US signals intention to eliminate its land mines, join treaty

Country maintains one of world’s largest stockpiles, while funding mine removal and assistance programs

The U.S. military will not be expanding its land mine stockpile and aims to eventually eliminate its entire supply so that it can accede to the Ottawa Convention, a 15-year-old international treaty on mines, the White House announced Friday.

The move comes after persistent criticism of Washington for failing to sign the treaty, a mine-ban agreement that currently has 161 signatories. The U.S.’s refusal to join their ranks puts the country on a list that also includes Burma, North Korea and Uzbekistan.

The U.S. has one of the world’s largest stockpiles, with the number of the military’s land mines estimated at upwards of 10 million.

Some 4,000 people around the world are killed or lose a limb to land mines every year, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Eighty percent of the world’s nations have ratified or acceded to the Ottawa Convention. The U.S. is alone among Western states in holding out against the agreement.

Previous statements by Barack Obama’s administration went only as far as saying it would study the treaty's provisions. Friday’s announcement is the strongest indication yet that the U.S. will belatedly join the ban.

“The United States announced today that it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel land mines in the future, including to replace expiring stockpiles,” a statement by the White House office of the press secretary said. 

The announcement was made Friday by an American observer delegation to a conference in Maputo, Mozambique, on the progress of the Ottawa Convention.

“The U.S. delegation in Maputo further announced that the United States is diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with and that would ultimately allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention,” the White House statement added.

The last recorded U.S. use of land mines was during the 1991 Gulf War, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). The U.S. has enforced an export ban on mines since 1992, and there has been no known U.S. production of mines since 1997.

The largest remaining stockpiles of land mines are believed to be in China, Russia, the U.S., India and Pakistan. At the same time, the U.S. is the largest contributor to global mine clearance and victims assistance programs.

On the eve of the International Day for Mine Action in April, HRW called on the U.S. to ban the weapon and join the international treaty.

“It is nonsensical that the U.S. has spent billions of dollars to clean up the messes caused by land mines but insists on the right to use them again in the future,” Steve Goose, arms director at HRW said. “Throwing money at the problem is not enough. A permanent solution is needed, and the mine ban treaty provides it.”

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