Press Release by the President on Land Mines 1997

THE WHITE HOUSE- Office of the Press Secretary

Af Bill Clinton

Se temaet

[Briefing Room header]

September 17, 1997


Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release September 17, 1997
The Roosevelt Room 12:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I want to talk now 
about what the United States has done and what we will 
continue to do to lead the world toward the elimination of 
antipersonnel land mines.
Every year land mines kill or maim more than 25,000 
people -- children, women, farmers peacefully going about 
their business. That is why, since I called for the global 
elimination of land mines in 1994, the United States has 
been at the forefront of the effort to ban them -- not just in 
words, but in actual, concrete deeds. Eighteen months ago, 
I ordered a ban on the most dangerous types of land mines, 
those that remain active and dangerous long after soldiers 
have left the scene. These are the mines that are causing 
all the damage around the world today. These hidden 
killers prey on innocent civilians. They are responsible for 
the horrific mutilation of children from Angola to Cambodia 
to Bosnia.
In the months since I ordered that ban the United States 
has destroyed 1.5 million of these land mines. By 1999, we 
will have destroyed all the rest in our stockpiles, another 
1.5 million, with the exception of our mines at the 
Demilitarized Zone in Korea, the Cold War's last frontier. 
The United States has also led the world in the effort to 
remove existing land mines, again not with talk, but with 
action that has saved lives. Since 1993, we have devoted 
$153 million to this cause. Our experts have helped to 
remove mines from the ground in 15 nations. They have 
trained and equipped roughly one-quarter of all the people 
who work at this effort around the world. These efforts are 
paying off.
In the areas of Cambodia where we've been active, the 
death rates for land mines has dropped by one-half. In 
Namibia, the casualty rate has fallen 90 percent.
These efforts do not come without real cost and sacrifice. 
The C-141 plane that went down in that terrible collision 
off the coast of Africa on Monday, in which nine Air Force 
crew members were lost, had just carried a unit of special 
forces de-mining experts to Namibia.
Last month I instructed a U.S. team to join negotiations 
then underway in Oslo to ban all antipersonnel land mines. 
Our negotiators worked tirelessly to reach an agreement 
we could sign.
Unfortunately, as it is now drafted, I cannot in good 
conscience add America's name to that treaty. So let me 
explain why.
Our nation has unique responsibilities for preserving 
security and defending peace and freedom around the 
globe. Millions of people from Bosnia to Haiti, Korea to the 
Persian Gulf are safer as a result. And so is every American. 
The men and women who carry out that responsibility wear 
our uniform with pride, and, as we learned in the last few 
days, at no small risk to themselves. They wear it secure in 
the knowledge, however, that we will always, always do 
everything we can to protect our own. As Commander-in-
Chief, I will not send our soldiers to defend the freedom of 
our people and the freedom of others without doing 
everything we can to make them as secure as possible. For 
that reason, the United States insisted that two provisions 
be included in the treaty negotiated at Oslo. First, we 
needed an adequate transition period to phase out the 
antipersonnel mines we know use to protect our troops, 
giving us time to devise alternative technologies. Second, 
we needed to preserve the antitank mines we rely upon to 
slow down an enemy's armor defensive in a battle 
situation. These two requests are not abstract 
They reflect the very dangerous reality we face on the 
ground as a result of our global responsibilities. Take the 
Korean Peninsula.
There, our 37,000 troops and their South Korean allies face 
an army of one million North Koreans only 27 miles away 
from Seoul, Korea.
They serve there, our troops do, in the name and under the 
direct mandate of the international community. In the 
event of an attack, the North's overwhelming numerical 
advantage can only be countered if we can slow down its 
advance, call in reinforcements and organize our defense. 
Our antipersonnel mines there are a key part of our defense 
line in Korea. They are deployed along a DMZ where there 
are no villages and no civilians. Therefore, they, too, are 
not creating the problem we are trying to address in the 
We also need antitank mines there to deter or stop an 
armored assault against our troops, the kind of attack our 
adversaries would be most likely to launch. These antitank 
mines self- destruct or deactivate themselves when the 
battle is over, and therefore, they pose little risk to 
civilians. We will continue to seek to deter a war that would 
cost countless lives. But no one should expect our people to 
expose our Armed Forces to unacceptable risks. Now, we 
were not able to gain sufficient support for these two 
requests. The final treaty failed to include a transition 
period during which we could safely phase out our 
antipersonnel land mines, including in Korea. And the 
treaty would have banned the antitank mines our troops 
rely on from the outskirts of Seoul to the desert border of 
Iraq and Kuwait -- and this, in spite of the fact that other 
nations' antitank systems are explicitly permitted under the 
treaty. We went the extra mile and beyond to sign this 
And again, I want to thank Secretary Cohen and General 
Shalikashvili and especially I'd like to thank General 
Ralston for the enormous effort that was made and the 
changes in positions and the modifications in positions that 
the Joint Chiefs made, not once, but three times, to try to 
move our country closer to other countries so that in good 
faith we could sign this treaty. But there is a line that I 
simply cannot cross, and that line is the safety and security 
of our men and women in uniform.
America will continue to lead in ending the use of all 
antipersonnel mines. The offer we made at Oslo remains on 
the table. We stand ready to sign a treaty that meets our 
fundamental and unique security requirements. With an 
adequate transition period to a world free of antipersonnel 
land mines, this goal is within reach. As further evidence of 
our commitment, I am announcing today a series of steps 
America will take on its own to advance our efforts to rid 
the world of land mine. First, I'm directing the Department 
of Defense to develop alternatives to antipersonnel land 
mines so that by the year 2003 we can end even the use of 
self- destruct land mines -- that is, those, again, that are 
not causing the problem today because they destroy 
themselves on their own after a short period of time. We 
want to end even the use of these land mines, everywhere 
but Korea. As for Korea, my directive calls for alternatives 
to be ready by 2006, the time period for which we were 
negotiating in Oslo.
By setting these deadlines, we will speed the development 
of new technologies that I asked the Pentagon to start 
working on last year.
In short, this program will eliminate all antipersonnel land 
mines from America's arsenal. Second, former Chairman of 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff, David Jones, has agreed to be a 
personal advisor to me and to Secretary Cohen to help us 
make sure the job gets done. Throughout his career he has 
demonstrated a concern for the safety of our troops second 
to none, and in recent years he's been a powerful, eloquent 
voice for banning land mines. There's no better man for the 
task, and I thank him for accepting it. Third, we will 
significantly increase our de-mining programs. No nation 
devotes more expertise or resources to the problem than 
we do today. Next year, we currently plan to provide $68 
million for worldwide de-mining efforts -- almost as much 
as the rest of the world combined. We will begin de-mining 
work in as many as eight new countries, including Chad, 
Zimbabwe, and Lebanon. But we can, and will, do more. I 
am proposing that we increase funding for de- mining by 
about 25 percent beginning next year. We must improve 
our research and development to find new ways to detect, 
remove and dispose of these land mines. We must increase 
assistance to land mine victims to help them heal and take 
their place as productive members of their societies. And 
we must expand our training programs so that nations that 
are plagued by land mines can themselves do more to clear 
away these deadly devices. Every mine removed from the 
ground is another child potentially saved. Fourth, we will 
redouble our efforts to establish serious negotiations for a 
global antipersonnel land mine ban in the Conference on 
Disarmament in Geneva. We will begin by seeking an 
export ban next year, and one that applies to the major 
land mine producers, the people who themselves caused 
this problems because they're making and selling these 
land mines -- none of them were present in Oslo -- in the 
end, we have to get them on board, as well. I am 
determined to work closely with the Congress, with 
Senator Leahy, Senator Hagel and others, to implement this 
package, because, I think together we can take another 
step in the elimination of land mines that will be decisive. 
In that connection, let me say, I had a brief visit with 
Senator Leahy today, and I think that there's no way I can 
say enough about what he has done. He has -- he is a 
genuine worldwide leader in this effort. He has been 
recognized around the world. He has worked with us very 
closely. And I thank him, and I'm confident that we can do 
more by working together. I believe, and I think everyone 
in the United States, and everyone leading the Pentagon 
believes that every man, woman and child in this world 
should be able to walk the Earth in safety; that we should 
do everything we can to guarantee this right, and we can 
do it while preserving our own ability to secure the safety 
of our troops as they protect freedom around the world. 
These steps will make a major dent. We are working hard 
and we intend to keep going until the job is done. Q Does 
that mean the U.S. will not be represented at Ottawa? And 
how much threat is there of a famine-stricken North Korea 
being able to invade South Korea at this -- I mean, aren't 
they starving to death?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, we've done everything 
we could to prevent them from starving to death, you 
I've strongly supported humanitarian food aid to the North 
But, frankly, it depends on how you read the risk. I mean, 
the tension between the two Koreas is still there. They 
have a million troops there. And my elemental experience 
in human psychology, and I think a lot of our experts in 
military strategies agree that sometimes people are most 
dangerous when they feel most threatened and most 
helpless, most frustrated. So I would just say to you, the 
fact that they have had some food problems does not in any 
way, in my mind, mitigate the risk. And anybody who's ever 
been to the DMZ and who has ever driven from Seoul to the 
DMZ and seen how short it is and has seen a million -- you 
know, the numbers of troops there, and you see our people 
up there in those outposts and how few they are -- and 
again I say, these mines are put along the DMZ in clearly 
