NEGOTIATING A MINEFIELD
September 16, 1997
Over 100 countries are in the final rounds of negotiating a treaty to ban the use of anti-personnel landmines world wide. The U.S., who just entered the negotiations last month, may sign the final document if certain conditions are met. Following a background report by Charles Krause, Jim Lehrer discusses the treaty with Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and National Security staffer Robert Bell.
JIM LEHRER: Two views of this now from the Clinton administration, Robert Bell, senior director for defense policy at the National Security Council, and from Sen. Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, long involved in anti-landmine efforts. Mr. Bell, how close are you and these other countries to a deal tonight in Oslo?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 16, 1997:
Charles Krause reports on negotiations to ban landmines.
August 7, 1997:
The debate over U.S. involvement in a land mine ban continues.
May 16, 1996:
President Clinton announces his plan to limit the use of land mines.
January 4, 1996:
Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on the use of land mines in Cambodia and elsewhere.
The administration requirements.
ROBERT BELL, National Security Council: I think we're down to the wire on this, Jim. We have identified the three fundamental concerns that your setup piece identified. And there's a very active negotiation going on now on possible ways to meet those concerns, but we don't have an answer yet, and we're going to have to keep working it through the night, and I think in to tomorrow before we see where we are.
JIM LEHRER: If those conditions are not met, the United States will not sign it?
ROBERT BELL: Well, we've been clear from when we announced that we were going to Oslo that we had some fundamental security concerns that had to be addressed adequately. The President touched on that in his remarks today with regard to his responsibilities as commander in chief, not only to protect our men and women but to protect our security commitments around the world in the case of Korea, which is a commitment they were undertaking for the United Nations. We're not saying that our exact wording has to be the only way to do it. We're open to formulations that address those concerns. And there are a lot of formulations that have been in play over the last 24 hours. But at the end of the day, we're saying the underlying concerns have to be adequately addressed.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Leahy, what do you think of what the administration is asking for?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: Well, I think the administration, which came very, very late to the Ottawa Process, and only after nearly a hundred other countries had moved toward it, is probably moving too late now. When they came to Oslo--and I went over to Oslo and met with the delegates there, not only ours but others--the U.S. had almost a "take it or leave it" attitude. Whether that was intended or not, that's the way it came across to the people there. It was a time to try to find ways to work through this.
Now, we're down to the 11th hour, and they're trying to find a way through. Korea was something that was manageable and could have been worked out. The opportunity may well have been lost. But I would hate to think that we're going to use Korea as a fig leaf to keep from joining a landmine treaty that most of the world wants to have. I say a fig leaf because one of the proposals made for Korea would also allow a huge--a huge gap in the landmine treaties all other countries could use all over the world, including the United States.
The Korea question.
JIM LEHRER: How, how could they do it, if there was a specific exemption or correction for Korea?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It doesn't say specifically for Korea.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: It says specifically for the type of weapon that wants to be used--that is an anti-tank weapon that would have near it anti-personnel landmine--defined near it.
JIM LEHRER: We need to explain that. Anti-tank mines are not affected by it; it's only anti-personnel mines. But it's--the U.S. position is that you need anti-personnel mines to protect the anti-tank mines from soldiers who would come in and steal or deactivate the anti-tank mines, correct?
ROBERT BELL: That's not the U.S. position alone. Every modern army in the world depends on devices that are part of their anti-tank munitions systems to protect the anti-tank mine. If you didn't have some protective devices for the anti-tank mine, the enemy could just run up and run off with the anti-tank mine. The problem here is that ours are configured different than our European allies. And the reason they're different is that ours are better. We're smarter. We have better technology. We've learned the lessons of mechanized armor warfare through the Gulf War and beyond. We have very sophisticated devices that are part of our munitions that keep the enemy from quickly dismantling the anti-tank mines. So all that we're asking for in this negotiation is equal treatment. We need to protect our anti-tank mines to the same extent that our allies are protecting theirs because the kind of war that we would fight, if it was in the Gulf against Saddam again, or North Korea, would be against an armored or mechanized adversary.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Let us say, here we are, the most powerful nation history has ever known, and we're telling all these less powerful countries, you give up your landmines but let us keep ours because ours are better. It's no wonder. They don't accept that. We also lose sight of the fact if we're saying that this is simply a matter of how our army marches against their army and so on, that is not just the issue. The fact is the vast majority, well over 90 percent of the victims of landmines, are innocent civilians. And the effort in Oslo and something that the United States may be losing sight of, the effort in Oslo is to bring about a ban on the use of all anti-personnel landmines because it is a child, it's a farmer going to the field, it's somebody walking down to a water hole to get water. They are the ones who are blown up.
JIM LEHRER: Do you not support the idea that anti-personnel mines are needed in order to protect the anti-tank mines?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: We have exceptions for that that could be used. The United States did not want to approach those until the very last minute. It's almost case--we came very reluctantly to the Ottawa Process, reluctantly to Oslo--now that we're there within 24 hours of the time it's supposed to end, we say, wait a minute, having said that we can't yield on anything, we have some new ideas. It makes me wonder just how serious we are. I think if Bob Bell and I and the President were the ones who tried to work out that probably could be done. The fact of the matter is you have enormous reluctance on the part of the Pentagon to give up anything. And I think that's driven the debate.
