Trump Administration walks away from Ottawa Treaty adherence

Not Even the Military Thinks Landmines Are a ‘Vital Tool’. Trump’s recent reversal of Obama’s landmine ban was not only a petty political move but just another boondoggle for the Pentagon.

So begins a headline from journalist Mark Perry, writing for the American Conservative, a self-described “main street Conservative” publication.

The article is one in a chorus of denunciations in reaction to the U.S. announcement that:

the President has canceled the Obama Administration’s policy to prohibit United States military forces from employing anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean peninsula.

While the risible justification for this reversal was that the Obama-era restrictions could place American forces at a “severe disadvantage”, the prevailing view is that these weapons pose a huge risk to civilians and soldiers alike.

164 countries are signatory to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines, known as the Ottawa Treaty. While the U.S. is not a signatory, in 2014 the Obama administration committed the U.S. to upholding “the spirit and humanitarian aims” of the Treaty. Since then the numbers of people who have been severely injured or killed from landmines has dropped significantly and there are major, ongoing efforts to de-mine in countries like Cambodia where landmines still contaminate huge areas.

The E.U. called Trump’s decision “completely unacceptable” and further stated that the ban on anti-personnel landmines had:

saved tens of thousands of people in the past twenty years…Their use anywhere, anytime, and by any actor, remains completely unacceptable to the European Union.

The Nobel Prize–winning International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Mines Action Canada joined in the condemnations.

Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, took particular aim at the Trump administration’s assertion that so-called “smart landmines” limited the potential for injuring innocent civilians:

Technical solutions to make landmines self-destruct or otherwise labeled as ‘smart’ have failed to work as advertised and been rejected by the 164 counties, including all U.S. NATO allies, that have joined the Mine Ban Treaty.

Former Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy was a key actor behind the ground-breaking government–civil society coalition that was instrumental in achieving the Ottawa Treaty. Together with John English, a former landmines ambassador, he penned an eloquent commentary entitled: The Ottawa Treaty: Trump has to be stopped from removing landmine protections (, 6 February 2020 – paywalled).

The authors have kindly agreed to our inclusion of a pdf version of the commentary, which can be accessed here.

Decrying the “specious reasoning” of military necessity, Axworthy and English recall the important role played by veterans in securing the treaty, thus

reinforcing the case that the military utility…was peripheral but the danger of killing and maiming soldiers and civilians was extremely high.

Other commentators note that the “widespread outcry” over this retrograde step reflects how deeply these indiscriminate weapons have been stigmatized since 1997, when the Mine Ban Treaty was adopted.

Axworthy and English conclude their analysis with a call to action for the Government of Canada:

Canada must take a stand to defend the integrity of a remarkable and historic treaty that bears the name of our national capital, restore funding for landmine removal and seek to mobilize other governments in a condemnation of the Trump administration’s attack on landmine security and protection.

Canadian funding for landmine clearance

While Canada may not be able to do much to reverse this appalling Trumpian decision, we can redouble our efforts to mitigate the damage these indiscriminate weapons cause and to ratchet up the stigma against any possible use.

In November 2019 the Government announced new funding of $8.23 million, including:

  • $2 million for landmine clearance in northern Sri Lanka, with women comprising close to half of the demining workforce;
  • $2 million in support of demining efforts in Iraq, including support for women’s participation; and
  • $4.3 million to provide critical institutional support to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, and Mines Action Canada. The funding will assist states in meeting their obligations and help to universalize the convention.

Further details can be found here.

The prestigious Landmine Monitor compares the financial support that Canada used to provide for the vital work of landmine clearance and related activities with its current funding levels. They note:

From 2014–2018, Canada’s support to mine action totaled more than C$67.5 million (US$54 million), with an average yearly contribution of C$13.5 million (US$10.8 million). In comparison, Canada provided C$84.3 million (US$80.6 million) during the previous five-year period from 2009–2013. [Emphasis added.]

Whither Canada?

But it is not just the amount of money that matters but the activities Canada funds. We call on the government to direct funding to the Landmine Monitor, the civil society-based verification mechanism in support of the Ottawa Treaty that annually updates the status of states and their adherence to their antipersonnel mine ban obligations.

And Canada should increase funding to victims and survivors of mines, cluster munitions and explosive remnants of war.

Particularly important would be fresh funding for mine clearance, as well as financial support for deminers who need better remuneration, insurance and compensation for their injuries. –  Robin Collins, Co-Coordinator of the International Humanitarian Deminer listserv.

We also call on the Government of Canada to ramp up efforts to further stigmatize the use of these indiscriminate weapons.

Photo credit: Wikimedia images.


Tags: 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use Stockpiling and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines, Arms Control Association, deminers, demining, European Union, Former FM Lloyd Axworthy, Global Affairs Canada, indiscriminate weapons, International Campaign to Ban Landmines, International Humanitarian Deminer Listserv, John English, Landmine Monitor, Mines Action Canada, Obama administration, Ottawa Treaty