WASHINGTON - February 27 - The Bush Administration's reversal of a ten- year policy to eliminate all antipersonnel landmines puts the United States in near total isolation in the global effort to ban mines, Human Rights Watch said today. Today the Pentagon announces the outcome of its two and one-half year review of U.S. policy on all landmines.
"This new landmine policy is not just a gigantic step backward for the United States, it is a complete about-face," said Stephen Goose, executive director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "While the rest of the world is rushing to embrace an immediate and comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines, the Bush administration has decided to cling to the weapon in perpetuity."
In 1994, the United States was the first nation to call for the "eventual elimination" of all antipersonnel landmines. Since 1998, it has been official U.S. policy to give up the use of all antipersonnel mines and join the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006 if landmine alternatives are in place.
Human Rights Watch said the most important, and objectionable, aspect of the new policy is the decision not to give up "smart" mines that have self- destruct mechanisms designed to blow the mines up after a period of time. Goose said that the policy change means that now U.S. forces are free to use smart mines anywhere in the world, indefinitely.
"So-called smart mines are not safe mines- they still pose real dangers for civilians," said Goose. "The United States stands alone in this position that there can be a technological solution to the global landmine problem."
Human Rights Watch said that most immediately, the new policy negates the requirement contained in Presidential Decision Directive 64 of 1998 to end the use of about 8.4 million of the 10.4 million antipersonnel mines in the United States arsenal as of 2003 (all ADAM artillery-delivered antipersonnel mines and PDM special forces antipersonnel mines).
In another disturbing aspect of the new policy, the Bush administration said it will stop using "persistent," or "dumb," landmines after 2010-four years later than the previous target date.
"This new policy is especially surprising and disappointing in that the United States has largely been in compliance with a comprehensive ban for years," said Goose.
The United States has apparently not used antipersonnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported since 1992, has not produced since 1997, has destroyed more than 3 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines, and has provided more funding for mine clearance, mine risk education and mine victim assistance than any other single nation.
"The United States apparently found no military requirement to use antipersonnel mines in the recent conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan or Iraq. This is a clear indication of the lack of utility of antipersonnel mines in modern warfare, and in post-9/11 warfare," said Goose. "The new policy shows the inability of the Pentagon to give up an outmoded weapon, and the lack of political leadership by the White House."
The new U.S. policy stands in stark contrast to the emerging international norm against antipersonnel mines. A total of 141 countries are now party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits all use, production, trade and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. Another nine countries have signed but not yet ratified. Momentum for the treaty and the comprehensive ban has been growing in recent months as Greece, Turkey, Serbia and Montenegro, Belarus, Burundi and Sudan have come on board. The United States is now the only member of NATO not party to the treaty.
Virtually all of the other forty-four non-signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty have endorsed the notion of a complete ban on all antipersonnel mines at some point in the future-often at the urging of the United States in years past. Many countries that are not party to the treaty have been taking steps toward it, such as cessation of production and export.