Commentary: President Obama should join the Mine Ban Treaty

Special to McClatchy NewspapersDecember 2, 2010 

Along with 14 of our brother and sister Nobel Peace laureates - including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma - we have written to fellow laureate President Obama to urge him to bring the United States into the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Many of the Nobel Peace laureates have long expressed concern at the humanitarian impact of antipersonnel mines and have worked for their eradication.

Last week more than 100 governments, as well as civil society organizations and U.N. agencies, were in Geneva for their 10th-annual assessment of the successes of the Mine Ban Treaty, as well as the remaining challenges for the total elimination of antipersonnel landmines.

Universalizing the treaty - getting all countries to come on board - remains one of those challenges. Despite the fact that 156 countries are party to the treaty, the United States still has not taken the final step and joined. We say "final step" because we have followed the situation and recognize that the U.S. government has, for almost two decades, essentially adhered to the treaty.

We commend the fact that the United States is not known to have used antipersonnel mines since the first Gulf War in 1991. It became the first country in the world to unilaterally ban exports of the weapon in 1992. The country has not produced antipersonnel mines since 1997, and has already destroyed many millions of its stockpiled mines. For almost 20 years, the United States has also been the largest funder of global mine clearance and victim assistance programs.

Almost one year ago, the Obama administration announced that it was undertaking a review of U.S. policy on antipersonnel landmines, and it should be coming to a conclusion soon. We trust that the review has been guided by the moral and humanitarian imperatives that have already led 80 percent of the world's nations to ban the weapon, including nearly all U.S. military allies.

Policy deliberations are not always easy, especially when it comes to military matters and disarmament. One frequently cited concern is the Korean peninsula, where there are landmines in and around the DMZ, the heavily guarded demilitarized zone separating the two countries. Those landmines, however, are under the jurisdiction and control of South Korea. Moreover, U.S. allies have assured the government that, under the terms of the treaty, the United States could maintain its defense relationship with, and troop presence in, South Korea, even if that nation has not yet joined.

U.S. accession to this important international disarmament treaty would bring great benefits to the United States - and to the entire world. It would strengthen U.S. national security, international security and international humanitarian law. It would help strengthen the fundamental goal of preventing innumerable civilians from falling victim to these indiscriminate weapons in the future, and help ensure adequate care for the hundreds of thousands of existing survivors and their communities.

We also have no doubt at all that U.S. membership in the Mine Ban Treaty would help spur to action the other 38 states that remain outside the treaty.

In our letter to President Obama, we recognized that in his position as both president and commander in chief, he has many aspects to consider in being the person who will ultimately have to make the final decision on U.S. landmine policy. But we also have no doubt that the president feels deeply the suffering of the innocents affected by war and its aftermath, and he should have no trouble recognizing that the devastating impact of landmines on civilians is a terror of its own sort.

We strongly urge President Obama - with the support of his administration and the military forces under his command - to decide to join the Mine Ban Treaty and submit it to the Senate for its consent by early next year. It is time for the United States, with the world's most powerful military, to ban a weapon that it has in practice already eschewed for almost 20 years.


The Rev. Desmond Tutu of South Africa received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984; he is now retired. Jody Williams received the same award in 1997. Ms. Williams is Chair, Nobel Women's Initiative and can be reached at,

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