JIM LEHRER: Is that true?
ROBERT BELL: I've got great respect for Sen. Leahy and he's been a champion in this area throughout, including this clearly remarkable partnership we've had with him on the mining assistance around the world, where the United States is taking the lead. But the Pentagon isn't trying to avoid giving up a weapon here. They have agreed. In the offer that we have on the table in Oslo as we sit here tonight, which would allow us to sign this treaty, if we could win support for it, we would give up all of our anti-personnel landmines on a schedule that's set, including the ones that self-destruct or self-deactivate themselves and are threatening children in Cambodia or Mozambique.
Does the U.S. need a longer transition period?
JIM LEHRER: And over how long a period of time?
ROBERT BELL: What we're asking for is a nine-year transition period. And it's important to understand why.
JIM LEHRER: Ten years, it's in the agreement, right?
ROBERT BELL: But everyone in the treaty has 10 years, and you need 10 years to get all the mines that are in the ground out. That's a hard chore, as your setup piece illustrated. The reason we need nine years, though, Jim--
JIM LEHRER: In addition to the 10.
ROBERT BELL: In addition to the 10--is that we're going to give up our landmines under this treaty, but there are very important countries that are not part of this treaty, at least yet: Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Vietnam, North Korea, Iran, Iraq. Some of these countries are countries that we could conceivably be fighting a war with. So we have to prepare our military to fight in a world in which we don't have landmines, but because the Canadian treaty, at least for now, is not universal, it's not a total ban because it's not universal, we'll be fighting an adversary that keeps its landmines. And we need to get ready for that.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: This is like the argument that we always heard about the Red Army, the Russian Army, how powerful it was, which uses landmines. We saw how powerful they were; and they went into Chechnya. The fact of the matter is the United States is the most powerful nation history has ever known. And we give the impression that we're unwilling to give up landmines when other countries are being asked to give up their landmines. That is the impression. It carries some weight. Now, we've gone about this step by step. We are the first country in the world--and the Pentagon now brags about--to ban the export of landmines. But that was my legislation fought by the Pentagon at the time. It has taken step by step to get this far. I think it can be done. But it's not going to be done if we go to Oslo and tell these other hundred nations do it our way or don't do it any way.
JIM LEHRER: You don't think there's going to be a deal?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I would like to see a deal. I want the United States to be part of this. I don't want to see us outside of it because it allows Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Israel, all these other countries who aren't in there--
JIM LEHRER: You don't think they'll go in if we don't go in?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: To say--well, the United States is not there, why should we go in--I want the United States to be going in there, but I'm very pessimistic.
The impact of the death of Princess Diana.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Bell, Charles Krause alluded to it in his setup piece, but how important has the impetus from, for instance, Diana's efforts and then her death given to this, how important has that been?
ROBERT BELL: I think she had an extraordinary impact in terms of concentrating the attention of the world on the humanitarian goal that we share that Senator Leahy, the President of the United States share. The issue in Oslo, though, is how you strike the right balance between moving towards that goal on the one hand and reconciling that with the President's responsibilities for security commitments and to protect the men and women in uniform around the world today. Our balancing of those two goals takes us on a little slower track, at least one not as quick as the path that many in Oslo are on. But we will get there. So what we're saying to Oslo is isn't it better to have a treaty that has us on board and we all get to a point where we give up our landmines than an incomplete treaty that the United States is not part of. We would rather have us in than out if we have the time we need to get ready for that kind of world.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: What I worry about in that case if it's a treaty that takes 19 years to get there, Bob and I are committed to see landmines gone. But he and I'll be playing shuffleboard in some retirement home in 19 years.
ROBERT BELL: Don't write me off yet, Senator.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I'm 57 years old, but I'm afraid of what's going to happen, is that by that time we may be losing this momentum. The fact is we have an opportunity to move forward. We're not going to have nations like China and Russia in here initially, but with enough nations together the pressure could be insurmountable for them to come.
JIM LEHRER: What's your reading of the Princess Diana pressure on this issue?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I think it is highlighted because she brought a face to the victims. I told her that my feeling was what she did the most of it was to bring the world's press and attention to the victims. And the victims are usually not combatants. They're the child that has its face blown off; they're the woman getting water from the well that's been mined, the people walking down the road. I've seen those all over the world. My wife is a registered nurse. She's gone with me to these hospitals. It's the most gruesome thing you could possibly see.
JIM LEHRER: Has her death made Oslo more of a realistic possibility?
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: I think it has been--talking with the delegates that are there from other countries--I think it--steeled the resolve to go--I mean, it's very easy for every country to find reasons, and the United States does have some legitimate changes they would want; almost every country does but doesn't work. Everybody has a exception. I think that still her death and the world news of it steeled the resolve of a lot of the delegates there to have a real treaty.
JIM LEHRER: Is the administration prepared to take the heat if this thing falls through because of U.S. objections?
ROBERT BELL: Well, we're prepared to answer the fundamental question, which is does the treaty, in addition to meeting the humanitarian goal, meet our security obligations and the President's obligations to our men and women in uniform. At the end of the day that's the barometer about which you're--the yardstick by which you're going to measure the outcome of our negotiation here.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.