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US Announces Important New Landmines Policy

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Twenty years ago, then-President Bill Clinton gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly calling on the world to eliminate anti-personnel landmines. When the world heeded his call in 1997 with the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty, the United States did not join the overwhelming majority of nations committed to banning the use of these deadly and indiscriminate weapons. Last week, the Obama administration announced a new landmines policy, moving the United States one step closer to joining the Mine Ban Treaty.

The new policy aligns the United States with the requirements of the Mine Ban Treaty outside the Korean Peninsula. In other words, the United States will apply all of the provisions of the 1997 treaty that prohibit the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, with the exception of those needed in Korea. The policy announcement reiterated the administration’s goal of finding operational and material solutions for the “unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula” in order to eventually accede to the Mine Ban Treaty.

In practical terms, the United States announced that it will:

·         not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula

·         not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty

·         destroy anti-personnel landmines stockpiles that are not required for the defense of South Korea

The new policy builds upon an earlier policy announcement made by the Obama administration at the Mine Ban Treaty’s third review conference in Maputo, Mozambique in June 2014. At that meeting, the United States announced that it would no longer “produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions…including to replace such munitions as they expire.” The United States also announced that it was looking into material and operation alternatives for landmines so as to mitigate strategic risks that might come with ending military use of the technology. Finally, the United States affirmed its intent to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty at some point in the future after taking these measured steps. Previously, the United States had also announced that it would end the use of all non-detectable mines and all persistent mines.

These two major U.S. policy announcements represent significant attempts to a return to President Clinton’s original path to join the Mine Ban Treaty, an effort that was reversed in 2004 when then-President Bush stated the U.S. would never join the treaty.

Thus far, the Obama administration has undertaken a 5-year landmine policy review  and this announcement represents another step in that continuing process. Yet, while the recent policy update signifies a major step forward for the United States, it did fail to explain a number of key issues that will stem from the announcement. For instance, the administration did not provide a time frame for the destruction of stockpiled landmines nor for the study on material and operational alternatives to eliminate the use of landmines on the Korean Peninsula. And although the United States reaffirmed its commitment to join the Mine Ban Treaty, it is also unclear when it is likely to do so.

The United States has largely complied with the terms of the Mine Ban Treaty without being a State Party. In practice, the new announcement will make little difference. However, until now, the United States has reserved its right to use landmines, and thus the new policy eliminates the potential use of U.S. landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula. The new policy is an important step that brings the United States closer to its NATO allies and partners in supporting an overwhelming global norm against the use of these weapons, and to adhering to its 20-year-old commitment to rid the world of landmines and protect civilian populations for years to come. 

Follow Rachel Stohl and Stimson on Twitter

Photo credit: munir via flickr

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