Citing "National Defense Needs," Obama Administration Says it Won't Sign Ban on Land Mines

The Obama administration decided not to sign an international convention banning land mines. In response to a question about an upcoming review conference on the mind ban treaty, said DeParle spokesman Ian Kelly said Tuesday that the administration recently completed a review and decided not to change the Bush-era policy.

IAN KELLY: This administration undertook a policy review and we decided our landmine policy remains in effect.



REPORTER: I think we're one of only two nations, and Somalia is about to sign it, right? So we are going to be the only nation in the whole world who doesn't believe in banning landmines. Why is that?

*IAN KELLY: I'm not sure about that. We made our policy review and we determined we would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this.

REPORTER #2: So what are you planning to do at the conference then?

IAN KELLY: We are there as ... an observer. Clearly, we have ... as a global provider of security we have an interest in the discussions there, but we will be there as an observer, obviously, because we haven’t signed the convention, nor do we plan to sign the convention.

AMY GOODMAN: This is the first time the Obama administration has publicly disclosed his decision on the treaty which bans the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of antipersonnel mines. 156 countries have ratified the treaty, but 39 others including the U.S., Russia and China have not. The report this month of international campaign to ban landmines found that mines remain planted in more than 70 countries and killed over 1,200 people and wounded nearly 4000 last year. For more on the U.S. position on landmines and what to expect from the summit in Colombia next month, I am joined in Washington, D.C. by Stephen Goose, director of the Human Rights Watch's Arms division and co-founder of the international campaign to ban landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Stephen welcome to Democracy Now! Your reaction to the Obama administration's decision to follow the Bush administration and not sign onto this treaty?

STEPHEN GOOSE: We really see this as just an appalling decision, an appalling decision that has been based on apparently very flawed decision-making process. It is a decision completely lacking in vision, its lacking in compassion, and frankly lacking in common sense. It shows a lack of political leadership by President Obama on what many, most others see as a crucial global humanitarian issue.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly how this happened, what was your expectation when President Obama took office? And this latest question raised, in asking the Obama ministration that even Somalia will be signing on, and the response of the Obama administration that this is their commitment to their friends and allies, presumably all of them have signed the treaty?

STEPHEN GOOSE: Well, that was a very confused response and exchange the we just heard at the State Department. Clearly, the State Department spokesperson is not at all familiar with the issue. The questioner and his response were based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, where the U.S. in Somalia are the only two who have not signed that. But, indeed, most of the countries of the world have joined this mine ban treaty and virtually all of the major U.S. allies have done so. Every other NATO country is part of the mine ban treaty. The process that led to this is just an enigma. In essence, this was a stealth-review done in secrecy. So much for the Obama administration emphasis on transparency. They had never even announced a review was under way of land mine policy, and we Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations and some key legislators like Senator Patrick Leahy have been encouraging them, urging them and begging them to undertake a formal review, but they never announced such a process was underway. And then suddenly and a sort of off-the-cuff response to a question yesterday, they say a review has already been completed and they decided to align themselves with the Bush policy of never joining the convention. In fact, the U.S. is the only country that has said it will never join the convention. Even others like Russia and China said it will eventually join.

AMY GOODMAN: So can you explain what you believe has happened, what you believe it is taking place here?

STEHPHEN GOOSE: I think we just had a very hasty and cursory review of U.S. policy. Certainly, they did not consult with key legislators on Capitol Hill. They did not consult with the major military allies. They certainly did not consult with outside experts, those who have been involved in this issue for decades, literally, and instead it seems that have simply decided to allow the Pentagon to dictate terms. The Pentagon says, we reviewed this and the Bush administration and don't think anything has changed. Unfortunately, the Bush administration did change things. The previous administration, under President Clinton, did not sign the treaty in 1997, but did make a goal of joining in the year 2006. Bush abandoned that. The U.S. was an early leader on this issue. In fact, President Clinton was the first global leader to call for the eventual elimination of antipersonnel mines, he just wasn't ready to move fast as many of our allies. But, we set the target for joining in 2006 that was abandoned by Bush and now embraced by the Obama administration. It is really extremely disturbing the U.S. can't see the light on this, because it has largely been in compliance with all the key components of the treaty.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Goose, talk about why this land mine ban is so important. What are the worst countries in the world? How much of a problem on landmines today?

