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Panel: U.S. Still Reviewing Ban on Landmines

The United States and the International Ban on Landmines

Ken Rutherford (S'91, G'00) answers an audience question as Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams listens during The United States and the International Ban on Landmines panel at Copley Formal Lounge.

March 2, 2011 – Despite an ongoing review by the Obama administration, the United States still has not joined the Mine Ban Treaty because of military leadership pressure and concerns, according to a March 1 panel discussion on the 12th anniversary of the treaty going into effect.

“The military doesn’t like to give up weapons,” explained Stephen D. Goose, executive director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch during the United States and the International Ban on Landmines panel at Copley Formal Lounge. “They particularly don’t like to give up weapons if they’re asked to do so by [non-governmental organizations (NGOs)] or by minor powers like Canada.”

Goose added that Obama and former President Clinton failed to exercise their political will on the matter while former President George W. Bush’s administration performed a “cursory review” that wasn’t taken seriously.

The panel discussion was sponsored by the Georgetown School of Continuing Studies and co-sponsored by the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, Georgetown University Department of Government, Lecture Fund of Georgetown University, Georgetown University Mortara Center for International Studies and the Georgetown Public Policy Institute (GPPI).

George Shambaugh, associate professor of international affairs and government in the School of Foreign Service (SFS) and chairman of the Department of Government also sat on the panel.

“Justifiable Campaign”

For James Madison University professor of political science Ken Rutherford (S’91, G’00), the battle against landmines is a personal one.

Rutherford, who also is director of James Madison’s Center for International Stabilization and Recovery and the Mine Action Information Center, lost both his legs when his vehicle hit a landmine in Somalia on Dec. 16, 1993. Ninety percent of landmine victims are civilians.

“It was an experience that fundamentally altered my life for the good,” Rutherford said. “It crystalized my vision of what I believe I was put on this Earth to do.”

That vision included earning his PhD in government from Georgetown and having a family.

In 1994, Rutherford testified before Congress on the invitation of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), a champion of landmine victims.

“It was on that May day in Washignton, DC, where I realized that this campaign was justifiable and something needed to be done.”

Rutherford uses his experience, history and analysis to record the battle to ban landmines in his book “Disarming States: The International Moment to Ban Landmines (Praeger Security International, 2011).

Getting rid of “this evil weapon”

The campaign to end landmines was spearheaded by Jody Williams and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) during the 1990s.

“The only reason [the campaign] succeeded was because it … grew from two NGOs to over 1,300 and 90 countries in the world working together on the same goal to get rid of this evil weapon,” Williams said.

Williams’ and the group’s efforts proved fruitful, earning them the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Since the ban was signed in 1997 and put into effect in 1999, 44 million anti-personnel mines have been destroyed with thousands of lives having been saved.

Citizens Action

Williams stated that ordinary citizens made the difference in getting word out to their governments to join the treaty, which currently has 156 countries as Parties to the treaty -- 80 percent of the world.

The United States is one of 37 countries not to have signed the treaty.

Last year, 68 U.S. senators called on the Obama administration to end the two-year review on whether to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

“This was a stunning accomplishment,” Goose said. “It was a real eye opener that we had this kind of broad support, bi-partisan support for the administration to make the right decision on this issue.”

Williams hopes that ordinary Americans take the time to write to their Senators to call on Obama to end his two-year review of the treaty.

“It really makes a difference if they get a stamped letter,” she says. “Unless U.S. Citizens push for some sort of rebalancing, I think it’s a disconcerting future.”

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