To Walk the Earth in Safety: Marking 20 Years of Promoting Peace and Security Through U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Programs

Posted by Tom Kelly
September 17, 2013
Children Look at a Sign Warning of Landmine Dangers

This year we celebrate a milestone: 20 years of a U.S.-led, multi-agency 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 the program’s inception in 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. Today’s release of the 12th Edition of our annual report on these efforts, To Walk the Earth in Safety, commemorates this investment in international peace and security.  

This effort began with the establishment of 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 explosive remnants of war, we expanded the program in 2001 to include activities to address the threat from at-risk conventional weapons and munitions, including Man-Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).

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 1990s 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 proliferation of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, also known as man-portable air defense systems or MANPADS, remains a focus.  In the wrong hands, these weapons pose a potentially serious threat to civil aviation, so it’s a serious issue that we have been working intensively over the past decade with the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and several other partners across the U.S. Government.  This concerted interagency effort has resulted in the safe disposal of over 33,000 MANPADS missiles and thousands more launchers in 38 countries since 2003.

This is truly a “whole-of-government” effort. The Department of State is joined by the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Leahy War Victims Fund, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in this coordinated effort.  In addition, numerous private sector partners contribute to the success of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction program. We are also particularly proud of our public-private partnerships initiative in conventional weapons destruction, which presently connects the Department with close to 70 private sector partners.  These partnerships help unite the resources of the private sector with the passion of the non-profit sector, and through the reach of the U.S. Government we are able to make a concrete difference.

Our Conventional Weapons Destruction program has proven 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 how the generosity of the American people is helping post-conflict communities “to walk the earth in safety.”

About the Author: Tom Kelly serves as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs.

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