Technology & Trade

Reflection on Obama’s Landmine Legacy

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By Rachel Stohl and Shannon Dick: 

April 4th is the Obama administration’s last International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action and thus provides an appropriate opportunity to reflect on the president’s landmine legacy. President Obama has made significant strides in advancing U.S. landmine policy after the Bush administration, yet there remains unfinished business following continued missed opportunities.

The Obama administration’s progress towards establishing a more robust landmine policy has indeed been slow. Since 2009, the administration has been reviewing U.S. landmine policy, but only in 2014 did it pledge to work towards U.S. accession to the international Mine Ban Treaty and take steps to prohibit U.S. antipersonnel mines.

In July 2014, the administration announced that it would no longer produce, acquire, or replace antipersonnel mines, while in September 2014 it announced that the United States will no longer use landmines anywhere in the world except for the Korean Peninsula. It also pledged — outside of Korea — not to assist or otherwise encourage other countries to engage in activities prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty and to destroy any landmine stocks not required for the defense of South Korea. These significant steps reoriented U.S. landmine policy back to the aim of joining the 162 States Parties of the Mine Ban Treaty.

These policy measures mark considerable attempts to improve U.S. landmine policy, and follow years of requests for — and indeed frustration with the lack of — new policy from allies and treaty supporters as well as civil society groups organized under the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate together with American. Jody Williams.

Time is running out for the administration to overcome its Korea exception and take steps to ensure their policies are sustainable and protected from a roll-back during the next administration. Solidifying their policies is prescient, particularly in light of President Bush’s 2004 landmines policy reversal, which retreated from the Clinton-era commitment of joining the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006.

The administration still has not provided a time frame for when it will conclude the Pentagon’s study into material and operational alternatives to eliminate the use of landmines on the Korean Peninsula. There is scant information available on the demilitarization and destruction of existing U.S. stocks of landmines. And there is still no indication of when the administration will follow-through on its commitment to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

The United States remains one of only 35 countries outside the Mine Ban Treaty, though it is now largely complying with the core provisions of the treaty without being a State Party. The administration would do well to send the Mine Ban Treaty to the U.S. Senate for its advice and consent on the matter of accession. In the meantime, the U.S. should not hesitate to condemn new use of antipersonnel mines in any theatre.

The United States must continue its significant, leading financial contributions to mine clearance and victim assistance efforts around the world, where it remains the largest global donor to efforts to reduce the threat of landmines. Yet funding alone is no replacement for contributing to the strengthening of the international norm against landmines that a U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty would represent.

In the waning months of the Obama administration, President Obama can and should take concerted action to help the United States accede to the Mine Ban Treaty and strengthen U.S. activities against the proliferation and use of these deadly and indiscriminate weapons.

Rachel Stohl is the Director of the Conventional Defense program at the Stimson Center.  Shannon Dick is a Research Associate for the Conventional Defense program at the Stimson Center.

Photo credit: pinreader via Flickr
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