Statement On The Eighteenth Meeting Of States Parties To The Mine Ban Treaty

I remember the sense of hope I felt on September 26, 1994, when President Bill Clinton, in a speech at the United Nations, called for ridding the world of anti-personnel landmines.  It was heralded as a bold challenge by the world’s only military superpower in response to the increasing global outrage about the carnage these inherently indiscriminate weapons were causing in dozens of countries, including landmines left by our own soldiers in wars long past.  In furtherance of that goal, President Clinton announced that the Department of Defense would seek alternatives to anti-personnel mines that are triggered by the victim, often an innocent civilian. 

In the 26 years since that speech, 164 governments have joined the international treaty banning the production, use, export, and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines, and the number of mine casualties has plummeted.  Billions of dollars have been spent – largely by the United States – to locate and destroy unexploded mines, and that costly, dangerous work continues in many countries.  But despite this progress, each year thousands of people lose life or limb from these weapons which continue to be used in some armed conflicts today, mostly by irregular armed groups rather than government forces. 

The 18th Meeting of states parties to what is commonly called the Mine Ban Treaty begins today, but, regrettably, the United States – which spends more on its armed forces than China, Russia, India, Germany, France, the UK, Japan and the next half dozen largest     militaries combined –  may not be among the governments participating since it has not joined the treaty.  In fact, under the Trump administration, the progress made under the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations to align our policy with the treaty was summarily reversed in February, with no prior consultation with other governments, humanitarian organizations, or Congress.  That was done despite the fact that the United States has not used anti-personnel mines since 1992, has not exported them since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997.

Not only that, the Defense Department never carried out President Clinton’s directive to develop alternatives.  In the past 26 years, they have invested trillions of dollars to build and procure weapons and delivery systems of astounding complexity, precision, and destructive power.  NASA has operated robots on Mars and asteroids.  Yet despite our extraordinary technological capabilities, the Pentagon has yet to field alternatives to anti-personnel landmines that are activated by a soldier against enemy combatants, rather than triggered by an unsuspecting child. 

It is long past time to put the United States on an irreversible path to join our NATO allies and scores of other governments and become a party to the Mine Ban Treaty.  The incoming Biden-Harris administration can do that by reinstating the policy that was in place at the end of the Obama-Biden administration, which prohibits the use of anti-personnel mines except on the Korean Peninsula.  At the same time, it should direct the Pentagon to modify its strategies and tactics to eliminate the use of anti-personnel mines within three years so the United States can join the treaty no later than September 26, 2023, twenty-nine years after President Clinton’s speech.  By doing so, we – and the world – will take a giant step towards meeting his challenge and stigmatizing a weapon that, like IEDs and other booby traps, does not belong in the arsenals of civilized nations.

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