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Military Leaders Oppose Bill Outlawing Anti-personnel Land

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 24, 1997 – Many senior defense leaders past and present oppose a bill outlawing anti-personnel land mines until those who make and supply mines agree to a ban and alternative defense measures are developed.

In an open letter to President Clinton, 24 retired four-star generals urged he "resist all efforts to impose a moratorium on the future use of self-destructing anti-personnel land mines by combat forces of the United States." The generals oppose a proposal sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska to permanently restrict use of defense funds to deploy new anti-personnel land mines starting Jan. 1, 2000.

In the letter, they object because the bill does not differentiate between self-destructing "smart" land mines and nonself-destructing "dumb" ones, which DoD has already outlawed except in Korea. Nonself-destructing mines can last for decades, while self-destructing mines go off after a set period of time, a senior defense official said. Even if they fail to self-destruct, they become inactive when the batteries run out in about 90 days.

The former military leaders said the responsible use of anti-personnel land mines "is not only consistent with the nation's humanitarian responsibilities, it is indispensable to the safety of our troops in many combat and peacekeeping situations." Studies suggest U.S. and allied casualties might increase by as much as 35 percent if self-destructing mines are unavailable, they added.

The July 21 letter was signed by such officers as retired Army Gen. John W. Vessey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; retired Army Gen. Alexander M. Haig Jr., former Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, and secretary of state; and six former Marine Corps commandants.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen opposed the bill in a June 26 letter to Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. The current chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. John M. Shalikashvili and Air Force Gen. Joseph W. Ralston, all the service chiefs and nine unified commanders voiced their opposition to the proposal in a July 10 letter to Thurmond.

While DoD strongly supports limiting the suffering caused by dumb mines, it strongly objects to the proposal to eliminate self-destructive mines, Cohen said. "These munitions, which do not create a permanent hazard, do not contribute to the humanitarian crisis that we all seek to cure," he said, adding self-destructing mines must be excluded from the proposal until adequate alternatives are available.

Such a bill would "unnecessarily endanger U.S. military forces and significantly restrict the ability to conduct combat operations successfully," the chiefs said in their letter. The United States "must retain the use of self-destructing mines in order to minimize the risk to U.S. soldiers and Marines in combat," they said. Anti-personnel mines are a combat multiplier, which greatly enhance U.S. forces' ability to shape the battlefield, protect unit flanks and maximize the effects of other weapons systems, they said.

"Until the United States has a capable replacement for self-destructing anti-personnel land mines, maximum flexibility and warfighting capability for American combat commanders must be preserved. The lives of our sons and daughters should be given the highest priority when deciding whether or not to ban unilaterally the use of self-destructing anti-personnel land mines," their letter stated.

President Clinton called for a global ban on anti-personnel land mines in May 1996. He directed DoD to outlaw the use of nonself-destructing mines and to develop alternatives to using self-destructing mines. In January, Clinton took further measures, permanently banning anti-personnel mine export and transfer and capping existing smart mine stockpiles. Although they do not support provisions of the new proposal, the military chiefs said they support the president's policy, which has started DoD on the road to ending reliance on anti-personnel land mines.

Since the new land mine policy was announced, DoD has destroyed 1.1 million nonself-destructing anti-personnel land mines. The remainder -- almost 2 million -- are to be destroyed by 1999. U.S. forces use nonself-destructing anti-personnel mines only on the Korean Peninsula, where U.S. officials say they're needed until alternative defenses become available or the risk of aggression has been removed.

"The president's policy put us on a very clear course to not only find these alternatives, but to begin the process now of modifying the way we do business in the military, the way we fight wars," a DoD official said. The services are revising doctrine and reviewing war and contingency plans to reflect the policy changes, officials said.

DoD has also begun a research and development program to provide alternatives that will end U.S. reliance on mines. The fiscal 1997 budget allocates $2 billion for this purpose; the fiscal 1998 budget allocates $3 million, and $5 million is allocated in fiscal 1999.

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