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U.S. Seeks Global Land Mine Ban

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 1997 – U.S. officials are calling for a global treaty banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of anti-personnel land mines.

At the opening session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva Jan. 20, U.S. officials initiated negotiations for a worldwide ban. White House spokesman Mike McCurry said the United States hopes the nations of the world will ban the scourge of land mines, which kill, wound or maim more than 25,000 civilians every year.

At a White House press conference Jan. 17, McCurry said President Clinton has pledged to make permanent a 1992 congressionally mandated ban on the export and transfer of U.S. anti-personnel land mines. The president also capped the U.S. stockpile at the current level of several million land mines, White House officials said.

"In terms of the cap, what we're saying as of today is that we're putting a ceiling on the U.S. inventory and guaranteeing permanently never to go above that number while we work through arms control to take the number down to zero," said Robert Bell, National Security Council senior director for defense policy on arms control.

Last May, Clinton announced U.S. plans to seek a worldwide ban. He told the U.N. General Assembly in December, "The world's children deserve to walk the earth in safety." The General Assembly voted in favor of a U.S. resolution urging nations to ban land mines.

Canada has also launched a campaign for an international treaty to be drafted in Ottawa in December. About 50 nations, including Cambodia, Angola and Afghanistan, have joined Canada calling for an immediate ban. While the U.S. supports Canada's efforts, White House officials said they chose to start treaty negotiations at the disarmament conference because it has a proven track record of attaining treaties such as the Chemical Weapons Convention.

After consulting with such key allies as France, Great Britain and Australia, Bell said, U.S. officials decided the best way to achieve the president's goal of a global ban -- not just a ban among some countries, but a ban that reaches the countries causing the problem on different continents around the world -- is to take it to the international disarmament conference.

"We think we can get a land mine agreement out of the disarmament conference, recognizing that it's going to be tough because some of the countries in the conference, like Russia and China, do not appear to be disposed to do this," Bell said. Russia and China have traditionally produced and transferred large numbers of land mines, a senior defense official said.

In June, Defense Secretary William Perry announced initiatives to reduce or eliminate the use of nonself-destructing anti-personnel mines known as "dumb mines." The United States reserves the right to use self-destructing mines, or "smart mines," officials said.

Pentagon officials are reviewing the military's doctrine, tactics and plans to develop alternatives and eliminate reliance on anti-personnel mines, a senior defense official said.

"What we're seeing is a very fundamental shift in the thinking of the Department of Defense about how we defend ourselves," he said. "And as we move forward, we will be working on developing ways in which we don't rely on these systems at all."

Eliminating land mines from U.S. military doctrine means radically changing the way U.S. forces go into combat, the official said. "We're talking about harnessing all of the technological advances we've made, all the things we've learned about mobile warfare for the 21st century ... and then coming up with a highly mobile fighting force that does not use the static land mines," he said.

"In the past, all we had was the nonself-destruct mines to channel forces where we could engage them with artillery or aircraft, ... or slow them down so that we had more time to engage them with other killing mechanisms over a period of time or over a greater distance," he said.

"As we get the higher technologies where we can see further, know earlier, engage at longer ranges, then our requirement to put these somewhat static obstacles and channeling devices goes down. It's the mix of these new killing mechanisms and mix of new intelligence sensors that allow us to decrease our reliance on statically emplaced nonself-destruct minefields."

In June, Perry ordered the destruction of the nonself-destructing anti-personnel mines in DoD's inventory. The services have transferred about 3 million mines to the Army for demilitarization. About 80 percent have been sent to demilitarization facilities and 10 percent are done, a senior defense official said. Mines on ships are being offloaded during routine maintenance cycles; off-loading is scheduled to be done by March 1999.

About a million dumb mines will be retained for use only in Korea, a requirement validated by the theater commander in chief, officials said. "One of the reasons we currently have the Korean exemption is because one of the few places in the world where we are forced to fight in a static defensive position against an enemy who is very close with large forces is Korea," the Pentagon official said.

DoD is also expanding its efforts to find better ways to detect and clear mines and expanding humanitarian demining programs. DoD forces train local national officials overseas to train their forces to clear mines. So far, DoD has trained about 500 trainers around the world. This year's program is expected to train more than 1,200.

DoD training teams are scheduled to work in Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Namibia, Bosnia, Laos, Cambodia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Yemen. Assessments are being done in Guinea-Bissau, Zimbabwe and Angola, officials said.

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