In a First, U.S. Attends Landmine Meeting

By Abramson, Jeff | Arms Control Today, January/February 2010 | Go to article overview

In a First, U.S. Attends Landmine Meeting


Abramson, Jeff, Arms Control Today


For the first time since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force in 1999, the United States officially participated in a meeting of states-parties, joining more than 120 other countries in Colombia Nov. 30-Dec. 4 at the treaty's second fiveyear review conference.

At the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, the United States reiterated its recent decision to conduct a review of its policies on landmines. Also at the meeting, the treaty's member states agreed to a detailed action plan and granted deadline extensions to four states for landmine clearance.

The United States, which has not signed the treaty and had never officially attended an annual meeting of states-parties or a five-year review conference, participated as an observer state. James Lawrence, head of the U.S. delegation and director of the Department of State's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, said Dec. 1, "The administration's decision to attend this review conference is the result of an on-going comprehensive review of U.S. landmine policy initiated at the direction of President Obama." He indicated that the review "will take some time to complete."

That statement contradicted one made Nov. 24 by State Department spokesman Ian Kelly that a review had already been concluded and that the United States would not be joining the treaty. That announcement immediately drew criticism from nongovernmental organizations and longtime anti-landmine leader Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who said, "This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history." On Nov. 25, Kelly changed the statement, saying that the Obama administration "is committed to a comprehensive review of its landmine policy. That review is still on-going."

In 2004 the Bush administration declared that the United States would not join the treaty. That decision overrode pledges made by President Bill Clinton in 1998 to set the United States on the path to sign the pact in 2006. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The 1997 treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, prohibits the use, stockpiling, transfer, and production of anti-personnel landmines, defined as "a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person." The treaty also applies to some mixed landmine systems that have both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle devices, but does not rule out the use of purely anti-vehicle landmines. One hundred fifty-six countries are parties to the treaty, including all NATO countries, other than the United States and Poland. Poland signed the treaty in 1997 and has said it expects to ratify it in 2012.

The United States has not deployed anti-personnel landmines since 1992 and is the world's top hinder of landmine clearance and victim assistance activities. In his statement to the conference, Lawrence reiterated U.S. policy to "end all [U.S.] use of persistent mines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, by the end of next year, in 2010." After 2010, U.S. policy allows for the use of so-called smart mines, which are designed to self-destruct and self-deactivate within a specified period of time. The treaty and U.S. policy also allow for the use of so-called man-in-the-loop mines, which are designed to be detonated by a live controller, as opposed to victim contact.

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In a First, U.S. Attends Landmine Meeting
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