US rejects global landmine ban treaty supported by more than 150 countries

The US administration has rejected a global treaty, supported by more than 150 countries, banning the use of land mines.

The Department of State explained the decision on Tuesday, saying a policy review had found the US could not meet its “national defense needs” without land mines.

“This administration undertook a policy review and we decided that our land mine policy remains in effect,” Ian Kelly, the state department spokesman, said.

“We determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we signed this convention,” he said.

The US decision comes just days before a review conference on the 10-year-old Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Treaty), credited with reducing land mine casualties around the world, is due to get under way in Cartagena, Colombia.

The treaty plans to end the production, use, stockpiling and trade in land mines.

Besides the US, countries holding out on the agreement include China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar and Russia.

‘Lost opportunity’

Patrick Joseph Leahy, a US senator and a leading advocate for the treaty, called the decision “a default of US leadership” and criticized the state department’s policy review as “cursory and half-hearted”.

“It is a lost opportunity for the United States to show leadership instead of joining with China and Russia and impeding progress,” Leahy said in a statement.

land mines are known to have caused 5,197 casualties last year, a third of them children, according to the Nobel prize-winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

Kelly said the US would still attend the conference next Sunday, which is expected to draw more than 1,000 delegates from more than 100 countries, including ministers and heads of state.

“As a global provider of security, we have an interest in the discussions there,” he said.

“But we will be there as an observer, obviously, because we haven’t signed the convention, nor do we plan to sign the convention.”

US observers

Anti-land mine campaigners welcomed the development as it will be the first time the US will send observers to a gathering of states that have accepted the treaty.

“The very fact that they are showing up we take as a positive sign of movement on this issue within the [Barack] Obama administration,” Steve Goose, director of the arms division of Human Rights Watch, said, referring to the US president.

“We hope they’re not coming empty-handed.”

To some extent the US already abides by the provisions of the treaty.

Goose noted that America has not used anti-personnel mines since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported any since 1992 and has not produced them since 1997.

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