When he was campaigning for office in 2008, Barack Obama assured his supporters that “As president, I will help lead the way” on “international initiatives to limit harm to civilians caused by conventional weapons.” As someone who has researched the humanitarian impact of landmines and other weapons for a decade now, Obama’s promised policy position on conventional arms was one of the key reasons I voted for him.
Instead, on landmines, the Obama administration has hemmed and hahhed. It has left in place the Bush era policy, which was a regression from Clinton’s stance on landmines, while engaging in a “policy review” that has now been going on for four years. As a result, the continued US failure to join the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty put it at odds with numerous senators, humanitarian agencies and all of its NATO allies.
Ironically, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize supposedly for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples” and commitment to “disarmament and arms control negotiations.”
Last year the State Department said that it would announce the results of its review “soon”. Later this was clarified, and an official told landmine ban campaigners that the US would reveal its position before the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty. That Meeting begins 2 December — less than four weeks from now — and we still haven’t heard a peep.
One encouraging sign was Secretary of State John Kerry’s signature of the Arms Trade Treaty in September this year. The US had not always been a particularly helpful negotiating partner in the diplomatic process leading up the new treaty, which will prevent the sale and transfer of conventional weapons to states and organizations that abuse human rights, commit war crimes or engage in terrorism, organized crime or piracy. But the Obama administration’s eventually positive role in getting the Treaty through the UN General Assembly represented a positive shift in toward a more progressive approach to arms control.
To unstick the landmine policy review, the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL) – “comprised of thousands of individuals and NGOs which represent the myriad American citizens, landmine survivors, international allies, and campaigners from every corner of the globe” — has launched a new effort to push for US accession to the Antipersonnel Landmine Ban Treaty.
In a letter to Obama yesterday, the USCBL called on the President not to “delay further an announcement of the new U.S. landmine policy—a policy which should be aimed at a comprehensive ban on the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and ultimately at accession to the Mine Ban Treaty”
“It is unacceptable to continue to defer the outcome of this review,” said Zach Hudson, coordinator of the USCBL. “Landmines still have a devastating humanitarian impact in 2013. During the timeframe of this U.S. review alone, more than 16,000 new men, women, and children have been killed or maimed by a landmine, and ten more casualties will continue to occur every day. Many of these deaths and injuries will be a result of U.S. landmines from conflicts past. How can the administration continue to treat this as if it is not a priority?”
Join the conversation by tweeting @BarackObama, calling on him to join the Mine Ban Treaty, using the hashtag #banminesusa