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