James Bond hates your landmines.
This week, the United Nations announced their appointment of actor Daniel Craig as their first Global Advocate for the Elimination of Mines and Explosive Hazards.
“As 007, Mr. Craig had a ‘licence to kill’—today we are giving him a ‘licence to save,’” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, cornily.
“He’s basically going to work towards global action to destroy landmines, and I’m sure it would involve many state parties and action around the world,” a UN spokeswoman told The Daily Beast. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he traveled to the field.”
The field could include, for instance, South Sudan, Afghanistan, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where the UN Mine Action Service operates. By UN estimates, landmines kill upwards of 15,000 people each year around the world, and injure and maim many more.
Craig has dabbled in activism before. (His broader political views can be summarized as, “politicians are shitheads…even the good ones.”) But his commitment to the universal elimination of landmines now puts him at odds with the US government.
Last year, the Obama administration announced its compliance with the 1999 international accord that bans anti-personnel landmines—sort of. “Outside of the unique circumstances of the Korean Peninsula, where we have a longstanding commitment to the defense of our ally South Korea, the United States will not use anti-personnel landmines,” President Obama vowed.
“The department will not use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula; will not assist, encourage, or induce others outside the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity prohibited by the Ottawa Convention; and will undertake steps to begin the destruction of APLs not required for the defense of South Korea,” Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby later emphasized.
Despite the progress, the exception immediately set off alarm bells with advocates. “It’s good that the Obama administration continues to inch toward joining the Mine Ban Treaty, but Korean civilians need protections from these weapons just as much as people in every other country,” Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters. “A geographic exception to the ban is no more acceptable today than when the treaty was negotiated.”
The United States and South Korea have long maintained that mines on the Korean Demilitarized Zone are necessary in preventing potential North Korean aggression. Experts say that millions of mines are in place, and they are systematically replaced by both sides of the conflict.
Some of the civilian death toll comes from the fact that South Korea’s mines can move due to heavy rain and landslides. Many more mines have been hidden in other areas for years, and the military simply does not know where they are. For example, a South Korean farmer fell victim to a landmine while plowing his field in 2013.
“I just can’t imagine what it was like for the parents of those children,” Craig said this week, referring to the people in a mined area in Cambodia. “I think that’s what struck me most, the fear of…unexploded ordnance that’s just littered around after conflict. And what that does to a local population. It stops them being normal, stop them having a normal life, getting on and rebuilding, and getting back their lives again.”