05.18.10

The Way Forward On Anti-Personnel Landmines

As Prepared

Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, earlier today I, along with 67 other Senators, sent a letter to President Obama on an issue that has concerned the Congress since the late 1980s.

Our letter, signed by more than two-thirds of the Senate, commends the President for conducting a comprehensive review of the U.S. Government's policy on antipersonnel mines. That review has been underway for some time, and I expect it will be completed later this summer.

It has involved consultations with the Department of Defense including active and retired U.S. military officers, the Department of State including current and former U.S. diplomats, key military allies, and humanitarian and arms control organizations. The review has examined the historical record, asked rigorous questions, and solicited a wide range of views.

I want to thank the Senators who joined me and Senator Voinovich in signing this letter, which states our belief that through a thorough, deliberative review the administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Ottawa Treaty banning the production, use, transfer and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines, and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible.

The treaty has been signed by 158 countries, including our NATO allies whose troops are fighting with our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, and by every other country in this hemisphere except Cuba.

This issue has a long history, and I do not have time to recount it in detail today. But suffice it to say that 13 years ago the United States missed an opportunity to play a leadership role in the international effort to ban antipersonnel mines, which culminated in the treaty. Although our country declined to join the treaty then, as early as 1994 President Clinton announced to the United Nations General Assembly his support for ridding the world of antipersonnel mines, and a plan to develop alternatives to these weapons with the intent of joining the treaty by 2006.

That date came and went, alternatives were developed, and U.S. troops have fought in two wars without, to the best of our knowledge, using these weapons. In the meantime, most of our closest allies have renounced antipersonnel mines, and their militaries long ago made the necessary doctrinal and technological adjustments to meet their force protection needs in accordance with the requirements of the treaty.

Antipersonnel landmines , which are triggered by the victim, have no place in the arsenal of a modern military. They function like some of the IEDs used by insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq that have caused so many casualties of innocent people, as well as U.S. and coalition forces. Landmines are inherently indiscriminate, and no matter how sophisticated the technology they do not distinguish between a combatant and a civilian. They can be dropped by aircraft or disbursed by artillery by the thousands over wide areas. In today's fast moving battlefield where mobility is a priority, they can pose as much of a danger to our own forces as to the enemy.

Thirteen years ago the Pentagon argued that we should continue to stockpile antipersonnel mines. They said these weapons might be necessary in Korea or in a mechanized war against enemy armor.

But ownership and control of the mines in the Korean DMZ have been transferred to South Korea, and the United States has renounced the use of these types of mines, including in Korea. While there is the possibility that one day we may find ourselves in a conventional war against a major world power, antipersonnel landmines would have little if any utility or relevance in such a war. Rather than our own troops needing these weapons, if our adversary were so lacking in more effective weapons as to use them, our troops would not need antipersonnel mines they would need effective countermine technology.

There have been other arguments made, none of which are persuasive. For example:

Some have asked, after landmines what is the next weapon the Pentagon will be asked to give up? Isn't this a slippery slope for those seeking to ban other types of weapons? This hypothetical question has nothing to do with antipersonnel landmines , which are in a unique category of weapons that are designed to be triggered by the victim.

They are not like bullets or bombs that are aimed or targeted by a soldier. They are inherently indiscriminate, activated by whoever comes into contact with them, whether an enemy soldier, a refugee woman searching for firewood, or a child. Renouncing landmines should have no bearing on U.S. policy toward other weapons.

I have heard it asked how we can ensure that our troops can operate in coalitions with countries that are not parties to the treaty, for example South Korea. The answer is the same way as the NATO countries that have signed the treaty whose troops are fighting in coalition with our forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Why join the treaty when we are in de facto compliance already? What would we gain at this point? First, this question implicitly acknowledges that the United States does not require antipersonnel landmines . We have not used them since 1991, we have not exported them since 1992, we have not produced them since 1997 and the Pentagon has no plan to do so in the future.

It is important to recognize that the United States is not causing the mine problem today, although mines we exported to dozens of countries, or that are left over from past wars involving U.S. forces especially in Southeast Asia, continue to kill and injure civilians.

But most importantly, it would be a mistake to underestimate or devalue the positive reaction, practical effects and depth of goodwill toward the United States and our military that would result from joining the treaty. Other countries know the United States, the world's most powerful nation, needs to be part of multilateral agreements if those agreements are to achieve their goals. And they know the United States needs to be part of the solution to the landmine problem, which means more than conforming our policy to the treaty and it means more than joining the treaty. It means actively using our influence to persuade other counties to join. Countries like India and Pakistan, China and Russia, Israel and Egypt today make the excuse that the United States has not joined, so why should they?

One particularly farfetched notion is that giving up landmines while Russia, China and other potential adversaries keep theirs is at odds with our usual arms control strategy, which seeks to use disarmament agreements as a means of enhancing U.S. security. This makes sense in the context of long-range missiles and nuclear bombs, but antipersonnel landmines ? We have not used these weapons for 19 years, and no one can credibly argue that they are necessary to protect the national security of the United States or that our security is threatened by China's and Russia's antipersonnel landmines which are deployed along their common border.

Today, the United States is the largest contributor to humanitarian demining, a fact I am proud of, and I have been asked if by joining the treaty we would feel less obligated to support it. This question is nonsensical to me. Speaking as the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds these programs, whether or not we are a party to the treaty has nothing to do with our interest and responsibility in helping get rid of the millions of mines and other unexploded ordnance that litter and plague dozens of countries, including allies like Jordan, Afghanistan and Vietnam whose citizens continue to lose their lives and limbs from these hidden killers. Some of those mines and bombs were manufactured here and left behind by U.S. forces decades ago.

