It's time for the U.S. to ban landmine use in Korea and join the Mine Ban Treaty

The U.S. landmine policy announced in 2014 including the statement of intent to join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty in the future represent positive steps in the direction of a world free from the threat of landmines, but the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines urges further action to allow the U.S. to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty. The geographic exception permitting continued US use of antipersonnel mines on the Korean Peninsula is the last obstacle that must be overcome to bring U.S. policy in line with the Mine Ban Treaty.

The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines questions the cost and need for the “high fidelity modeling and simulation effort” that the Department of Defense has been instructed to undertake “to ascertain how to mitigate the risks associated with the loss of anti-personnel landmines” in Korea. The U.S. has spent more than one billion dollars on the development and production of systems that could be considered alternatives to antipersonnel mines.

During the 1997 treaty negotiations the US sought a geographic exception for Korea in the draft text, but was strongly rebuffed by its allies. Numerous retired U.S. military officers, including those who commanded forces in Korea have said that using antipersonnel mines there is of little or no military value. The New York Times observed in a recent editorial that “the Pentagon could easily draw up plans for South Korea that exclude American landmines."

The U.S. has refrained from using antipersonnel landmines since 1991, including on the Korean Peninsula, in large part due to the stigma against landmines created by the broadly ratified Mine Ban Treaty. U.S. accession to the Mine Ban Treaty would help to convince the other countries not yet party to join, strengthening the norm against antipersonnel mines, thereby ensuring they are not used in the future and create no additional humanitarian and socioeconomic harm.  

Despite the contentious political environment, the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines urges that accession documents for the Mine Ban Treaty be prepared now so that President Obama can send the package to the Senate for its advice and consent before he leaves office on January 21, 2017.

As a signal of its support, the U.S. should stop abstaining and start voting in favor of the annual non-binding United Nations General Assembly resolution promoting universalization and implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty.