04.29.14

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Scourge of Landmines

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, I have spoken several times in the past few weeks, and a great many times over the past two decades, about the scourge of landmines. 

These inherently indiscriminate weapons are triggered by the victim, and often it is an innocent civilian who is either killed or horribly maimed. 

Although the United States has not exported, produced, or used anti-personnel mines for more than 20 years, we are not among the 161 nations that have joined the international treaty banning them.  That, to me, is shameful. 

As the world’s only superpower with by far the most powerful military, one would have thought we would set an example of moral leadership.  Instead, we are among those preventing the universalization of the treaty.

This is doubly disappointing, considering that it was President Clinton who, twenty years ago, called for the elimination of anti-personnel mines.  Two years later, in 1996, he said, quote:  “Today I am launching an international effort to ban anti-personnel land mines.” 

Then we had the Bush Administration, which did nothing on the issue.  Now it is the Obama Administration, and nothing has changed.  We still have the Bush Administration’s policy.  So we are still waiting. 

Last week I was in Vietnam, along with Senator Shelby and Senator Crapo, Representative Cooper from Tennessee and Representative Welch from Vermont.  We had conversations with President Sang, the Minister of Defense, and other Vietnamese officials.  We also met with nongovernmental organizations that work to locate and clear landmines and other unexploded ordnance. 

It is costly, dangerous work, and they have been doing it for decades.  At the current rate, considering the millions of landmines and bombs dropped on Vietnam during the war, it is estimated that it will take another 100 years before it is safe to walk in that country without fear of triggering a deadly explosion.

I have met countless people in Vietnam who have been crippled and disfigured by landmines.  Many are children.  Here is a photograph of two Vietnamese men I was with last week.  You can see what landmines do.

Yet they are the lucky ones, because they survived.  They lost their legs, their arms, but at least they were not among the tens of thousands who died from landmines during and long after the war.

In Vietnam, we have used the Leahy War Victims Fund to provide medical care and rehabilitation to thousands of mine victims.  We have also spent many millions of dollars to help get rid of the mines, although as I said earlier, forty years after the war large areas of the country are still littered with mines and bombs.  

Vietnam is only one of dozens of countries whose people have been terrorized by landmines. 

The Department of Defense likes to say that its mines are “smart” because they are designed to deactivate after a finite period of time.  Of course, that is better than mines that remain active for years.  But these mines are as dumb as any other mines, because as long as they are active they are no better at distinguishing between a child and a soldier. 

I have never argued that mines have no military utility.  Every weapon does.  But like chemical weapons or IEDs, that does not justify their use. 

They are the antithesis of a precision weapon.  They do not belong in the arsenal of civilized countries, least of all the United States.

One has to wonder.  If Pennsylvania, or Oklahoma, or Utah, or Georgia, or any other of the fifty states were littered with landmines, killing and maiming innocent Americans, would we tolerate that?  Would we continue to make excuses about needing to preserve these weapons? 

I think we know the answer.  The outcry would be deafening, and the United States would join the treaty as we should have 15 years ago.

Some might ask why this matters, since the United States has not used mines for two decades, even while we fought two long land wars.  That is because the political price of using them – particularly in Afghanistan where more innocent civilians have been killed or injured from landmines than perhaps anywhere else – would have been prohibitive. 

It matters because, like any issue, even when the United States is not part of the problem we need to be part of the solution.  We should set the example.   

I have spoken to President Obama about this.  I know he shares my concern about the toll of innocent lives from landmines.  As a Senator, he cosponsored my legislation.  So did Secretary Hagel.

It is time to finish the job that President Clinton started.  It is time to put the United States on a path to join the treaty.  Only the Commander in Chief can do that. 

 

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