Tom Kelly serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs in the United States Department of State.
As the world observes the International Day of Peace on September 21, the United States commemorates an important investment in international peace and security with this week’s release of the 12th Edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety. This year we celebrate a milestone: 20 years of U.S. leadership in the international effort to safely clear landmines and other unexploded ordnance, as well as to safely dispose of excess, unsecured, or at-risk weapons and munitions. Since 1993, the United States has delivered more than $2 billion in aid in over 90 countries, making us the world’s single largest financial supporter of Conventional Weapons Destruction programs worldwide.
The United States established the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program in 1993. From this original focus on making the world safer by assisting communities and nations to overcome threats from landmines and other explosive remnants of war, we expanded the program in 2001 to include activities to address the threat from at-risk conventional weapons and munitions.
Our funding supports not only survey and clearance of landmines and unexploded ordnance, but also medical rehabilitation and vocational training for those injured by these devices; community outreach to prevent further injuries; and essential investments in research and development of new life-saving technologies.
Taken together, these efforts can make post-conflict communities safer and set the stage for recovery and development. Our efforts have assisted 15 countries around the world to become free of the humanitarian impact of landmines and have helped to dramatically reduce the world’s annual landmine casualty rate. In the early 1990’s experts estimated approximately 26,000 landmine casualties per year. According to the Landmine Monitor, new reported casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war totaled 4,286 in 2011.
Turning to small arms and light weapons, our program has also supported the destruction of over 1.6 million excess, loosely-secured or otherwise at-risk weapons, and over 90,000 tons of munitions around the world since 2001. In addition, countering the proliferation of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems or MANPADS, is a focus of the program. In the wrong hands, these weapons pose a potentially serious threat to civil aviation. Working closely with a number of key international partners, this effort has resulted in the safe disposal of over 33,000 MANPADS missiles and thousands more launchers in 38 countries since 2003.
Our Conventional Weapons Destruction program has proven to be a modest investment that is saving lives and fostering stability in every region of the world. The program helps countries recover from conflict and create safe, secure environments to rebuild infrastructure, return displaced citizens to their homes and livelihoods, help those injured by these weapons to recover and provide for their families, and promote peace and security by helping establish conditions conducive to stability, nonviolence, and democracy.
As we mark this special anniversary, I invite you to read this new report and learn more about how the generosity of the American people is helping post-conflict communities around the world “to walk the earth in safety.”