by Victoria Garcia and Rachel Stohl
March 1, 2002 marked the third anniversary of the entry into force of the Ottawa Landmine Treaty. The Treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines, requires the eradication of landmine stockpiles within four years, and the clearing of all landmines within ten years. But the United States remains outside the circle of nations committed to eradicating these indiscriminate weapons.
To date, 142 countries have signed the Mine Ban Treaty and 122 governments have ratified it. The United States, however, is not one of the Treaty’s participants. While, all NATO members, with the exception of Turkey and the United States, have signed the treaty, the United States continues to insist that landmines remain an integral part of U.S. military strategy in Korea and elsewhere.
Even without U.S. participation, the Treaty has had many positive results since its entry into force in 1999: reductions in landmine production, sales, deaths, and even complete clearing of landmines in countries that were once heavily infested. However, landmines continue to cause untold suffering around the world. According to the 2001 Land Mine Monitor Report, landmines continue to maim or kill approximately 15,000 to 20,000 people each year. While this figure marks a substantial decrease from the previously estimated 26,000 deaths a year, as many as 16 countries still rely on landmines as a tactical weapon, including the United States, Russia, Uzbekistan, Burma, Sri Lanka, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While landmines continue to wreak havoc in countries such as India, Angola, Cambodia and Northern Iraq, where there are no U.S. forces, U.S. troops involved in Operation Enduring Freedom are in danger from landmines. Afghanistan is believed to be one of the most heavily infested countries in the world. The United Nations estimates the number of mines in Afghanistan to be between 5 million and 10 million. The millions of active mines that contaminate 27 of Afghanistan's 29 provinces, some of which were supplied by the United States during the Soviet era, are now threatening U.S. and coalition soldiers in Afghanistan. Three U.S. Marines were injured by a landmine in December and an Army explosives expert was injured by a mine two days later during the U.S. effort in Afghanistan. In February, an Australian Special Operations soldier was killed by a landmine. While demining efforts in Afghanistan in 2000 effectively destroyed 3,542 anti-personnel landmines and 636 anti-tank mines, such programs had their funding cut even before Sept. 11 and now are nowhere near previous levels.
Although the United States has undertaken landmine alternative research and development, the Pentagon concurrently continues to fund projects that run counter to the Mine-Ban Treaty such as the RADAM mine system, an artillery-fired anti-tank mine that includes anti-personnel landmines. In November 2001, Inside the Army reported that the Army would be cutting all funds for alternative landmine technology between 2003 and 2007, worth an estimated $4 billion. Within weeks of this news, Representatives James McGovern (D-MA), Jack Quinn (R-NY) and Lane Evans (D-IL) circulated a letter signed by 124 lawmakers protesting the Army’s decision. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) has ordered the Army to reverse its decision, butat the same time OSD is trying to persuade President Bush to discard all efforts to ban antipersonnel landmines. Bush is expected to make a decision regarding antipersonnel landmines and the Mine Ban Treaty soon. While the United States has not acceded to the Treaty, it does lead the world in funding for demining in other nations, and has thus far destroyed over 3 million landmines. But ridding the world of landmines requires more than demining and destruction. President Bush should sign the Mine Ban Treaty now. U.S. servicemen and women deployed around the world will thank him for it.