marked areas to make sure that no children will walk 
across them. There is no place like it in the world. And let 
me also say, this is not a unilateral, American presence 
there. We are there under an armistice agreement that 
proceeded from the authority of the United Nations to 
conduct the Korean War in the first place, and then to have 
the armistice. We are there fulfilling the worldwide 
community's responsibility to preserve the peace and 
safety there. And it's very easy if you're not one of those 
Americans in uniform up there, saying, oh, well, this will 
never happen, they'll never do it. But you could move a 
million people into Seoul pretty quickly. And no one I know 
believes that under present circumstances, with the 
hostilities that still exist between the two countries, that 
we could do anything to stop that if we didn't have the 
strong deterrent of the land mines that are in that very 
carefully-marked field there. Q Sir, does it pain you to be in 
the company of Russia and China, Iran, Iraq -- other 
countries that won't be signing in Ottawa?
THE PRESIDENT: No, we're not in their company. It pains 
me that for whatever reason -- and I understand -- I have a 
lot of sympathy with a lot of these countries in Ottawa, that 
were in Oslo. I have a lot of sympathy with the countries 
that have, themselves, had a lot of people killed from land 
mines. But the argument that I have tried to make to them 
is that what we really have to do -- we will never solve this 
problem until we get the producers, the people that are 
making these land mines to stop making them, stop selling 
them, and stop using them. That's what we have to do. And 
I believe the United States is in a better position to work 
with the rest of the world to get that done than nearly any 
other country. But I don't feel that I'm in their company at 
all. We unilaterally stopped producing, stopped selling, 
stopped using these land mines. We have unilaterally 
destroyed 1.5 million of them. I imagine that no country in 
Oslo can make that claim. We're going to destroy another 
1.5 million by 1999. I doubt that any country in Oslo can 
make that claim. We have done everything we could. We 
have even said we are going to unilaterally give up our self-
destruct land mines that do not -- as far as I know, have 
not killed a single civilian or maimed a single child 
anywhere in the world. And thousands of them have been 
tested. They all self-destructed when they were supposed 
to, except one that was an hour late.
So we are not in their company. I wish we could sign the 
Oslo agreement. I understand the difficulties of the 
countries involved and the emotional feelings surrounding 
this issue. But we have to have some time to deal with our 
challenge in Korea, and our antitank mines, we believe, are 
more effective than other countries' are, and there is an 
explicit exception for antitank mines that is written in such 
a way that doesn't cover ours. And I could never agree not 
to have antitank weapons, given the kinds of combat that 
our people are likely to be in, in any kind of projected 
scenario, over the next 20 to 30 years. I couldn't do it. We 
have to have some resolution of that. It would just be -- 
that would be completely irresponsible for me to let our 
people be in combat situations without an antitank device 
that I thought was the most effective available. Q Have you 
asked Congress to stay in session in order to pass tobacco 
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say, what I will ask 
Congress to do is to get into this now, bring all the parties 
together, have hearings as quickly as possible and move as 
quickly as possible. I think the most important thing is that 
we make it clear that this process is not dead, it's taken 
new life, it's gone on to a new step. Congress has to resolve 
all these jurisdictional questions -- how many committees 
in the House, how many committees in the Senate, who 
does what. But I'm going to work with them. I hope to give 
new life, a new impetus to this by the announcement I 
made today, and I think we did. Q Sir, you have the 
Secretary of State with you.
What do you think of the next steps for the Middle East 
peace process and what impact will that have on your 
remarks to the UN on Monday?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think she did a superb 
job in the Middle East with a very difficult circumstance.
And I have nothing -- I could sit here until midnight and 
not give a better synopsis than the one line she used in the 
Middle East where she said, "The good news is we made 
some small steps, but we need to take big steps." And that 
is my -- that Secretary Albright distilled in that one phrase 
where I think we are. But Mr. Berger and the Secretary and 
all of us, we're putting our heads together, we're going to 
do everything we can to keep pushing this. And I have seen 
some encouraging signs in the last couple of days that all 
the parties realize that they have special responsibilities to 
get this thing back on track. And we're going to look at our 
options and do everything we can. But I also say what I've 
said from the beginning -- if you look at all the good things 
that happened early on in my administration in the Middle 
East, the United States facilitated them, but did not create 
them. In the end, the peace is for the parties there to 
make, and they have to have the vision and the courage 
and the strength to do it. But we're going to do everything 
we can to try to create the conditions in which they can 
succeed and to try to protect them from the down sides if 
they do take risks for peace. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:45 P.M. EDT

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