THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate ReleasePRESS BRIEFING
September 17, 1997
ROBERT BELL, SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT
AND SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR DEFENSE POLICY AND ARMS CONTROL,
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL
The Briefing Room
2:38 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: And now act two in our never-ending
briefing. I want to thank Secretary Shalala and Bruce Reed for
helping on the President's announcement concerning tobacco today.
And I now have Bob Bell, who is the Special Assistant to the
President and Senior Director for Defense Policy and Arms Control
with the National Security Council, who can help you through the
President's announcement on land mines.
Q: On land mines, one part of the President's
statement would indicate that by 2006 the United States unilaterally
will abandon use of all land mines, but in another part of the
statement he still refers to a 20- or 30-year extension for land
mines associated with antitank mines. Can you clarify how absolute
the unilateral ban on United States land mines, in effect, is under
the President's Directive?
MR. MCCURRY: This and more. Mr. Robert Bell.
MR. BELL: I will, because it is totally comprehensive.
But why don't I just run through a few points and then start with you
as the first question if I haven't explained it to your satisfaction
by the time I finish. and I'll promise to be short.
Throughout the three-week negotiation in Oslo, the
United States demonstrated considerable flexibility and a good-faith
effort to find common ground with the other conference participants.
We came to the negotiations seeking five improvements in the treaty
to address fundamental underlying U.S. security concerns, five improvements
that, had they been accepted, would have allowed us to sign the treaty.
In each case, in each of these five instances, we
responded with flexibility. And in each case, we considered many
alternative formulations, particularly in the last two or three days
of the negotiations. We never said, "this wording is it, take it or
leave it." It was a very dynamic negotiation through and past the
Let me just run through each of those five then. First
was verification. We said that we needed to get improvements in the
text to have a better verification regime in this treaty. After all,
it's a treaty that will require a two-thirds vote of approval from a
very conservative United States Senate on arms control matters. And,
in fact, we succeeded. The treaty that was negotiated in Oslo does
have an improved verification regime, including much more detailed
information on data exchanges and fact finding teams that could go
verify compliance. So that was a success story.
Second, we sought in our original proposal a specific
exemption to deal with Korea; an exemption for which there would have
been no time limit in the treaty, per se. And in the counteroffer
that we made, the package close-out proposal over the last weekend,
we made a major change in that position. We said that we could
accept a nine-year deadline for solving the problem in Korea.
Third is the issue of the right of withdrawal from the
treaty, and I think there's been a lot of confusion on that point. The
Ottawa treaty will have a withdrawal clause. That had been agreed and we supported it. A state can serve six months notice under this treaty and withdrawal for any reason -- that's there. But there was another provision which we found exceedingly odd. It was a paragraph that said, however, you may not withdraw if you're involved in a conflict. Now, it seemed to us that that's precisely when you might need it most.
And, furthermore, our review of recent arms control
history -- whether it's the Chemical Weapons Treaty, the CTB, the
NPT, the Start treaties, whatever -- 20 of the last 20 arms control
treaties that we've been part of have withdrawal clauses that are not
restricted in time of war.
So we sought to delete that restriction on a state's
right to withdraw, and the conference would not move. So over the
weekend we proposed a compromise, which was to say, all right, let
that stand, but if you're in a conflict and you're the victim of
aggression as defined under the United Nation's Charter, the
restriction wouldn't apply and you could withdraw. That seemed to us
to be fundamentally consistent with a state's inherent right to
self-defense under international law.
That met resistance. I don't know if we could have
solved that if everything else had been resolved, but, personally, I
think we might have.
The fourth issue was transition period. And it's
important to remember why we felt we needed a transition period.
Point one is you can't turn a supertanker on a dime. We have been
going in a certain direction with our defense posture for a long time
-- with great success, I might add, as demonstrated in the Gulf War.
And we rely on land mines, at least have up to now. And so to do something different, we needed to field alternatives to get a comparable military capability. And our best estimate was that that meant about nine years.
