Albion Monitor /News

Clinton Blasted on Landmines Decision

by Jim Lobe

and related article in this topic
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- The decision by President Bill Clinton not to sign an international ban on anti-personal land mines September 17 drew heavy fire from political opponents and disarmament activists.

Despite Clinton's announcement of new steps to reduce U.S. reliance on anti-personnel mines in Korea and elsewhere, activist groups and lawmakers vowed to intensify their campaign to force Clinton to sign the new treaty when it is formally introduced at a conference in Ottawa in December.

"More than 60 members of the United States Senate -- Republicans and Democrats, including every veteran of combat in the Vietnam War -- have sponsored legislation to ban anti-personnel landmines," declared Sen. Patrick Leahy, who has led the anti-mine campaign in the U.S. Congress.

"U.S. policy on landmines has largely arisen from Congress, not the White House, and we will now move forward with our legislation to ban anti-personnel landmines," Leahy said.

Clinton wants Korean landmines to stay
Anti-personnel landmines are estimated to kill or maim some 26,000 people each year. The fact that virtually all of the victims are civilians has fuelled the global campaign to abolish them.

Clinton himself made the announcement at a brief press appearance at the White House this afternoon that Washington, which only joined the year-long treaty negotiation process last month, will not sign the treaty.

He said the treaty failed to include two exemptions sought by the Pentagon. The first was a 19-year transition period during which landmines laid along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Korea would be permitted to remain in the ground while the U.S. military devised alternatives.

He also wanted the treaty to exempt self-destructing anti-personnel mines that are laid to protect anti-tank landmines. These "mixed" systems, he said, "pose little risk to civilians."

The U.S. offer to sign the treaty if it includes these exemptions, he added, "remains on the table." But, he went on, "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."

Evidently worried about the public reaction to his refusal to sign the agreement, Clinton also announced several new steps "to advance our efforts to rid the world of land mines," a goal to which he first committed himself in 1994.

He said he was directing the Pentagon "to develop alternatives to anti-personnel land mines, so that by the year 2003 we can end even the use of self-destruct land mines." The only exception to the order would be Korea, he said, where the goal for a phase-out of these hi-tech weapons would be 2006.

In addition, he pledged to increase U.S. aid for de-mining programs in civil war-devastated countries, such as Angola, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Mozambique by 25 percent. Washington had already earmarked $68 million for de-mining programs next year, which he said was "as much as the rest of the world combined."

Finally, he said Washington will "redouble" its efforts at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva where negotiations for an anti-personnel land mine ban have been stymied by opposition from Russia, China, India, Libya, and several other countries, as well as the consensus rules which apply in those U.N.-sponsored talks.

Army apparently objected to an as-yet unreleased Pentagon study that details how U.S. could repel North Korea without using land mines
But ban activists heaped scorn on Clinton's new initiatives.

"The rhetoric is attractive, but rhetoric is not enough," said Bobby Muller, director of the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, a leader in the anti-mine movement here. "The president is asking us to trust him on landmines, but he has passed up every opportunity to make a firm commitment on this issue."

Caleb Rossiter, director of the anti-mine Demilitarization for Democracy research group, also denounced Clinton's latest moves. The directive to develop substitutes for anti-personnel mines appeared to exclude the self-destructing anti-personnel mines that are used to protect anti-tank mines, which are the Pentagon's top priority.

"As the world's premier military power, we already have the technological means to find and slow enemy forces without anti-personnel landmines," he said, citing the use of drone aircraft, satellites, ground sensors, and, in the case of Korea, infantry that are already poised to repel any North Korean push across the DMZ.

Like other anti-mine activists, Rossiter accused Clinton of caving into the Pentagon, and especially the Army, which apparently formally objected to an as-yet unreleased Pentagon study that details how U.S. forces could repel a North Korean assault without using land mines.

"That report will never see the light of day now," he told IPS.

Former Clinton advisor George Stephanopoulas took a similar line earlier this week. He wrote in Newsweek magazine that Clinton was surrendering to the military and that the argument of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was flawed in wanting to keep land mines to "minimize the risk to U.S. soldiers and marines in combat."

"Clinton should side with the bipartisan congressional majorities and the 100 nations that favor a ban," Stephanopoulas wrote.

"I am convinced that President Clinton wants to see these weapons banned," Leahy said today. He noted that in the 1920s the military opposed a ban on poison gas, which it called "one of the most effective weapons ever known."

"It is the job of our civilian leaders to act when there are overriding humanitarian concerns," Leahy said.

On the other side, Sen. Jesse Helms, the far-right chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Clinton had already given up too much to treaty supporters in Oslo and should now withdraw from that process.

"The absence from the negotiating table of countries such as Russia, China, Iran, India, and Vietnam suggests that any treaty produced in Oslo will do little to end the indiscriminate carnage and devastation caused by anti-personnel land mines," Helms said.

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Albion Monitor September 22, 1997 (

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