Posted by Rose Gottemoeller
April 4 is International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, when we mark the international effort to reduce dangers posed by landmines and explosive remnants of war on men, women and children in post-conflict countries around the world. The United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs and to partner with the UN on the international effort to address the humanitarian effects of these weapons on civilian populations.
Our efforts began with the establishment of the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program in 1993. From this original focus assisting communities and nations to overcome threats from landmines and other explosive remnants of war, we expanded the program to include activities to address the threat from at-risk conventional weapons and munitions.
This unique investment in peace and security not only funds the survey and clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, but also medical rehabilitation and vocational training for those injured by these devices; community outreach to prevent further injuries; and essential investments in research and development of new life-saving technologies. Together, these combined efforts help make post-conflict communities safer and set the stage for their recovery and development.
I recently returned from my first visit to Vietnam, where I saw firsthand how our efforts are making a difference. This year marks 40 years since the end of the U.S. war in Vietnam, as well as the 20th anniversary of normalized diplomatic relations between our two countries. In Quang Tri Province, I visited our NGO partners from MAG International and Norwegian Peoples’ Aid who with U.S. support, are working to prevent injuries along what was once the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam through survey and clearance of unexploded ordnance (UXO). I watched clearance technicians undertaking the difficult and dangerous work of unearthing these hidden hazards. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $80 million to partner with Vietnam to safely clear UXO and provide support to those who have been injured by them. We want to see a Vietnam that is free from the impact of UXO. Although this won’t happen overnight, with sustained focus and sustained investment, this is a goal we are committed to reaching.
Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.4 billion in aid in over 90 countries to really advance this effort and help overcome threats from landmines and explosive remnants of war. These include unexploded bombs, artillery shells and mortars, as well as the destruction of excess loosely secured or otherwise at-risk weapons and ordnance. Our efforts have assisted 15 countries around the world to become landmine-free and have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate. Around the world, Conventional Weapons Destruction and other mine-related efforts are saving lives: In 1999, experts estimated there were approximately 9,100 landmine casualties per year. According to the Landmine Monitor, new reported casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war dropped to 3,308 in 2013, and the lowest since the group started recording casualties in 1999.
Our efforts to address the humanitarian impacts of landmines extend to our own weapons stockpiles as well. In 2014, President Obama announced that the United States will no longer use anti-personnel landmines outside of the unique circumstances of the Korean Peninsula and that we will begin destroying our anti-personnel landmine stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea. The United States also announced that we will not produce or acquire any antipersonnel landmines in the future. And we continue our efforts to pursue solutions that may ultimately allow us to accede to the Ottawa Convention – the international treaty that prohibits the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.
Of course, the United States is not alone in these efforts. We work with countries across the globe and over three dozen active implementing partners, including international and regional organizations, international and local non-governmental organizations and contractors, as we continue to demonstrate our commitment to a powerful global humanitarian movement that has helped prevent the loss of innocent lives. Together, we are making a difference – saving lives and fostering stability in every region of the world, but we still have lots of work to do.
To learn more about our efforts, click here.
About the Author: Rose Gottemoeller serves as the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security.