But it's also important to realize why we needed to get
a comparable capability, and that is because while the Ottowa treaty
is a great accomplishment, it's only a partial solution. There are
many, many very important states in relation to this world land mines
catastrophe that are not part of this treaty, or at least don't
appear to be willing to join it -- Russia, China, India, Pakistan,
Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Vietnam, Israel, just to name a few. So we
faced the reality that we would have to prepare to operate with our
military forces in a world in which we would not have land mines and
many important states would. We felt we needed a transition period
to get ready for that. And we went to the conference and proposed
nine years from when the treaty enters into force. Now, to enter
into force this treaty has to get 40 ratifications and then six
months pass. So I would guess somewhere around the year 2000 it went
At the conference we received a counterproposal for a
nine-year transition period that would start upon signature this
December. And we made the hard decision to say yes to that, even
though it meant we had two years less than we thought we needed
originally to get ready for this kind of world.
Unfortunately, that counteroffer, even though we
accepted it, failed to win majority support at the conference. The
people that presented it to us hoped they could win support. We
accepted it. They came back and reported, I think with great
disappointment, that they could not deliver. Some states thought it
was too long; other states thought it was too unqualified; some
states wanted to restrict it just to Korea; some states wanted to
restrict it in various kinds of conflict. So we didn't have
agreement on that.
And then, fifth, the fifth issue is the one that the
President elaborated on at some length in his remarks, and that was
our simple insistence that a treaty designed to ban antipersonnel
land mines not end up banning our principal antitank mines.
It's important to realize that when the states got to
Oslo they were not starting with a blank slate. They had been
working on this treaty for almost a year, certainly the last six
months in earnest. And our European allies had already gotten into
the treaty text an exemption -- there has been a lot of talk about
U.S. exemptions -- there was an exemption in the treaty when we got
to Oslo, an exemption for explosive devices that are designed to kill
or injure people who try to disturb or remove an antitank mine.
Those of you who are military war-fighting experts here
know that an antitank mine by itself is extremely vulnerable because
someone can run up, pick it up and run away with it. It takes
thousands of pounds of pressure to detonate it, or a large magnetic
force. So all countries in the world have devices that are designed
to kill or injure soldiers who are trying to remove or blow up the
mine. And the way our European allies do it is to attach booby traps
next to, in, or under their antitank mines. Then if the person
disturbs it, they die -- they die in a very big way because the
antitank mines goes off. And that gives them pause. But since you
can get right on top of it, you could use a long pole, disturb it,
blow it up -- now you have a hole that a tank can come through and
you've defeated the purpose of the minefield barrier.
Our antitank mines are different. There's a reason that
they're different -- that's because we are better at it. There's a
reason that we have the preeminent force in the world with the best
technology. We figured out through our own military history that you
don't want the infantryman to get right on top of the mine, so we put
these same little kinds of explosive devices that are designed to
kill or injure someone who's going to get the mine -- the antitank
mine, near the antitank mine with some trip wires so they can't get
close enough to disturb it. And if they try to get close, they get
Now, the treaty exemption that we found on the table
when we got to Oslo did not extend quite that far to capture the
engineering design of our systems. And we proposed two words, two
simple words added to that exemption. The words were "or near," so
that a device placed near the antitank mine to protect it was
exempted in the same way that the devices for our allies are being
exempted, would fix that problem. And, unfortunately, as the
President said, the conference wouldn't agree. And he could not, as
he emphasized, allow our principal antitank munitions to be stripped
from our inventory.
So at the end of the day, it came down to two sticking
points. We asked for a reasonable period of time to transition to a
world in which we had no antipersonnel land mines and banned all of
them, and we could not get support for that. And we asked simply to
have the same treatment for our antitank mines that our friends and
allies had already protected in the treaty with respect to their
Let me stop there then and see if I answered your
Q: No, you haven't, because my question is perspective
now. Under the President's directive of today, where he, regardless
of what happened in Oslo, is directing an end to U.S. use of land
mines unilaterally by 2003 and then by 2006 in Korea -- my question
is whether his ban, his unilateral ban, applies to those land mines
that are positioned around antitank mines. Would he also get rid of
them by 2006?
