America's Promise on LandminesLincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr., Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs and Special Representative for Mine Action
February 27, 2004
The Bush administration will today announce a new policy on landmines that lie on or beneath the ground, ready to explode, long after cessation of the hostilities that prompted their use. Indiscriminate use of persistent landmines by undisciplined armies, irresponsible governments and non-state actors has maimed tens of thousands of innocent children and created widespread humanitarian problems across the globe that have reached crisis proportions in several nations within the last decade. The U.S. shares common cause with all who wish to undo this harmful legacy of conflict.
U.S. military forces currently have persistent anti-personnel and anti-tank mines in their inventory. Under the new policy, after 2010, the US will no longer use persistent landmines of any type, on any battlefield, for any purpose, anywhere in the world. Between now and then, use of persistent landmines will require presidential authorisation.
After 2010, any landmines used by U.S. forces will be rendered inert after a determined time period, measured in hours or days, not years or decades. The technology to do this exists now and has been proven, with no failures in more than 60,000 tests. The explosive power of our mines - anti-personnel and anti-vehicle - will be confined to the duration of hostilities.
Under this new policy, within a year the U.S. will discontinue forever the use of any mines that are non-detectable to conventional metal detectors. Again, the U.S. is the first major military power to make such a complete and unconditional commitment, one that covers all types of landmines.
Additionally, President George W. Bush has directed a 50 per cent increase in the Department of State's 2005 humanitarian mine action budget over baseline levels of fiscal year 2003, for a new total of $70m per year, nearly twice that of the next largest donor.
This is a bold and sensible policy, one that breaks with formulations of the past. No other country has adopted a policy that can meet these standards of eschewing persistent landmines of all kinds, assuring detectability of any landmines used and strongly supporting humanitarian mine action programmes worldwide.
The Ottawa convention, to which the U.S. is not a signatory, prohibits the use of anti-personnel landmines, but is silent on the entire class of more powerful anti-vehicle landmines. The fact that the U.S. and the Ottawa convention's drafters could not agree on terms in 1997 obscured the fact that we share a common commitment to end the harmful effects of landmines.
Nevertheless, many will ask how the new U.S. policy differs from the Ottawa convention. The convention's ban on all anti-personnel landmines would have denied our military the needed capabilities currently provided by mines that leave no enduring hazard on the battlefield. The President's new policy will end use of landmines that are persistent, non-metallic, or both, while the Ottawa convention permits landmines that are powerful enough to destroy a vehicle, including persistent and undetectable versions and those with "anti-handling devices" that can be triggered by people.
By ending the use of both persistent anti-vehicle and persistent anti-personnel mines, the U.S. becomes the first big military power to take such comprehensive measures to protect civilians from post-conflict hazards, beyond protections afforded under any treaty.
Policy approaches may differ, and deserve to be discussed, but the people and communities victimised by deadly mines left behind after conflict deserve the full cooperation of all who support mine action.
No country does more than the U.S. to support humanitarian mine action, including landmine clearance and victim assistance. The U.S. funded the first demining operations in Afghanistan in 1988 and has since been the world's largest donor, providing almost $800m to clear mines and help civilians in 46 countries or territories.
The programmes being increased under the new policy promote stability by allowing refugees to return home and giving communities a chance to rebuild their economies.
This new policy responds with vision to the problem of persistent landmines, avoiding recriminations over past policy disputes, demonstrating America's humanitarian commitment and all the while preserving needed military capability. We welcome other countries that may share this vision by curtailing their trade in and use of all persistent mines. Above all, we look forward to redoubling efforts with the international community, including governments, international and non-governmental organisations and the private sector, to end the humanitarian crisis caused by these weapons once and for all and ensure that all people may walk the earth in safety.
Lincoln P. Bloomfield, Jr. is Special Representative of the President and Secretary of State for Mine Action and Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.
Released on March 2, 2004