The Fate of 10 Million US Land Mines

UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). image UN

In June 2014, the American ambassador to Mozambique, Douglas M. Griffiths, speaking on behalf of an American observer delegation at the conference of The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction announced that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace old ones that expire, which will have the practical effect of reducing the estimated 10 million mines in the American stockpile. Mr. Griffiths also said the United States was “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.”
While he gave no date, the language was still the first explicit commitment that the United States intended to sign the treaty.

“With this announcement, the U.S. has changed its mine ban stance and has laid the foundation for accession to the treaty,” said Stephen Goose, the executive director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch…. “No target date has been set for accession by the U.S., and no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty,” he said. “The U.S. is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire.”....Other disarmament advocates were equally pointed in their criticism. Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, expressed concern about the absence of a timetable to destroy the stockpile. Without that, the announcement would have little practical effect “for many, many years to come.”…

The United States is researching ways to replicate the strategic value of antipersonnel land mines without their collateral damage…American defense officials have argued that these weapons have an important purpose — in deterring ground invasions, for example — and that the United States would put itself at a disadvantage by renouncing them. A number of potential American adversaries — notably Russia, China and Iran — have not signed the treaty….

The Pentagon’s main objection to the treaty focuses on American difficulties defending South Korea from North Korea. The Demilitarized Zone between them is filled with land mines — periodically they detonate, as animals step on them — and they are considered a central element of South Korea’s first-line defense against a North Korean invasion.  But to destroy Seoul, the South Korean capital, the North does not need a land invasion: Its artillery could wreak great damage. So advocates of signing the treaty have argued that the mines along the zone are an outdated Cold War relic.

Excerpts, RICK GLADSTONE, U.S. Lays Groundwork to Reduce Land Mines and Join Global Treaty, NY Times, June 27, 2014

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