The United States announced Friday its intention to join an international treaty banning land mines, a step that could lead to the complete elimination of the U.S. land mine arsenal. The Obama administration has not yet set a time frame for signing the treaty as it works through possible complications on the Korean Peninsula.
Human rights advocates applauded the move, but urged the government to immediately commit to a ban and begin destroying its stockpile. On the other hand, top Republicans accused the president of disregarding military leaders who want to maintain land mines in the U.S. arsenal.
The 15-year-old Ottawa Convention includes 161 nations that have signed on to prohibit the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel mines. Former President Bill Clinton had a goal of joining the treaty, but the Bush administration pulled back amid objections from military leaders. President Barack Obama ordered up a review of the U.S. policy when he came into office five years ago, and a U.S. delegation announced the change in position Friday during a land mine conference in Maputo, Mozambique.
“We’re signaling our clear aspiration to eventually accede to the Ottawa Convention,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States does not currently have any land mines deployed around the globe but maintains an active stockpile of more than 3 million. “They are all in inventory and that’s where they will stay,” Kirby said. He added that the stockpile will begin to expire in about 10 years and be completely unusable in about 20 years.
Land mines being used in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea are administered by South Korea, but the United States administers a stockpile in South Korea in case of an invasion from the North.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula presents unique challenges, for which we are diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the Ottawa Convention,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said.
Widney Brown, director of programs for Physicians for Human Rights, said the U.S. announcement is “a step in the right direction, but we remain concerned about anything less than a full commitment to sign the Mine Ban Treaty as soon as possible.”
“The U.S. government has been missing a key opportunity to lead on a groundbreaking agreement that has achieved great success in preventing deaths of innocent victims, including many children,” she said.
Top Republicans on the House and Senate Armed Services Committees criticized the administration’s announcement, citing recent testimony by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that land mines are an “important tool in the arsenal of the armed forces of the United States.”
“The president owes our military an explanation for ignoring their advice and putting them at risk, all for a Friday morning press release,” said Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said: “The president’s land mine policy seriously weakens the United States at a time when threats to the nation are on the rise.”