Some might ask why bother developing a plan to join the treaty, since the fact that 68 Senators signed a letter supporting it does not guarantee that two-thirds of the Senate will vote to ratify it. It is true that no one can guarantee what the U.S. Senate will do about treaties or anything else. But that is hardly a reason not to join. The fact that more than two-thirds of the Senate today supports such a policy, including 10 Republicans and 2 Independents, should certainly give momentum to doing so, and convey to the President that the treaty would find wide acceptance in the Senate.

Finally, I have heard it suggested that U.S. troops might need antipersonnel mines in Afghanistan. I find it hard to imagine that the United States, which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to get rid of mines left over from past wars in Afghanistan that have killed and injured more civilians than in any other country, at a time when our military leaders are trying to minimize civilian casualties which have caused so many Afghans to turn against us, would use antipersonnel landmines in Afghanistan--a party to the treaty--and risk the public outcry that would result.

We could debate whether the United States should have joined the Ottawa Convention 13 years ago, but there is no point in that. The question today is why not now? Many years have passed and we have seen the benefits of the treaty. The number of antipersonnel mines produced and exported has plummeted, as has the number of victims.

But landmines remain a deadly legacy in many countries, and the world needs the leadership of the United States to help universalize the treaty and put an end to the time when antipersonnel landmines were an acceptable weapon. It will not happen overnight, but it will never happen without U.S. support. As President Obama said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, "I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.'' We are fortunate to have a President, and top leaders at the Pentagon and commanders on the battlefield, who recognize that civilians far too often bear the brunt of war's misery, and who believe that we can and must do more to prevent it. There is no better way to begin implementing that important principle, and working toward that goal, than by joining the Ottawa Treaty.

The United States is by far the world's strongest military power. We also have the moral authority that no other country has and the obligation to use that authority in ways that set an example for the rest of the world. It was 16 years ago that President Clinton embraced the goal of ridding the world of these indiscriminate weapons. The Obama administration's review of U.S. policy can finally turn that goal into reality.

I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the letter sent to President Obama be printed in the Record.

There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:

May 18, 2010

The Honorable Barack Obama,
The White House,
Washington, DC. 20500

DEAR MR. PRESIDENT,

We are writing to convey our strong support for the Administration's decision to conduct a comprehensive review of United States policy on landmines. The Second Review Conference of the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, held last December in Cartagena, Colombia, makes this review particularly timely. It is also consistent with your commitment to reaffirm U.S. leadership in solving global problems and with your remarks in Oslo when you accepted the Nobel Peace Prize: "I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't.''

These indiscriminate weapons are triggered by the victim, and even those that are designed to self-destruct after a period of time (so-called "smart" mines) pose a risk of being triggered by U.S. forces or civilians, such as a farmer working in the fields or a young child. It is our understanding that the United States has not exported anti-personnel mines since 1992, has not produced anti-personnel mines since 1997, and has not used anti-personnel mines since 1991. We are also proud that the United States is the world's largest contributor to humanitarian demining and rehabilitation programs for landmine survivors.

In the ten years since the Convention came into force, 158 nations have signed including the United Kingdom and other ISAF partners, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan which, like Colombia, are parties to the Convention and have suffered thousands of mine casualties. The Convention has led to a dramatic decline in the use, production, and export of anti-personnel mines.

We note that our NATO allies have addressed their force protection needs in accordance with their obligations under the Convention. We are also mindful that anti-personnel mines pose grave dangers to civilians, and that avoiding civilian casualties and the anger and resentment that result has become a key priority in building public support for our mission in Afghanistan. Finally, we are aware that anti-personnel mines in the Korean DMZ are South Korean mines, and that the U.S. has alternative munitions that are not victim-activated.

We believe the Administration's review should include consultations with the Departments of Defense and State as well as retired senior U.S. military officers and diplomats, allies such as Canada and the United Kingdom that played a key role in the negotiations on the Convention, Members of Congress, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and other experts on landmines, humanitarian law and arms control.

We are confident that through a thorough, deliberative review the Administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Convention and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Patrick Leahy, George V. Voinovich,
Richard G. Lugar, John F. Kerry,
Jack Reed, Orrin G. Hatch,
Daniel K. Inouye, Carl Levin,
Olympia J. Snowe, Charles E. Schumer,
Joseph I. Lieberman, Robert F. Bennett,
Jeff Bingaman, Dianne Feinstein,
Susan M. Collins, Ben Nelson,
Max Baucus, Lisa Murkowski,
Judd Gregg, Robert Menendez,
Arlen Specter, Barbara A. Mikulski,
Sheldon Whitehouse, Christopher J. Dodd,
Harry Reid, Sherrod Brown,
Benjamin L. Cardin,
Kent Conrad, Mike Crapo,
Bill Nelson, Richard J. Durbin,
Patty Murray, Ron Wyden,
Blanche L. Lincoln, Byron Dorgan,
Mark Warner, Evan Bayh,
George S. LeMieux, Michael F. Bennet,
Mary L. Landrieu, Russell D. Feingold,
Tim Johnson, Maria Cantwell,
Thomas R. Carper, Herb Kohl,
Kirsten E. Gillibrand, Robert C. Byrd,
Frank R. Lautenberg, Jon Tester,
John D. Rockefeller IV, Edward E. Kaufman,
Daniel K. Akaka, Mark L. Pryor,
Kay R. Hagan, Tom Udall,
Jeanne Shaheen, Claire McCaskill,
Al Franken, Mark Udall,
Jeff Merkley, Debbie Stabenow,
Robert P. Casey, Jr., Mark Begich,
Amy Klobuchar, Tom Harkin,
Barbara Boxer, Roland W. Burris, Bernard Sanders.

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