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.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Landmines maim or kill an estimated 26,000 people each year, many of them children. In countries like Bosnia, Croatia, and throughout Southeast Asia, children playing in fields that are or were once battlegrounds often step on the mines or mistake them for toys and try to pick them up.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 16, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a debate on the U.S.'s role in landmine negotiations.
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.
100 million mines in 70 countries.
Today, it's believed that as many as 100 million anti-personnel landmines may be hidden in the soil, waiting to kill soldiers and unsuspecting civilians in as many as 70 countries. Landmines have been called the "atom bomb of the poor" because they're so cheap. At about $3 apiece they're a cost-effective way for poorly-financed armies and militias to fight a war. But removing these landmines is not cheap.
According to the United Nations, it costs between $300 and $1000 to remove each device. And the process is painstakingly slow. The United States no longer sells landmines to other countries and says it's committed to destroying millions of stockpiled mines that are outmoded. In a 1994 speech to the United Nations, President Clinton first called for the eventual elimination of landmines.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I ask all nations to join with us and conclude an agreement to reduce the number and availability of those mines. Ridding the world of those often hidden weapons will help to save the lives of tens of thousands of men and women and innocent children in the years to come.
CHARLES KRAUSE: But since the President's U.N. speech, the U.S. has insisted on an exemption for landmines near the demilitarized zone on the Korean Peninsula, where nearly 35,000 American soldiers are stationed.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because of the continued and unique threat of aggression in the Korean Peninsula, I have therefore decided that in any negotiations on a ban, the United States will and must protest our rights to use the mines there. We will do so until the threat is end or until alternatives to landmines become available.
CHARLES KRAUSE: It was only last month that the Clinton administration decided to join Canadian-backed mines negotiations to ban all landmines. Called the Ottawa Process, those negotiations to ban the use, export, transfer, and production of anti-personnel landmines, are currently in their round this week in Oslo, Norway.
This summer the anti-landmines campaign gained new momentum and new publicity when Britain's Princess Diana joined the effort. She visited Bosnia last month. And was in Angola earlier in the summer, where she embraced victims of landmines and detonated a mine herself.
PRINCESS DIANA: I visited some of the mine victims who had survived and saw their injuries. I'm not going to describe them because, in my experience, it turns too many people away from the subject. Suffice to say, that when you look at the mangled bodies of some of the children caught by these mines, you marvel at their survival.
CHARLES KRAUSE: Diana's death and the desire by many to memorialize her work has focused even more attention on the issue over the past several weeks. Indeed, administration officials told reporters that Diana's death had created a new push to eliminate the weapons.
Setting the conditions.
Yesterday, the State Department announced the U.S. would sign the Oslo Treaty if certain conditions were met: First, that the U.S. can withdraw from the treaty with six months' notice if it's a victim of aggression; second, that it can use anti-personnel landmines to protect anti-tank mines, which are not prohibited under the draft treaty; and third, that there be a nine-year delay in removing existing mines from Korea added to the ten years which the treaty already allows. Today, President Clinton met with reporters and defended the administration's decision.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: We have not taken a backseat to anyone, but we have to make sure that our fundamental responsibilities to the United Nations for Korea and to our own troops in terms of anti-tank mines, which are legal under this treaty, can be maintained. And we're working on it. The United States would like to be a signatory to this agreement. But I have to be sure that we can fulfill our responsibilities and protect our troops.
CHARLES KRAUSE: And in Oslo, the administration won a 24-hour postponement of the deadline for completing the treaty, giving U.S. negotiators time to persuade other nations to accept the American position. But anti-landmine advocates called the U.S. proposal an effort to gut the treaty, which is expected to be signed by more than 100 nations, with or without the United States in December.