MR. BELL: His directive requires us, in the case of all
the world except Korea, to end the use of antipersonnel land mines by
2003, and in Korea be ready with the alternatives by 2006. Now, what
we are saying, what's fundamental to our argument in Oslo and
fundamental to the answer to your question, is that these explosive devices
that protect our antitank mines are not antipersonnel land mines. They are not being banned under the President's directive because they are not antipersonnel land mines.
These things are explosive devices, just like explosive
devices that protect our allies' antitank mines. They are built into
this munition. It's sealed at the factory. It's an integral unit.
Take, for example, the one that's delivered by an F16.
It's called gator. The F16 flies over, drops a canister. In the
canister, which is sealed at the factory, you have 72 antitank mines.
And in that same canister you have 22 of these explosive devices that
are designed to keep infantry off the antitank mine. When the
devices hit the ground there's a tight pattern, about 100-yard field
of antitank mines with these 22 antipersonnel munitions, submunitions
to protect the mines. And they put out trip wires.
But it's integral to this package. You cannot, if your
a field commander, open the package and take out these protective devices
and go off and create a killing field somewhere for an antipersonnel minefield. They're only usable in this munition, and the munition is only used in a war. There's no placement of these things in the ground or on the ground in peacetime. And, beyond that, the whole unit, the antitank mines and the protective devices against infantry self destruct within two days. So there is nothing left, ever, even if there is a war, to threaten children or farmers or innocent civilians anywhere in the world.
So we don't consider those explosive devices in those canisters to be antipersonnel land mines for purposes of this treaty or for purposes of the President's directive today.
Q: Well, couldn't you switch to the European system of
defending our antitank --
MR. BELL: Yes, absolutely. Of course, you could do it.
It's just a question of time and money. Why would you not want to do
it? It's not as good. In warfare, with mines time is everything.
What you're trying to do is simply buy a few minutes. This is not
something you use at the DMZ from now until North Korea changes.
Imagine the Gulf War. Imagine General McCaffrey's 24th
Mechanized Division with a left hook. He's out there with no protection on
his flanks, maneuvering. And you see an enemy force coming in on his flank. You pick up the phone, call in an air strike. The aircraft comes over and drops this canister in front of the Republican Guard unit that's threatening his flank and puts down this field of antitank mines with their protective munitions as part
of it. That's the concept of employment here.
Q: Well, until you redefine these formerly called
antipersonnel mines as something else, those are the only mines that
the military uses now that are smart, antipersonnel mines.
MR. BELL: No, I'm sorry --
Q: I mean, they say that they use very little of any
APLs in any other way. So what does this --
MR. BELL: It's not true, unfortunately. We have
munitions that are so-called pure, antipersonnel land mine munitions
that are filled with smart antipersonnel land mines and no antitank
Q: But how much is that actually used anymore?
MR. BELL: Well, the reason that we have more of the
combined munitions, the mixed munitions with a ratio of about four
antitank mines in it for every device that protects against infantry
is because the nature of warfare has changed.
Q: But my question is how much --
MR. BELL: Let me just finish. The kinds of wars that
we would fight now -- any imaginable war we would fight, except a
guerrilla war, would be against a highly-mechanized or armored
adversary. The North Koreans, Sadam Hussein -- you name them --
they're going to be coming at us with tanks and armored fighting
vehicles. That's the nature of warfare. That's why the lion's share
of our inventory is this munition that is mostly antitank, with
protective devices built into it.
Q: If the lion's share is that sort, what sort is --
how much of the inventory left over is not the sort used in the
MR. BELL: I think we have several different munitions that are designed to put down a pure antipersonnel land mine minefield, using the smart, self-destructing, self-deactivating systems. We have a substantial inventory of them, but they are going to be eliminated under the President's order today, by 2003. If we had signed the Oslo treaty, they would be eliminated under the Oslo
treaty. The point I'm making is -- and I think there's been some confusion in reporting on this -- the U.S. did not propose in Oslo to exempt from the treaty smart antipersonnel land mines. We agreed that we would destroy all of our smart antipersonnel land mines. Our argument was that these explosive devices in our antitank mines were not antipersonnel land mines. They were antihandling, antitampering devices. And the Oslo treaty text had a paragraph in it whose
purpose was to exempt from the treaty those kinds of devices. That bed was burning before we got in it.
