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No End to Landmines

Written by Mike Minehan on .

A72-Landmine-CambodiaSo. The United States will still not sign the global treaty that bans landmines. And the Obama administration has still not indicated when it will sign the treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention.

This announcement about the USA and landmines was made at the 2014 Land Mine Treaty conference in Mozambique.

However, the good news is that the United States announced it would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines, or replace old ones that expire.

But there was no announcement about destroying its existing stockpile. Arms control experts have estimated that the US stockpile is currently 10 to 13 million landmines.

The problem for the US is that, although more than 160 countries have signed the treaty to ban and destroy landmines, potentially powerful adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran, have not signed the treaty. And the thought of being militarily disadvantaged doesn't sit easily with the Pentagon.

And despite the rhetoric about 'safe' or 'responsible' landmines, American defence officials still argue that these weapons have an important purpose – such as in deterring ground invasions.

To its credit, the US claims that it will deploy only 'smart' mines that have an existing short life, and will not deploy 'dumb' mines that lie dormant for decades, and kill and maim civilians long after conflicts cease.

Also, the US is the largest single donor to the cause of land mine decontamination and medical care for victims, providing more than $2.3 billion since 1993 for conventional weapons destruction programs in other counties.

Yes, all very well – as far as this goes. But there are no reassurances at all about cluster bombs. 

Between 1969 and 1973, the USA dropped millions of tons of cluster bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Cambodia and Laos. This was an attempt to stop the North Vietnamese from arming and supplying the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.

Over Laos alone, the U.S. flew 580,000 bombing missions and dropped, on average, an entire planeload of bombs every eight minutes, around the clock, for nine years.

An estimated 30 per cent of cluster bombs failed to explode on contact. This was partly because of jungle foliage and also ground made soft and muddy by monsoons. But these cluster bombs are still armed, and they continue to kill or maim, on average, approximately 300 civilians in Laos every year.

Also, Global Issues estimates that anywhere between 1.3 and 7.8 million unexploded cluster bombs are still lying around in Cambodia, mainly in the eastern half of the country.

The original Mine Ban Treaty, first signed 15 years ago, is a great start. But there is still a very long way to go before landmines and cluster bombs, which continue to kill and maim so many civilians, are totally banned.