Washington — Wars kill even after they are long over. The forgotten land mine cripples the unsuspecting farmer. An unexploded bomb kills the curious child.According to Rose Gottemoeller, the State Department’s acting under secretary for arms control and international security, there were an estimated 26,000 casualties each year from land mines when the United States in 1993 launched an intensive multiagency program to support international humanitarian efforts for mine removal and destruction of old stockpiles of conventional weapons.
The 20-year global effort has paid off. Gottemoeller, speaking at a September 17 briefing at the Foreign Press Center, cited statistics from the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a civil society organization that tracks the humanitarian and developmental consequences of land mines and other munitions. Gottemoeller said the group’s statistics show casualties from land mines and explosive remnants of war totaled 4,286 in 2011. “That number is still too high,” she said, “but it is a big change from the 26,000 land mine casualties that we were seeing per year in the early 1990s. So this program is having a real impact.″
Since 1993, the United States has contributed more than $2 billion to more than 90 countries to reduce the harmful effects of conventional weapons of war, according to Tom Kelly, the acting assistant secretary for political-military affairs at the State Department, who also spoke at the Foreign Press Center briefing. That makes the United States, he said, the world’s largest donor supporting humanitarian mine action programs that include removing and destroying land mines and other explosives, rehabilitation programs for the victims of these weapons and programs to educate the public about their dangers. “Taken together, these efforts can really help to make post-conflict communities safer and to set the stage for recovery and development,” Kelly said.
Although the United States is the largest donor to these kinds of efforts, Kelly said it is far from alone. “We share a common cause with those working to address the harmful effects on civilians of indiscriminate land mine use.”
“The United States,” Kelly said, “remains an active member of the Mine Action Support Group, which provides a forum for donors to discuss priorities and coordinate their efforts. We also work with the United Nations Mine Action Team, the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining, the Organization of American States, Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, NATO, [and] other regional organizations to coordinate assistance.”
The United States is proud of its public-private partnerships with some 70 organizations in the area of conventional weapons destruction, Kelly said. Those partnerships, he said, “help to unite the resources of the private sector, passion of the nonprofit sector, and the reach of the United States government so that together we can make a concrete difference that saves lives.”
In fiscal year 2012, Kelly said, the Department of State provided more than $149 million in conventional weapons destruction assistance to 35 countries. The largest portion of this aid, he said, was for programs in Afghanistan, which received more than $40 million. This assistance, he said, has supported eight Afghan explosive ordnance disposal teams, which were able to operate independent of oversight from U.S. contractors. “So what we’re trying to do is encourage indigenous solutions to life-threatening situations, but at the same time save millions of assistance dollars,” Kelly said.
According to Gottemoeller, the programs to destroy conventional weapons are “a modest investment” and not only save lives, but “promote peace and security by helping to establish conditions conducive to stability, nonviolence and democracy.”
Gottemoeller lauded the State Department’s newly released 12th edition of To Walk the Earth in Safety, the annual publication that outlines the work the U.S. government is doing with nongovernmental organizations and other governments to promote security through the conventional weapons destruction programs.
The full report is available on the State Department website.