The Largest Security-Cleared Career Network for Defense and Intelligence Jobs - JOIN NOW

Military

U.S. Still Top Financial Contributor to Humanitarian Mine Action

14 December 2007

Land mine casualty rate has plummeted; other major gains achieved

Washington -- Casualties from land mines worldwide have dropped from around 26,000 a year four years ago to a little more than 3,000 a year today, counting both land mines and other target-activated explosives.

In the past decade the trade in land mines also has dropped precipitously, as has the laying of new mines.  While this has occurred, mines continue to be destroyed or safely removed, and millions of stockpiled mines have been destroyed.  All of these developments have had a great impact, which is reflected in the dramatic reduction of land mine causalities.

The United States long has been the largest financial contributor to humanitarian mine action -- a broad category that covers clearance, funding for prosthetics, training of mine removers, mine risk education and research and development for better mine removal equipment and techniques.  Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $1.2 billion -- or a third of all monetary contributions -- to some 50 countries that are, or were, affected by persistent land mines and explosive remnants of war.

Richard Kidd, director of the State Department’s office for clearing land mines and destroying at-risk conventional weapons, says the U.S. investment, along with the contributions of other donors and efforts by affected nations themselves, “has increased national capacity and dramatically improved mine action efficiency, effectiveness and safety in mine-affected countries.”

Mine impact surveys, better information systems and more sophisticated mine clearing efforts now ensure that “mine clearance is safer and more productive than it was 10 years ago,” Kidd said.  He recently told the BBC that absent the U.S. investment, there would be a third more minefields poised to endanger, farmers, children and livestock.

Nicaragua is forecast to be the next country to become free of the humanitarian impact of mines (“impact-free”) in 2008.  It will join others that already achieved that status, including Costa Rica, Djibouti, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Kosovo, Macedonia, Namibia and Suriname.

“Impact-free” means that those land mines that pose a high or medium threat to the ability of people to safely live normal lives have been cleared.  It does not mean that every single land mine, for example, has been removed from the remotest section of the jungle in Costa Rica or from uninhabited parts of Djibouti’s desert.  But it does indicate that these two countries and others like them are devoting time and money to other even more pressing problems now, and, Kidd says, “they have the national capacity to deal with any remaining explosives.”

The State Department also partners with more than 60 nongovernmental organizations and citizen groups to broaden awareness of the global land mine problem and engage civil society in helping to tackle it.  Above and beyond the U.S. government’s mine action contributions, millions of dollars from private U.S. citizens flow annually through public-private partnerships like Roots of Peace, which funds the return of land -- now cleared of mines -- to productive use: vineyards in Croatia, fruit orchards in Afghanistan and rice paddies in Cambodia.

The department also funded a new searchable CD/DVD published by Virginia’s James Madison University, designed to help those injured by land mines overcome their disability through low-end technology.  The Adaptive Technology Catalog: Tools for Survivors of Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War offers more than 600 simple, inexpensive, off-the-shelf or easily adapted pieces of household, auto, farm and carpentry equipment for use by victims seeking physical or economic independence in a post-conflict setting.

ACHIEVING MILESTONES

Although the United States did not sign the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel land mines for military reasons, it is committed to eliminating the humanitarian risks posed by all anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. The U.S. military needs to be able to use land mines -- in special circumstances -- for troop protection.

That, however, should not obscure these pertinent milestones:

• In 1992, the United States banned the export of all U.S. anti-personnel mines.

• In 1999, the United States removed the last remaining permanent U.S. minefield around its Guantanamo Bay naval base.

• In 1999, the United States ratified the Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons -- otherwise known as the world’s first land mine treaty (CCW) -- which addresses both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines and also bans booby-traps.

• In 2004, the United States committed never to use persistent (“long-lived”) mines after 2010, vowing instead, if necessary, to use only self-destructing and self-deactivating mines that cease to be threatening within hours or days of cessation of combat.

• In 2006, the United States signed on to the declaration of the third review conference for the CCW, stating that it would not do the following:

-- use anti-vehicle mines outside perimeter-marked areas unless they were detectable;

-- use such mines outside perimeter marked areas unless they were self-destructing or self-neutralizing; and

-- transfer anti-vehicle mines unless they met these criteria, and then, would transfer them only to countries adhering to this policy.

Kidd says the United States is pursuing practical measures to reduce the threat of all categories of land mines and all explosive remnants of war because it is right to do so. But the United States will not support programs that have set out to clear every last mine in an affected country because of prohibitive costs, the need to address even more pressing humanitarian problems and the minimal to nonexistent threat that some remote mines still pose.

However, the United States does support finding and clearing those mines and unexploded ordnance that address a nation’s most pressing needs first.  For example, about 80 percent of the world’s land mine causalities have been caused by some 20 percent of the world’s mined areas.  U.S. officials argue that “resources should be allocated in proportion to the threat.”

Kidd says fixing the problem -- based solely on a specific weapon or munition -- is useful only to a point and actually may turn out to “be detrimental to common goals” if the fix results in a diversion or misallocation of resources away from larger problems such as disease or hunger.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



NEWSLETTER
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list