STEPHEN GOOSE: They are still a huge problem with landmines, although the progress on this issue over the course of the past 10 years has been rather astounding. Since the mine ban treaty came into effect. This year, the second five-year review conference of the mine ban treaty is being held in Cartagena, Colombia in just a few days' time. It will look back at what is an accomplished in the course of the past 10 years, and plan for the future. Land mines have been banned by some countries because they are a horrific weapon that has taken too strong a toll on civilian populations. They still kill and injure thousands of civilians each year and have a heavy socio-economic toll on many countries like Afghanistan, like Cambodia, like Colombia where this major diplomatic conference is being held.

But what we a seen as a result of the mine ban treaty is a huge drop in the use of the weapon. The only government that has made significant use of the weapon is Myanmar, Burma, the outcast regime there. We have seen production falling off to only a handful of countries still being willing to produce the weapon, we've seen global trade has essentially ended altogether. Most importantly, we've seen huge tracts of land cleared of land mines with more than a dozen countries declaring themselves mine-free from those clearance efforts. And the number of new victims to the weapon has more than cut in half over the course of the past 10 years. This is a huge success story. Clearly, the most successful humanitarian and disarmament treaty of the past decade if not more. The U.S. is on the outside looking in. It makes no sense.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, I think it is a very interesting point you raised. First of all, you did not even know this review was taking place, and that you think it indicates the military is really in charge of policy in the country right now come, in the U.S. when it comes to the landmines. We're talking of the same time President Obama will be announcing an escalation of the war in Afghanistan. I'm wondering your thoughts on, from land mines to Afghanistan.

STEPHEN GOOSE: I think there's a real sensitivity to not wanting to upset the apple cart on an issue that can be seen obviously as a military and a security issue, although above all it is a humanitarian issue. But here are the facts. The U.S. military has not used this weapon in 18 years. The last time they used anti-personnel mines was in the first Gulf War in 1991. It hasn’t exported since 1992, it has not produced since 1997. It has no plans for further procurement of the weapon. We're basically in compliance with the treaty. The U.S. has not used antipersonnel mines in the wars in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan. Not when the invasions occurred, and not since. They're highly unlikely to do so in the future. Both of those countries, Iraq and Afghanistan have joined the mine ban treaty. That comprehensively banned the weapon. They've banned any possession of the weapon. The U.S. would be going against the treaty obligations of those countries if it were to use antipersonnel landmines in those countries. So, again, there's sort of an Alice-in-Wonderland aspect to this, where there is no viable reason to hold on to these weapons from a humanitarian or military point of view. Yet, the political and humanitarian efforts would be great. It should have been a no-brainer. They need to go back to the drawing board…

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Goose,

STEPHEN GOOSE: Do a serious review.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Goose, how are you at Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups around the world, of course when Princess Di was alive this was her main issue, to ban land mines around the world. How are you going to be organizing now? I assume there's a real scramble going on right now, since yesterday, since this just slipped out, this decision of the United States.

STEPHEN GOOSE: Well, we have been doing just fine on this issue without the U.S. ban on board and the without Russia or China on board. We want these countries to come aboard, but the fact is this weapon has been stigmatized and has been stigmatized throughout the world. That is why only one country still sort of dare to use it. They fear the international condemnation that would come if it were to use it. We still have a number of countries who are clinging to their arsenals of these outmoded weapons, but in fact, the power of the convention, the power of the stigma against the weapon affects even those who are outside of it. So this is a disappointment, but it doesn’t deal a death blow to the efforts to get rid of the weapon. It would help to have the U.S. on board, to bring additional countries on board as well, but it is mainly the disappointment from the domestic perspective, that the U.S. simply has no reason to stay away.

AMY GOODMAN: Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch Arms division and a longtime leader in the movement to ban landmines.

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