Laying Down Landmines

The US announced on Friday that it would stop producing anti-personnel mines, in a possible move toward finally joining the 15-year-old Ottawa ban treaty:

This new announcement builds on previous commitments, the White House said in a fact sheet accompanying the announcement, “to end the use of all non-detectable mines and all persistent mines, which can remain active for years after the end of a conflict.” In layman’s terms, in the past administrations have chosen to draw the line between so-called “dumb mines,” which last indefinitely, and “smart mines” that deactivate on their own. While the Clinton administration refused to sign onto the Ottawa Convention, it did decide to ban its use of “dumb mines” everywhere but on the border between North and South Korea, already destroying 3.3 million AP mines back in 1999. At present, the U.S. is estimated to have approximately 9 million self-destructing anti-personnel mines in its stockpile.

Beauchamp looks back at how our military commitment in Korea has kept us from signing the treaty thus far:

Why is Korea such a big sticking point for the US?

In very simple terms, North Korea vastly outnumbers its southern neighbor in troops. The North Korean military is almost double the size of its South Korean counterpart (roughly 1.2 million to 700,000). The massive quantity of landmines planted in the DMZ, in the US’s view, would considerably slow down any attempt by the North Korean military to rapidly overwhelm the South by dint of sheer numbers.

In the 1990s, many of those landmines were American-owned mines, not Korean. So if the US had accepted a treaty commitment to dismantle its mine stock, it would have had to dismantle weapons it believed were deterring a North Korean invasion. Today, though, South Korea technically controls all of the mines — not the US. However, joining the Ottawa Convention would prohibit any US-led forces from military cooperation with nations that use landmines during wartime. Considering that there are 30,000 US troops in South Korea, signing the treaty would severely constrain the US’s ability to work with South Korea.

The political point-scoring has, of course, already begun:

On Friday, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, issued a statement calling the effort to replace landmines with new technology “an expensive solution in search of a nonexistent problem.”

“Once again, the President makes an end-run around Congress and demonstrates his willingness to place politics above the advice of our military leaders,” McKeon said. “His announcement today is perfect for a feel-good press release but bad for the security of our men and women in uniform. … McKeon said President Obama “owes our military an explanation for ignoring their advice and putting them at risk — all for a Friday morning press release.”