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NGOs urge review of landmine, cluster bomb ban

NewsNotes, March-April 2009

In February, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and 66 other organizations issued a strong call for President Obama to reconsider U.S. opposition to global treaties prohibiting the use, transfer, and production of antipersonnel landmines and cluster munitions. Following is the text of the letter sent to the president.

In early December, as half of the world’s governments signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Oslo, [your] spokeswoman … said that you would “carefully review the new treaty and work closely [with] our friends and allies to ensure that the United States is doing everything feasible to promote protection of civilians.”

We welcomed this statement. We write now to urge you to launch a thorough review within the next six months of past U.S. policy decisions to stand outside the treaty banning cluster munitions, as well as the treaty banning anti-personnel landmines. We expect that such a review will give appropriate weight to humanitarian and diplomatic concerns, as well as to U.S. military interests.

The closest allies of the United States negotiated the Convention on Cluster Munitions based on their conclusion that these indiscriminate and unreliable weapons pose an unacceptable threat to civilian populations during and long after combat operations have ceased—in much the same way as do landmines.

British Foreign Minister David Miliband, representing the world’s third largest user of cluster munitions in the past decade, asked states at the signing conference to “tell those not here in Oslo that the world has changed ... that a new norm has been created.” He went on to say: “Our global community must continually keep challenging itself about the way it behaves. Political leaders must show they are prepared to listen and respond to the voices of victims, of civil society, and of ordinary people.”

We recognize the U.S. government’s significant contributions to demining operations around the world, but note that these contributions are undermined by U.S. nonparticipation in the decade-old Mine Ban Treaty and the new Convention on Cluster Munitions.

As you stated during the campaign, U.S. forces have been moving away from using cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines. The United States has not deployed anti-personnel landmines since 1992, and it has not used cluster munitions in Iraq since 2003 or in Afghanistan since 2002.

Indeed, [Defense] Secretary Gates has recognized that cluster munitions are weapons of grave humanitarian concern and recently issued a policy to begin destroying them in 2018.
U.S. policy on landmines, as articulated in 2004, also encompasses phased elimination of most mines from operational planning.

These steps, while positive, are not nearly enough. The use of weapons that disproportionately take the lives and limbs of civilians is wholly counterproductive in today’s conflicts, where winning over the local population is essential to mission success. ...

Reconsidering these two treaties—and eliminating the threat that U.S. forces might use weapons that most of the world has condemned—would greatly aid efforts to reassert our nation’s moral leadership. ...

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