"President Obama's decision to cling to antipersonnel mines keeps the U.S. on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity," Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch, said in a released statement.
The international campaign against land mine use drew attention in part thanks to the efforts of Princess Diana of Wales, who died in 1997. Since its introduction in December of that year, 158 countries have signed on to the Mine Ban Treaty, including all but two Western Hemisphere countries and all but one NATO member.
The United States remains among the prominent holdouts, alongside China, India, Iran and Russia. The only other holdout in the Americas is Cuba.
Although the U.S. ended its production of land mines by 1997 and vowed to eventually sign the treaty, Mr. Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, declined to sign onto the treaty. The Obama administration held a review of U.S. policy on land mines before announcing that he would stick with the current position.
"We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said at a press briefing yesterday.
Critics slammed the policy review, noting that both Afghanistan and Iraq are signatories to the treaty, which prevents the U.S. from using land mines on their soil.
"This was a stealth review, conducted in complete secrecy," Goose said. "We can only conclude that this was very hasty and cursory. It's a black eye for an administration that supposedly prides itself on transparency."
The administration's rejection of the treaty was also criticized within Mr. Obama's party.
"This is a default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt, in a statement. "The United States is the most powerful nation on earth. We don't need these weapons and most of our allies have long ago abandoned them."
The announcement comes a week before an international conference on the Mine Ban Treaty, to be held in Cartagena, Colombia from Nov. 29 to Dec. 4. The U.S. will attend the event as an observer, the first time it has officially participated in a formal Mine Ban Treaty meeting.