Following years of international activism from civil society advocates, President Bill Clinton in 1994 proposed “a first step toward the eventual elimination of a less visible but still deadly threat: the world’s 85 million antipersonnel land mines.” He called on “all nations to join with us and conclude an agreement to reduce the number and availability of those mines.”
Nearly three decades later, 85% of the world’s states have not only taken the first step, but blazed a clear path to a mine-free world with the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, formally known as the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction.
No U.S. president has ever signed the Mine Ban Treaty or directed full compliance with it.
Yet the United States itself continues to waver over the first step, shifting course with each new administration. No U.S. president has ever signed the Mine Ban Treaty or directed full compliance with it.
Most recently, in January 2020, President Donald Trump revised President Barack Obama’s policy on the use of landmines, allowing the U.S. military to once again employ, develop, produce, or otherwise acquire landmines without geographic limitations. The Pentagon justified the policy with claims that the anti-personnel landmines fill a “critical capability gap” and that the world is in “an era of strategic competition that requires our military to become more lethal.”
This week, the 164 governments that have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, alongside civil society advocates from around the world, are meeting virtually to review progress toward a world free of landmines. Although the United States is the leading donor to mine clearance efforts, it remains out of step with the global consensus on their use.
While President Joe Biden has committed to review and roll back the 2020 landmine policy, first steps and temporary bans are no longer sufficient. He must put the United States on a short and direct path to join the Mine Ban Treaty by the end of his first term.
As leaders in the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), FCNL joined with likeminded advocates and affected communities to condemn the 2020 policy change and to call on President Biden to reverse it without delay. In April, the USCBL sent President Biden a letter reminding him of his “moral obligation to the past victims of landmines and to future generations to do better” and urging him “to swiftly accede to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.”
These letters clearly demonstrate bipartisan congressional support for action on U.S. landmine policy.
This past week, long-time leaders in the international effort to ban landmines, Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT) and Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02), led 19 of their Democratic and Republican colleagues in calling on President Biden “as a first step, to reinstate the Obama policy, and by doing so reaffirm the United States as a leader in the global effort to reduce the carnage caused by anti-personnel mines.” The letter goes on to urge President Biden to “finally [put] the United States on a definitive path to accede to the treaty […] by 2024.”
This letter comes a year after Sen. Leahy and Rep. McGovern led a bipartisan letter, cosigned by over 100 of their colleagues, to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressing disappointment in the 2020 policy. Together, these letters clearly demonstrate bipartisan congressional support for action on U.S. landmine policy – and, crucially, for more than just first steps.
Now as President Biden reviews the 2020 policy, with the stated intent to roll it back, public support for the Mine Ban Treaty is essential. He must hear from members of Congress: It’s time to take more than just a first step and set the United States on a short and direct path to joining the Treaty.
Join us in growing momentum on Capitol Hill and urge your representatives to support U.S. accession to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty!