WASHINGTON - February 27 - The US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) denounces most of President Bush's new US landmine policy, to be unveiled at a press briefing at the State Department today. The long-awaited new policy, determined by the Department of Defense, Department of State, the National Security Council, and President Bush, abandons altogether plans for US accession to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. President Clinton's policy was for the US to join the treaty by 2006. The new policy also confirms the possibility that US troops may deploy antipersonnel landmines in Iraq or elsewhere.
"Though there are some positive aspects of this policy, on the whole it is a deeply disappointing step backward," said Senator Leahy of Vermont who has been a leader on this issue. "This is another squandered opportunity for US leadership on a crucial arms control and humanitarian issue. Worst of all, in a sharp departure from past policy, it says the United States will continue using landmines indefinitely. We are by far the most powerful nation on earth, and the world looks to us for leadership on this issue. When we back away from the progress we have pledged to rid the world of these indiscriminate weapons, others will ask why they, with their much weaker armed forces, should stop using them."
"This decision represents a further retreat from the international consensus to ban antipersonnel landmines, which kill and injure thousands of refugees and other innocent people each year," said Kenneth H. Bacon, former Pentagon spokesman and current president of Refugees International. "By contending that US technology can prevent landmines from killing our own soldiers and innocent civilians, the US is sending the wrong message to the US military and to other countries that continue to use this indiscriminate and outmoded weapon."
The new White House policy announces a 50% increase in spending formineaction programs for FY 2005 (over FY 2003 levels). The USCBL maintains the US support for demining and victim assistance is very important and laudable, but not enough.
The new policy will lead to the destruction of older, "dumb"landmines,but not until 2010, four years after the previous deadline. Most disturbing, the right to use US self-deactivating or self-destructing antipersonnel (AP) "smart" landmines will continue indefinitely.
"Self-deactivating or self-destructing antipersonnel landmines, while better than persistent "dumb" mines, still put civilians-and sometimes our own forces--at risk," Bacon said. "That is why the majority of the world's nations, including all of our NATO allies, have banned all types of AP mines and why the US should do so as well."
Though set to self-deactivate or self-destruct, so-called "smart mines"will injure and kill civilians who come upon the weapons that are still active. Because these newer types of mines tend to be scattered by air by the thousands, they are difficult to mark and map. Demining teams must approach "smart" minefields with the same tremendous amount of time, resources, and caution as they would "dumb" minefields for fear of dud mines or inaccurate intelligence.
"US refusal to join this treaty sets a dangerous, isolationist example to mine-using countries such as Russia, India, and Pakistan that have laid hundreds of thousands of mines in recent years with devastating consequences to civilians," said Gina Coplon-Newfield, Coordinator of the USCBL.
The US military, which used antipersonnel mines during the Persian Gulf War in 1991, has brought antipersonnel mines to the Gulf region over the past year and a half for possible use in Iraq, but has reportedly not yet used them. In a letter to Bush soon after he took office, eight retired US generals and admirals stated that antipersonnel landmines are "outmoded weapons that have, time and again, proved to be a liability to our own troops. We believe that the military, diplomatic and humanitarian advantages of speedy U.S. accession [to the Mine Ban Treaty] far outweigh the minimal military utility of these weapons."
The possible US use of mines in Iraq or elsewhere stands in stark contrast to the ever-growing worldwide acceptance of a comprehensive prohibition on the weapon. The Mine Ban Treaty came into force faster than any other modern, multilateral convention. Now, campaigners fear that US repudiation of the Mine Ban Treaty will lead certain countries that have recently given up use of the weapon, to resume mine-laying activities.
President Clinton failed to sign the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which prohibits the use, trade, production, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines. In a 1998 Presidential Decision Directive, however, the former President instructed the US military to search for alternatives to the weapon, phase out most of its use outside of Korea by 2003, and have the government join the treaty by 2006.
Since the early 1990s when the mine ban movement began in earnest, the number of mine producing countries has dropped from 54 to 14. Trade of the weapon has come almost to a halt, and more than 52 million antipersonnel landmines have been destroyed from the arsenals of the world. Nations have removed millions of landmines from communities devastated by the weapon and have provided medical and rehabilitative support to victims of landmines. Most importantly, say anti-landmine advocates, casualty rates from the weapon have dropped from approximately 26,000 people per year to 15,000-20,000 per year, though millions more continue to suffer the agricultural, economic, and psychological consequences wrought by the presence of the weapon in more than 80 countries worldwide.