About the Author: David McKeeby serves as a Public Affairs Specialist in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.
Estonia, the home to Skype and one of the world's most wired-in nations, is globally renowned for its spirit of technological innovation. In cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense, our Bureau's Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement recently provided an Estonian civilian demining group with a little hi-tech of our own -- cutting-edge mine detection equipment -- allowing our NATO ally to join us in helping protect post-conflict communities from Afghanistan to Georgia by safely clearing landmines and unexploded munitions.
The detector systems we donated are not your father's mine detector, and light years away from what that guy looking for change and lost jewelry on the beach is carrying around. I'm no engineer, but according to the experts, here's the deal: unlike traditional detection devices, which pick up all kinds of false positives from stray bits of metal littering a battlefield, these devices employ multiple sensors to pinpoint unique magnetic anomalies left by buried explosives. In addition, the detectors can be customized to local soil conditions and are linked with software that helps calculate size and depth of hidden explosives. Need to then take that data and map it for your demining team? There's an app for that, too.
After the State Department donated the new detection systems, a team from the U.S. Army's 702nd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company traveled to Estonia to train civilian technicians from the Estonian Northern-Regional Bomb Group team so they can find and safely clear unexploded artillery shells, landmines, and unexploded bombs, saving lives faster than ever.
Estonia has some serious expertise dealing with unexploded ordnance left over from World War II, which was discovered at a significant rate during the former Soviet republic's post-independence construction boom. The United States has shown its support through $3 million in funding for training and equipment like the new detection systems and other tools to help Estonia tackle the problem, as detailed in our annual report, "To Walk the Earth in Safety."
Since then, Estonia has taken this hard-won expertise on the road, using their new skills and equipment to help others, including Georgia after the 2008 conflict with Russia, and in Afghanistan, as a member of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
As in many countries struggling to recover from conflicts, such as Angola, Iraq, Mozambique, Sudan, or Sri Lanka, unexploded ordnance inhibits development, disrupts markets and production, prevents the delivery of goods and services, and generally obstructs reconstruction and stabilization efforts. By removing these deadly hazards, we can enable the socio-economic development needed to further the larger goal of promoting stability and security.
The United States is proud to be the world's single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction programs such as humanitarian demining, and helping other countries such as Estonia seeking to build their own expertise and take a leadership role in solving the problem. Under the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program -- a partnership among the State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention -- the United States has provided over $1.9 billion toward landmine clearance and conventional weapons and munitions destruction in more than 80 countries. Initiatives funded include:
- Mine clearance projects by 63 partner organizations, such as the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and The HALO Trust;
- Mine-risk education to help endangered residents avoid injury by identifying potential hazards;
- Research and development into new demining technologies;
- Training local demining technicians in affected countries; and
- Supporting rehabilitation programs serving those injured by landmines and unexploded munitions.
As Secretary Clinton noted following her January 20 meeting with Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, “Estonians have expanded their role as champions of freedom, security, and humanitarian assistance and prosperity from Georgia and Moldova to Haiti and Gaza.” We are pleased to do our part to encourage this trend, and look forward to working closely together with our Estonian allies to continue building on our shared success for many years to come.