Obama's Opportunity to Lead a Landmine-Free World

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For twelve years, the United States has refused to ban a weapon that kills and mutilates innocent women, men and children even in peacetime. The time has come for the world's most powerful high-tech military to give up its low-tech stockpile of ten million antipersonnel landmines.

Today there are millions of mines buried in over 80 countries, and over 160 million more stored in arsenals waiting to go in the ground. These indiscriminate devices lay dormant until detonated by something living -- a child walking to school, a farmer or grazing livestock. One victim at a time, these 'weapons of mass destruction in slow motion' have killed in total more people than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons combined. If they don't cause immediate death, they maim and blind their victims.

Perhaps cruelest of all, these hidden killers never acknowledge peace. Landmines continue to inflict health, economic and environmental damage long after conflicts end, treaties are signed, and soldiers go home.

For over thirty years, I have lived in the landmine heartland of the world. I have advocated with governments and visited with hundreds of wounded survivors in the Middle East, Central Asia and Latin America, from Cambodia and Vietnam to Pakistan, Bosnia and Colombia. In my work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Survivor Corps, I have personally witnessed the heartbreaking consequences for those striving to overcome the damage wrought on their bodies, their lives and their families.

Ten years ago today the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force, mandating a complete ban of the weapon, the destruction of stockpiles, clearing of minefields, and assistance to the victims. Most of the world -- 156 nations -- have signed. Over 44 million stockpiled mines have been destroyed, and casualty rates have plunged from roughly 25,000 to 5,000 per year. All NATO allies have abandoned this antiquated weapon, while the United States stands outside the treaty with countries such as Cuba, Pakistan, China, North Korea and Iran.

Why is the United States sitting on the sidelines clinging to this outdated weapon? Because the Pentagon says it might need to use them someday, even though U.S. forces haven't deployed mines in nearly twenty years. But even Iraq and Afghanistan have banned the use of landmines. Since the Mine Ban Treaty prohibits all its members from aiding and abetting the transfer or use of mines, the United States can't even discuss plans for their use with coalition allies, let alone with Baghdad or Kabul.

The greater irony is that mines do not even do the job. An International Red Cross-Red Crescent study endorsed by 50 high ranking military figures from 20 countries found that landmines played no significant role in the outcome of 26 conflicts examined. The appalling suffering and waste caused by landmines far outweigh their military utility.

In Jordan, my late husband King Hussein was the first Mideast leader to recognize that landmines do not provide security, but instead threaten innocent civilians and hinder development. In 1993 he called for a mine-free Jordan Valley by 2000. Sadly, he did not live to see this goal realized, but we successfully led Jordan to sign the Mine Ban Treaty in 1998 and completed the destruction of our stockpile of over 92,000 antipersonnel mines in 2003.

To its credit, the United States is the leading funder of mine clearance globally, spending nearly a billion dollars in over 47 countries, but it hasn't managed to destroy its own stash. Why not acknowledge that these tiny cheap explosives do not win wars? Technology has also advanced beyond minefields to protect borders or bases.

An Obama administration that seeks to reassert U.S. leadership on issues of humanitarian law and arms control should seize this opportunity to sign the Mine Ban Treaty and end the use of these insidious weapons for good. The world is waiting for decisive leadership from Washington.

The fight against landmines is an integral part of the fight for peace worldwide. War-torn societies can never be rebuilt if people continue to fear for their lives with every step they take. Just as President Woodrow Wilson, another Nobel laureate, decided to forever ban the use of poison gas in 1925, perhaps President Obama, as he heads to Oslo to accept his Nobel Prize for Peace, will commit the U.S. to join the global movement to ban landmines. I can think of no greater gift to future generations.

Her Majesty Queen Noor is an advisor to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and patron of Survivor Corps, helping war victims rebuild their lives.