U.S. pledges not to use landmines except in Korea

September 23, 2014
"Beware of landmines" sign posted at  Gyeonggi-do, Yeoncheon-gun, Mintong-sun. (Yonhap file)

“Beware of landmines” sign posted at Gyeonggi-do, Yeoncheon-gun, Mintong-sun. (Yonhap file)

WASHINGTON (Yonhap) — The United States on Tuesday made the Korean Peninsula the only exception to its pledge not to use anti-personnel landmines, citing the peninsula’s “unique circumstances” and its commitment to South Korea’s defense.

The White House announced the pledge, also vowing to destroy stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines that are “not required for the defense of South Korea.” It also said the U.S. won’t assist, encourage or induce anyone outside the peninsula to engage in activity banned under the Ottawa Convention.

The convention bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. Tuesday’s commitments are a step forward toward complying with the pact, and came three months after the U.S. promised in June not to produce or acquire anti-personnel landmines.

“Even as we take these further steps, the unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea preclude us from changing our anti-personnel landmine policy there at this time,” said Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson of the White House’s National Security Council.

“We will continue our diligent efforts to pursue solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention while ensuring our ability to meet our alliance commitments to the Republic of Korea,” she said.

The White House said in a separate fact sheet that South Korea’s security “will continue to be a paramount concern as we move forward with these efforts.”

Landmines often remain in fields long after a conflict ends, posing a threat to the civilian populace.

Hayden said that the U.S. shares the humanitarian goals of the Ottawa Convention and will work with state parties to the convention and non-governmental organizations in addressing the humanitarian impact of anti-personnel landmines.

Hayden said the U.S. is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action and has provided more than $2.3 billion in aid since 1993 in more than 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs.

Still, however, she made no mention of when the U.S. will accede to the pact.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that Tuesday’s announcement “brings us one step closer in aligning ourselves with the international humanitarian movement embodied by the Ottawa Convention.” She said the U.S. will continue to pursue “solutions that would be compliant with and ultimately allow us to join the Ottawa Convention.”

The Defense Department also expressed support for the new policy.

“Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel fully supports the changes to U.S. anti-personnel landmine policy,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said. “The department will not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula.”