06.24.14

STATEMENT OF SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY ON THE THIRD REVIEW CONFERENCE OF THE MINE BAN TREATY SENATE FLOOR

Mr. LEAHY.  Mr. President, yesterday in Maputo, Mozambique, representatives of many of the 161 countries that have joined the treaty banning the production, stockpiling, export and use of anti-personnel landmines convened the third review conference in the 15 years since the treaty came into force. 

The impact of that treaty, once ridiculed as a naïve dream by many in the U.S. defense establishment, has been extraordinary. 

The vast majority of landmine use and production has stopped, new casualties have dropped significantly, and many countries have cleared the mined areas in their territories.

Of the 35 countries that have not yet joined the treaty, including the United States, almost all abide by its key provisions. 

We can be proud that the United States has been the largest contributor to programs to clear mines and help mine victims.  Those programs have saved countless lives.

But I remember, during the negotiations on the treaty, how officials in the U.S. administration at the time urged, and at times even warned, their counterparts in other governments against joining the treaty. 

They said it was a meaningless gesture that would accomplish nothing. I think they resented that other governments, especially Canada, and nongovernmental organizations from around the world, could achieve something outside the United Nations negotiations process, which had utterly failed to address the problem.

Instead, the treaty has already accomplished more than most people expected, thanks to the extraordinary advocacy of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and three quarters of the world’s governments, many of whose people have suffered from the scourge of landmines.

But the problem is far from solved, and there are still thousands of deaths and injuries from mines each year.

Twenty years ago, in a speech at the United Nations that inspired people around the world, President Clinton called for a global ban on anti-personnel mines.  I was proud of President Clinton for doing that. 

But his administration was out maneuvered by the Pentagon and it failed to join the treaty. 

Then during the 8 years of the Bush administration nothing happened.  In fact, during those years the White House reneged on some of the pledges of the Clinton administration.  

When President Obama was elected, I thought we would finally see the U.S. get on the right side of this issue.  After all, we have fought two long wars without using anti-personnel mines.  All our NATO allies and most of our coalition partners have banned them. 

But that has not happened.

We rightly condemn the Taliban for using victim-activated IEDs which are also banned by the treaty, but we still insist on retaining the right to use anti-personnel mines.   

Eighteen years ago, President Clinton charged the Pentagon to develop alternatives to anti-personnel mines.  Instead, the Pentagon has fought every attempt to get rid of these indiscriminate weapons. 

As I have said many times, no one argues that anti-personnel mines have no military utility.  Any weapon does.  So did poison gas, when it was outlawed a century ago. 

But are we really incapable of renouncing, as our closest allies have, tiny explosives that are the antithesis of precision guided weapons – weapons we rightly have not used during two long wars? 

We talk about the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.  We have seen how civilian casualties can turn a local population against us.  We don’t export anti-personnel landmines.  We don’t use them.  We can drive a robot on mars by remote control, but we cannot solve this?  It begs credulity.    

Mr. President, this is not an abstract issue.  This girl is who I am talking about.  I have met countless people like her.  She was lucky, because she survived.  Many others like her bleed to death. 

I have been to the clinics in poor countries where, instead of soccer balls, they make artificial limbs like these.  What a waste. 

As in the past, the White House points to North Korea.  Who is not concerned about North Korea?  But are we so dependent on anti-personnel mines that we cannot develop war plans for defending South Korea without them?  I reject that, just as former commanders of our forces in Korea rejected it long ago.  

Last week, after a cursory, two minute debate that inaccurately described the landmines in the Korean DMZ as U.S. mines, which they are not, and that inaccurately asserted, based on an erroneous press report, that the White House is about to join the Mine Ban Treaty, which it is not, the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee adopted by voice vote a prohibition on the use of funds to implement the treaty. 

The amendment’s sponsor even claimed that the one thing – the only thing – stopping a North Korean invasion is U.S. anti-personnel mines.

Really?  Did the Pentagon tell him that?  Of course not.  I wonder how many, if any, members of that subcommittee have even read the treaty.

One would think, 61 years after the Korean War, that the Pentagon would not still be arguing that the defense of South Korea depends on tiny, indiscriminate, explosives that would pose a threat to any counter attacking U.S. force.  It really makes you wonder. 

President Obama still has time to put the United States on a path to join the treaty, but time is running out.  It will require some revision of our Korea war plans.  That can be done, over time, in a manner that protects the security of South Korea and of our troops. 

It needs to be done, because without the participation and support of the United States no international treaty can achieve its potential. 

I commend the participants at the Maputo review conference.  I regret the United States is there only as an observer, as it has been since the Ottawa process began 18 years ago.  It is a missed opportunity.

The next review conference is in 2019, the 25th anniversary of President Clinton’s speech. What an anniversary it would be if that next review conference were held in Washington, with the United States attending as a party to the treaty.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that a June 22nd article in the The Boston Globe and a June 23rd article in The New York Times, on this subject be printed in the Record.

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