For 15 years, the United States has not signed the Ottawa Treaty banning antipersonnel land mines.
Although President Barack Obama has been studying the issue for five years, his conclusion last month was not very decisive. The United States will no longer produce antipersonnel mines or replace expired mines and will move toward signing the treaty at some unspecified future date.
Though the policy means that America’s stockpile of 10 million mines will gradually diminish, it is only a half-step toward eliminating weapons that disproportionately maim and kill civilians. Every year, land mines kill or injure 4,000 people, half of them children.
That’s an unconscionable number, but far lower than the 26,000 land-mine injuries in 1999, the year the Mine Ban Treaty took effect. Being party to the treaty would require the United States to destroy its stockpiles within four years and clear the areas it has mined in 10 years.
The Pentagon says land mines are needed for deterrence in areas such as the Korean Demilitarized Zone, although the treaty does not affect anti-vehicular or command-detonated mines. They could remain and mitigate invasion threats alongside sensors, surveillance and air strikes.
Although countries such as China, Russia, Iran, Israel and Egypt have not embraced the treaty, Obama should pressure them to join him in signing, then seek Senate ratification. Land mines that kill civilians are a blight on the world — the sooner they can be replaced with other troop deterrents, the better.