Q: What is the failure of the smaller antipersonnel
mines that surround the antitank mines so that -- you say they will
self-destruct within two days. But sometimes then they don't
MR. BELL: Well, the President talked about that two
hours ago. They did a test where I think they used 3,200 of these
things, and 3,199 of them self-destructed on time. There was one,
out of 3,200, that was an hour late going off.
Now, what if it hadn't gone off? They all have a
back-up feature where they turn themselves off after an additional
period of time if they don't self-destruct. And the way they do that
is they have a battery in it that has a certain lifetime, two weeks,
and no one in the history of mankind has ever built a battery that
didn't run out at some point.
So if you take the combination of the technical
reliability of the self-destruction, which is in excess of 99
percent, and you add to it the technical reliability of the
self-deactivating feature, it is 99.9 to the sixth 9 that you could
ever have one of these things that after a couple of weeks would
represent a threat to anybody.
Q: When you say they self-destruct, do they actually
explode, or do they just --
MR. BELL: Yes.
Q: They actually do explode?
MR. BELL: They are designed to explode. If they fail
to explode, they're designed to turn themselves off. That is the
feature that is built into the smart antipersonnel land mines that we
would give up under the Oslo treaty -- will give up under the President's directive. It's the same feature that's built into the protective explosive devices that are in our antitank munitions.
Q: Bob, let me ask you a hindsight question. You seem
to be a little bit envious of the Europeans that -- their antitank mines.
And then you arrive last month in Oslo and you tried to do the same for
the U.S. and you don't succeed. Doesn't that speak to a failure of American diplomacy? Had you gotten into Oslo at anearlier stage might you then not have been in a better position to horse trade with the Europeans and say, if you want the exemption on your antitank mines you're going to have to give on ours? Wasn't the late entry a handicap then?
MR. BELL: Well, there are two issues there. First,
we're not envious -- ours are different because they're better.
Q: Envious of their exemption?
MR. BELL: Well, let me just make this point. Our
combat engineers think they can penetrate those enemy defenses in two
minutes or less. We don't think our antitank minefields can be
penetrated in under 20 minutes, even with the best sappers trying to
In warfare, if you're Barry McCaffrey out there
maneuvering in the desert with the 24th Mech against the Republican
Guard, 18 minutes is the difference between life and death. We are
not envious of the Europeans' systems. We are better.
Now, what if we'd gotten in sooner? You have to ask,
why weren't we in sooner; what were we doing during this period while
Oslo was picking up speed. We were in Geneva, trying to do something
different, and we thought, better. It was certainly well-intentioned.
We said, if you're going to have a comprehensive response to this global catastrophe being caused by land mines, you've got to have a global solution. So we went in the front door.
We said, let's get at a negotiating table with Russia, China, India,
Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea -- sit down and negotiate a treaty where we all solve this problem.
That's why we went to the Conference on Disarmament -- because all of those states are at the negotiating table in that forum. And they had done it in the case of CTB; they had done it in the case of the Chemical Weapons Convention; they had done it in the case of the Biological Weapons Convention in the CD. And when we got to land mines, they couldn't get out of the starting block. And it's a great disappointment that the CD was inadequate to this task,
particularly since they don't have anything else to do there now that we've got all these other treaties done. So after six months of trying hard, we said, this is not going anywhere. And as the President promised in January, if six months after trying it doesn't work out we will go to plan B.
