LAND MINE POLICY
MAY 16, 1996
The President unveiled his proposals on land mines at the White House this afternoon. They follow months of discussion inside the administration, Congress, and international organizations. But they are unlikely to resolve the debate about the highly controversial weapons. Kwame Holman reports.
MR. HOLMAN: Land mines have been considered the most serious threat to the U.S. peace force in Bosnia. But here, as in war zones around the world, the primary victims of mines end up being civilians. These silent weapons are a daily specter. A mis-step can mean a lost limb or life. Today President Clinton made the long-awaited announcement of U.S. policy on land mines into the next century.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: To end this carnage, the United States will seek a worldwide agreement as soon as possible to end the use of all anti-personnel land mines. The United States will lead a global effort to eliminate these terrible weapons and stop the enormous loss of human life.
MR. HOLMAN: The President ordered the Pentagon immediately to stop using so-called "dumb" mines, which don't automatically disarm themselves. The ban would apply everywhere, except in troop training and deployment in Korea. Even while explaining why the U.S. was not going to stop using mines, the President promised to open negotiations toward global elimination of all mines. An estimated 85 million mines lie in wait in 62 countries, and some 2,000 people are maimed or killed by land mines each month. Besides Bosnia and Croatia, the most heavily mined countries are Afghanistan, Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia. The reason for the widespread use is simple: Land mines are cheap. At about $3 apiece, they are a brutally cost-effective way for poorly-financed armies and militias to fight a war. But getting rid of mines is not cheap. According to the United Nations, 80,000 mines were moved last year at a cost of three hundred to one thousand dollars apiece. In the same time period, some 2.5 million more were planted. The human cost is enormous. Here in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge and government troops riddled the country with mines during their long civil war. One out of every two hundred thirty-six people here has been wounded by a mine.
SPOKESMAN: If you move off a hard surface, a hard-formed road, you must assume that the area is mined.
MR. HOLMAN: Mine removal in Cambodia, like everywhere, has gone slowly. Most of these Chinese-made mines contain few metal parts, making them very difficult to detect. The removal is painstaking work, as the U.N. peacekeepers learned in a training session three years ago.
SPOKESMAN: The price for rushing the job is the loss of a limb or death.
MR. HOLMAN: In Cambodia, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation runs a prosthetic clinic for mine victims. And in the United States, the foundation has joined other non-governmental organizations in a vigorous campaign to ban anti-personnel mines altogether. The United States adopted a temporary moratorium on exporting land mines three years ago. Twenty-seven countries, including Belgium, Italy, and Russia, all major exporters, have followed suit. In a 1994 speech to the United Nations, President Clinton first called for the eventual elimination of land mines.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I ask all nations to join with us and conclude an agreement to reduce the number and availability of those mines.
MR. HOLMAN: Last Fall, the U.N. General Assembly unanimously agreed on a non-binding resolution calling for the eventual eradication of anti-personnel mines. In February, President Clinton signed into law a bill sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. It imposed a one-year moratorium on the use of land mines by the American military. But in Congress and around the country, pressure has built for a total ban on land mines. In April, 15 retired generals and admirals, including Army General Norman Schwarkopf, U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf, and Air Force General David Jones, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent President Clinton an open letter calling for a land mine ban. Printed as a full page ad in the "New York Times," it stated, "Given the wide range of weaponry available to military forces today, anti-personnel land mines are not essential." But today, after numerous talks with top Pentagon officials, President Clinton decided to go in a different direction.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Just as the world has a responsibility to see to it that a child in Cambodia can walk to school in safety, as commander in chief, my responsibility is also to safeguard the safety, the lives of our men and women in uniform. 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 protect our rights to use the mines there. We will do so until the threat has ended, or until alternatives to land mines become available. Until an international ban takes effect, the United States will reserve the right to use so-called "smart" mines, or self-destructing mines, as necessary, because there may be battlefield situations in which these will save the lives of our soldiers.
MR. HOLMAN: Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who has led calls on Capitol Hill for a complete ban on land mine use, said the President's decision was a failure of U.S. leadership in the world.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) Vermont: The administration today is announcing a policy which is not a step forward but a step backward. I'm concerned about that. The fight to ban land mines will continue, but I'm afraid that instead of the most powerful nation on earth, the United States, leading that fight, we're going to have to step off the field and allow Canada, Germany, Australia, Belgium, and other countries that have done away with use of land mines to lead the fight for a permanent international ban.
MR. HOLMAN: And if critics of the land mine policy announced today are looking for help from the upcoming Presidential campaign, they're likely to be disappointed. Both Bob Dole and his wife, Elizabeth, chairman of the American Red Cross, support the Clinton approach to an eventual global ban on land mines.