In 1997, governments around the world dedicated themselves to eliminating the threat of anti-personnel landmines by adopting the Mine Ban Treaty. Although the United States had initially called for such a ban in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, it remains one of 35 countries that have not joined the treaty. While the Obama administration, which announced a new landmines policy in September 2014, has yet to sign or accede to the Mine Ban Treaty, it has contributed significantly to demining efforts around the world and has maintained the United States’ long-standing position as the largest donor to efforts to reduce the threat of these devastating and indiscriminate weapons.
Although significant progress has been made to reduce the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war, thousands of people around the globe continue to be affected by these weapons, with considerable impacts on their daily lives. From causing severe injury and death to hindering every-day use of land and impeding economic growth, conventional weapons contribute to significant humanitarian, security, and development challenges.
Since 1999, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. State Department has released the To Walk the Earth in Safety report, which highlights the breadth of programs undertaken by the United States around the world to reduce the threat of conventional weapons. Since 1993, the United States has contributed over $2.5 billion in mine action support and conventional weapons destruction programs.
More than 90 countries are reported to have benefitted from these efforts, including 15 countries that have declared themselves mine-free. These programs – all part of the conventional weapons destruction (CWD) program – include mine action focused on landmine clearance, survivor assistance services, and mine risk education. The CWD program addresses the synergies between humanitarian demining, unexploded ordnance removal, and destruction of small arms and light weapons. Some programs also address improvements in safety and storage of stockpiled weapons and munitions to help mitigate the risk of weapons pilfering and diversion to illicit markets.
While much progress has been made, these weapons continue to be used and pose risks to civilian populations in current conflicts – such as those in Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen – as well as in countries recovering from long-standing conflicts, like Angola and Mozambique. The CWD program has focused its worth on both conflict and post-conflict situations. In the last 20 years, the largest recipients of CWD funding for these programs have been Afghanistan, Iraq, Angola, Cambodia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Laos, Vietnam, Mozambique, Lebanon, and Sri Lanka.
Over the last decade, the CWD program has expanded in scope to include emerging and critical threats such as those posed by man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS). In 2006, the State Department established the MANPADS interagency task force, which coordinates “U.S. efforts to mitigate the threat posed by the illicit availability and use of MANPADS in every region of the world.” The task force has worked to eliminate the risks of MANPADS and other conventional weapons available from Syria and Libya and other countries due to rampant instability and regime collapse. Such work will continue as a priority for the foreseeable future, particularly as armed groups seek to acquire these weapons, which pose significant risks particularly to commercial aircraft.
The first seven years of the Obama presidency have demonstrated a commitment to alleviating the devastating impact of landmines, unexploded ordnance, and other deadly conventional weapons. The United States remains a leader in supporting mine action, but more work is needed in order to strengthen and cement a global norm against the proliferation and use of these indiscriminate weapons and to protect the livelihoods of civilians around the world.
Photo credit: U.S. Army via flickr