Now, why didn't we join Oslo in January? Because we
didn't think that the Ottawa process was going to be a global
solution. Remember, at that point there were only 40 states. So
what happened? Well, one thing that happened was that Princess Diana
focused the attention of the world on this problem in a way that no
one else had done, even despite the best efforts of champions like Senator Leahy -- and the Ottawa process took off. And we recognized that; that was good. It was good that Ottawa got more and more -- and we recognized that. That was good. It was good that Ottawa got more and more and more members. So that when we got to Oslo, we had over 100 states. And with these two fixes, it would have all worked.
But there is still another step here. And that's even with Oslo being 100 states, it is missing Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. It's missing half of the world's population, half of the world's land area, half of the world's land mine producers. So you can't stop here.
That is why we're going to back to Geneva now. In addition to leaving our offer on the table for Ottawa, we're going to go back to Geneva, not try to take it all in one bite now, we're going to take it in steps. So our first goal, which the President emphasized today, is to get all of those states -- Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, North Korea -- to agree to a global
treaty banning land mines exports. Then at least you're stopping the supply. The Ottawa treaty will eliminate a lot of the demand.
And if you add a third element, which is this protocol
pending in the Senate, that Russia, China, India, everyone else has
signed, that requires them to switch within nine years to the smart
land mines -- between the three, I think Princess Diana would be
Q: Can you put a dollar figure on the 25 percent
increase in de-mining?
MR. BELL: It's about $15 million to $20 million.
Q: More than you had --
MR. BELL: To go into these additional countries that the President was announcing today, yes.
Q: On the Princess Diana issue, how much pressure did
the U.S. negotiators and the President feel over these past couple of
weeks since her death to make these last-minute concessions in order
to try to reach an agreement that would have allowed the U.S. to
endorse the Oslo treaty?
MR. BELL: I think what Princess Diana did, in life and
in death, was to increase the demand for a solution. And one effect
of that, as I said, was that more countries came to Oslo. And that
is good, to her credit.
I know the President feels that, in time he hopes that
another consequence of Princess Diana's work is that countries that
did not come to Oslo, their own people will be asking their
governments, why didn't you go. So it may increase pressure over
time for states that are on the sidelines to get involved. Maybe
we'll see a benefit from that when we get to Geneva when they
But this was not an issue of us being pressured into
concessions. As I said at the top, Wolf, we had five fundamental
underlying concerns. We never said that our proposed language was
the only way to solve it, but we were very clear, at the end of the
day we need to find solutions to these five concerns. We came close
-- I would say three out of five. And on the two where it didn't
work out, there is no logical reason why it couldn't have. And
that's where we ended up.
Q: Are we going to go to Ottawa? And your use of
language in the beginning was that these improvements, which
obviously the other 100 delegates didn't think was the case. And
also, we have signed treaties in the past, nuclear nonproliferation,
where China wasn't a part of that and a lot of -- Israel, India and
so forth. So that isn't really a taboo to us signing.
MR. BELL: Well, Helen, several points there. In the
case of the Chemical Weapons Convention, we had a debate in the
Senate over this exact point, where senators sought to hold our
participation hostage to a universal solution. But there is a
crucial difference here, and that's that in the Chemical Weapons
Convention, because the people negotiating the treaty didn't trust
that over time states out of good intention would join, they built
into the Chemical Weapons Treaty sanctions, economic restrictions on
countries that stayed out -- tried to stay out of the CWC. The
reason the United States Senate, among others, ratified the CWC on
April 28th was that they knew, if they hadn't, U.S. chemical
industries would have come under trade sanctions.
Now, the land mines treaty that was negotiated in Oslo
has no such mechanism. You can trust that over time these states
will come to it, but it's not for sure.
Q: What if the military fails to come up with a viable
alternatives to land mines by 2006 for Korea? Is there some -- in
whatever language he uses to propose this or to order this, is there
some extension that they could then take?
MR. BELL: There is no extension in the President's
directive. He has directed the military to get it done on this
timetable. And our military is superb; when they are directed, they
salute, take charge, and move out. And I'm sure, between the
emphasis we'll put on this, the emphasis Secretary Cohen will put on
this, the help that General Jones will bring to it, that we're going
to get the job done.
MR. MCCURRY: Thanks, Bob.