WASHINGTON: The United States said Tuesday it is halting the use of anti-personnel mines apart from in the tense No Man’s Land between the Koreas, a step closer to compliance with a global convention.
On the 20th anniversary of then president Bill Clinton’s pledge to back the eventual elimination such weapons, Barack Obama’s administration said it was “aligning its policy” on anti-personnel landmines (APLs) with the Ottawa Convention.
The US “will not use APL outside the Korean peninsula,” national security spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.
Washington would also “undertake to destroy APL stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea,” she added.
The United States would also neither assist nor encourage anyone outside the region to use such mines.
The move brings the United States closer than ever to adhering to the Ottawa Convention, the international treaty prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.
The announcement, made as Obama headed to the United Nations General Assembly, mirrored intentions foreshadowed by Washington at a conference in Mozambique’s capital Maputo in June aimed at ultimately ensuring no armed forces use anti-personnel mines by 2025.
Obama was expected to touch upon the issue when he addresses the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, an arm of the former US leader’s charitable foundation, in New York.
A senior US official told AFP that only the “unique circumstances” of the Cold War frontier between North and South Korea stood between the United States and the further elimination of the use of land mines.
Washington had only been able to pinpoint a single use of a land mine by its forces in a military situation — apart from between the two Koreas — in the last 20 years, though would not say where it took place, the official added.
In 2009, Washington said it was reviewing its position on landmines but — along with great power rivals China and Russia — has failed to sign the Ottawa Convention.
Nuclear powers India and Pakistan — which like the two Koreas have a hot frontier — have not signed up either, nor has arch-foe Iran.
Long-standing critics of the US policy say Washington’s rivals are waiting on the United States to move before they do likewise.
Tuesday’s move could up pressure on states to ban landmines, despite festering territorial disputes breaking out across Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
“The United States remains deeply concerned about the humanitarian effects of anti-personnel landmines,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
“As the world’s leading donor to humanitarian mine action, we have long worked to mitigate the human cost of their use,” Psaki added.
The United States has provided more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs.
Since Mozambique hosted its first landmine conference in 1999, the number of state parties to the mine ban convention has more than tripled from 45 to 161, although key major powers remain on the sidelines.
The US stockpile is believed to consist of about nine million self-destructing anti-personnel mines, according to Human Rights Watch.
In the past, Obama administration efforts to move towards the elimination of landmines triggered skepticism in Congress, where critics say the United States is not an “irresponsible” user of landmines and is not to blame for the ongoing humanitarian toll of the weapons.