This is disappointing news. Listening to Democracy Now! this morning, I learned that the Obama administration has announced that the USA will not be signing the international treaty that bans land mines. This news comes in advance of the Cartagena Summit on a Mine Free World, which will take place November 29 through December 4 in Cartagena, Colombia, and will review the international progress against land mines after ten years of the treaty. The United States will be attending this conference as an observer but will not be signing the treaty.
News reports and commentary on this topic below the fold.
Reuters issued a report on this last night and quoted State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly explaining the Obama administration's decision to not join the treaty:
"This administration undertook a policy review and we decided that our landmine policy remains in effect," spokesman Ian Kelly told a briefing five days before a review conference in Cartegena, Colombia on the 10-year-old Mine Ban Treaty.
"We determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention," he said.
Reuters goes on to quote Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who has long been an advocate that the US join the international land mine ban. He expressed his disappointment with the Obama administration's decision:
U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy, a leading advocate for the treaty, called the decision "a default of U.S. leadership."
"It is a lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress," Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement.
As of now, Senator Leahy's full statement is not yet posted on his website, but check back there later, I'm sure that it will be.
As Senator Leahy notes, the USA is not the only country that has so far declined to sign the treaty. Russia and China are two of the other states that haven't joined the 156 states that are party to the treaty. However, no part of the State Department's statement seemed to imply that the US was waiting for any further commitment from other large countries before signing -- Spokesperson Ian Kelly plainly stated that the US has no plans to sign the treaty when he noted that the US will still be attending the Cartagena conference as an observer:
"As a global provider of security, we have an interest in the discussions there," Kelly said. "But we will be there as an observer, obviously, because we haven't signed the convention, nor do we plan to sign the convention."
The Nobel prize-winning organization the International Campaign to Ban Landmines is a great resource on the harm that landmines cause each year, as well as how effective the treaty has been over the last ten years at reducing injuries and deaths from land mines. A November 12 2009 report from the ICBL details some of the successes of the treaty thus far:
Global use, production, and trade of antipersonnel mines have dramatically reduced. Some 3,200km2 of land has been cleared of mines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), and new casualties each year declined significantly to 5,197 recorded casualties in 2008. Yet serious challenges remain, with more than 70 states still mine-affected today, and assistance to mine survivors falling short of what is needed.
Production has decreased, with 38 countries formally halting mine production, leaving only 13 countries as potential producers. No trade between states has been confirmed since 1999. For the past decade, global trade in antipersonnel mines has consisted solely of a low-level of illicit and unacknowledged transfers.
The report notes that the US is a top donor towards landmine removal efforts. Human Rights Watch reportsas well that the US is nearly in compliance with, at least, many provisions of the treaty:
The US has not used, produced, or exported antipersonnel mines in the 12 years since the Mine Ban Treaty was established in 1997. That year, the Clinton administration set the objective of joining the Mine Ban Treaty in 2006, but the Bush administration reversed course in 2004.
It is deeply disappointing that the Obama administration has decided not to reverse the course on landmines set by the Bush administration. As the world acts to strengthen the ban against these deadly weapons, it is a shame to see the USA left behind.
If you would like more information on why landmines should be banned, visit the ICBL's information page on the subject. In addition, if you would like to take action, the ICBL has an action page with ideas on how you can support the treaty.