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Indecision in the Face of Tragedy

Obama and Land Mines

by RALPH NADER

Everyday around the world innocent people, many of them children, are killed or injured by millions of unexploded land mines and cluster bombs. Some of the cluster bomblets look like candy or a toy which attract a child in a field, orchard, schoolyard or by the roadside.

Powerful aggressor nations are responsible for most of these anti-personal weapons being laid from land or by air. Most recently, Libya’s rulers laid mines on the outskirts of Ajdabiya as part of its battle against the resistance.

In 2006, Israel laid huge numbers of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon each of which contains lethal bomblets. For many months after the ceasefire, the United Nations could not get Israel, to provide its cluster bomb algorithms to UN experts so they could safely neutralize these heinous weapons. In that period many Lebanese, adults and children, became cluster bomb casualties. (Visit http://www.atfl.org and see the Cluster Bomb Victims photo gallery.)

Two broad-based international treaties address the humanitarian necessity to ban both weapons, just as many horrific chemical and biological weapons have been banned for years. For both treaties?one on land mines, the more recent on cluster bombs?the United States has been the egregious odd man out under both Republican and Democratic Administrations.

The 1997 Mine Ban Treaty has been signed by 133 countries including many U.S. allies. Not the United States, Russia, Israel and China all of whom are major producers, users or sellers of these lethal weapons. As reported by Human Rights Watch, 68 U.S. Senators?enough votes to ratify the Land Mine treaty, have urged President Obama to move on this urgent matter. Sixteen Nobel Peace Laureates have urged their fellow Laureate, Barack Obama, to live up to the spirit of this award and lead the U.S. in embracing this treaty.

But the "permanent government" persists especially when its current President is so preoccupied with all his wars, attacks, incursions and intrigues with foreign leaders, tribes, clans, and spies.

Presently, the U.S. has a stockpile of ten million land mines. Washington claims "it has not used any since the 1991 Gulf War, has not exported any since 1992 and has not produced them since 1997" according to a Reuters report. The federal government also says it spent $1.5 billion since 1993 to help clear landmines and treat accident victims.

The State Department and the Pentagon stall and say year after year they are reviewing U.S. landmine policy. Years pass. Still no decision. One reason is that the U.S. wants flexibility to maintain mines in areas like the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

When it comes to the more grisly cluster bombs, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, a treaty banning the "use, stockpiling, production and transfer of cluster munitions" and disassembling and clearing the remaining stockpiles within ten years, has been signed by 108 nations. It went into effect August 2010 without the signature of the United States.

From Laos to Kosovo and from Chechnya to Iraq, these savage weapons continue their daily devastation. Pictures of the survivors with lost limbs provide the evidence of what havoc weapons profiteering and unaccountable bureaucrats can wreak. Some of these unexploded ordinance in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan can be reworked into the dreaded IED’s against U.S. soldiers. Maybe that’s a wakeup call for the White House.

Still Obama fiddles and perplexes our allies with his indecision. He displays no such hesitancy about ordering more and more drones to fire on homes, buildings and vehicles with the imprecision of suspicion that has blown up wedding parties, gatherings of innocent non-combatants and recently, nine boys collecting firewood for their families.

More and more international civic organizations, often backed by their governments, are working together for a "mine-free world." However, sluggishness in Washington can be compared with the speedy innovation by defense firms in the demonic configuration of ever more deadly cluster bombs. Wait and see what nanotechnology can do when basic research moves to application in this violent area.

There is all too much secrecy and too little open discussion in the political and electoral arenas. Obama’s annual weapons destruction report does not tell Americans why he refuses to sign either Treaty.

Mr. Obama has been to many ceremonies and photo opportunities lately. Perhaps he can reserve some space on his calendar to take a photo with some children seriously maimed by cluster bombs and land mines coupled with an announcement that he will take this next long-overdue step toward disarmament and lessen man’s inhumanity to man.

In the meantime, go to Human Rights Watch’s website (hrw.org) and sign their anti-landmine letter to President Barack Obama. And call the White House comment hotline (202-456-1111) and voice your resolve to end this scattered and often invisible scourge plaguing war-torn areas of the world.

Ralph Nader is the author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us!, a novel.