THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
September 17, 1997
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON LAND MINES
The Roosevelt Room
12:30 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. I want to talk now about
what the United States has done and what we will continue to do to
lead the world toward the elimination of antipersonnel land mines.
Every year land mines kill or maim more than 25,000 people --
children, women, farmers peacefully going about their business.
That is why, since I called for the global elimination of land mines
in 1994, the United States has been at the forefront of the effort
to ban them -- not just in words, but in actual, concrete deeds.
Eighteen months ago, I ordered a ban on the most dangerous
types of land mines, those that remain active and dangerous long
after soldiers have left the scene. These are the mines that are
causing all the damage around the world today. These hidden killers
prey on innocent civilians. They are responsible for the horrific
mutilation of children from Angola to Cambodia to Bosnia.
In the months since I ordered that ban the United States has
destroyed 1.5 million of these land mines. By 1999, we will have
destroyed all the rest in our stockpiles, another 1.5 million, with
the exception of our mines at the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, the
Cold War's last frontier.
The United States has also led the world in the effort to remove
existing land mines, again not with talk, but with action that has
saved lives. Since 1993, we have devoted $153 million to this cause.
Our experts have helped to remove mines from the ground in 15 nations.
They have trained and equipped roughly one-quarter of all the people
who work at this effort around the world.
These efforts are paying off. In the areas of Cambodia
where we've been active, the death rates for land mines has dropped
by one-half. In Namibia, the casualty rate has fallen 90 percent.
These efforts do not come without real cost and sacrifice. The C-141
plane that went down in that terrible collision off the coast of
Africa on Monday, in which nine Air Force crew members were lost,
had just carried a unit of special forces de-mining experts to
Last month I instructed a U.S. team to join negotiations
then underway in Oslo to ban all antipersonnel land mines. Our
negotiators worked tirelessly to reach an agreement we could sign.
Unfortunately, as it is now drafted, I cannot in good conscience
add America's name to that treaty. So let me explain why.
Our nation has unique responsibilities for preserving
security and defending peace and freedom around the globe. Millions of people from Bosnia to Haiti, Korea to the Persian
Gulf are safer as a result. And so is every American. The men
and women who carry out that responsibility wear our uniform with
pride, and, as we learned in the last few days, at no small risk
to themselves. They wear it secure in the knowledge, however,
that we will always, always do everything we can to protect our own.
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. For that
reason, the United States insisted that two provisions be included
in the treaty negotiated at Oslo. First, we needed an adequate
transition period to phase out the antipersonnel mines we know
use to protect our troops, giving us time to devise alternative
technologies. Second, we needed to preserve the antitank mines
we rely upon to slow down an enemy's armor defensive in a battle
These two requests are not abstract considerations. They
reflect the very dangerous reality we face on the ground as a
result of our global responsibilities. Take the Korean Peninsula. There, our 37,000 troops and their South Korean allies face an army
of one million North Koreans only 27 miles away from Seoul, Korea.
They serve there, our troops do, in the name and under the direct
mandate of the international community. In the event of an attack,
the North's overwhelming numerical advantage can only be countered
if we can slow down its advance, call in reinforcements and organize
our defense. Our antipersonnel mines there are a key part of our
defense line in Korea. They are deployed along a DMZ where there
are no villages and no civilians. Therefore, they, too, are not
creating the problem we are trying to address in the world.
We also need antitank mines there to deter or stop an armored
assault against our troops, the kind of attack our adversaries
would be most likely to launch. These antitank mines self-destruct
or deactivate themselves when the battle is over, and therefore,
they pose little risk to civilians.
We will continue to seek to deter a war that would cost
countless lives. But no one should expect our people to expose
our Armed Forces to unacceptable risks.
Now, we were not able to gain sufficient support for these two
requests. The final treaty failed to include a transition period
during which we could safely phase out our antipersonnel land mines,
including in Korea. And the treaty would have banned the antitank
mines our troops rely on from the outskirts of Seoul to the desert
border of Iraq and Kuwait -- and this, in spite of the fact that
other nations' antitank systems are explicitly permitted under the
We went the extra mile and beyond to sign this treaty.
And again, I want to thank Secretary Cohen and General Shalikashvili
and especially I'd like to thank General Ralston for the enormous effort
that was made and the changes in positions and the modifications in positions that the Joint Chiefs made, not once, but three times, to try to move our country closer to other countries so that in good faith we could sign this treaty.
But there is a line that I simply cannot cross, and that
line is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform.
America will continue to lead in ending the use of all antipersonnel
mines. The offer we made at Oslo remains on the table. We stand
ready to sign a treaty that meets our fundamental and unique security
requirements. With an adequate transition period to a world free of
antipersonnel land mines, this goal is within reach.
As further evidence of our commitment, I am announcing today
a series of steps America will take on its own to advance our efforts
to rid the world of land mine. First, I'm directing the Department
of Defense to develop alternatives to antipersonnel land mines so
that by the year 2003 we can end even the use of self-destruct land
mines -- that is, those, again, that are not causing the problem today
because they destroy themselves on their own after a short period of time.
We want to end even the use of these land mines, everywhere but Korea.
As for Korea, my directive calls for alternatives to be ready
by 2006, the time period for which we were negotiating in Oslo. By setting
these deadlines, we will speed the development of new technologies that I
asked the Pentagon to start working on last year.
In short, this program will eliminate all antipersonnel land mines
from America's arsenal.
Second, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
David Jones, has agreed to be a personal advisor to me and to
Secretary Cohen to help us make sure the job gets done. Throughout
his career he has demonstrated a concern for the safety of our
troops second to none, and in recent years he's been a powerful,
eloquent voice for banning land mines. There's no better man for
the task, and I thank him for accepting it.
Third, we will significantly increase our de-mining programs.
No nation devotes more expertise or resources to the problem than we
do today. Next year, we currently plan to provide $68 million for
worldwide de-mining efforts -- almost as much as the rest of the
world combined. We will begin de-mining work in as many as eight
new countries, including Chad, Zimbabwe, and Lebanon.
But we can, and will, do more. I am proposing that we
increase funding for de-mining by about 25 percent beginning next
year. We must improve our research and development to find new ways
to detect, remove and dispose of these land mines. We must increase
assistance to land mine victims to help them heal and take their
place as productive members of their societies. And we must expand
our training programs so that nations that are plagued by land mines
can themselves do more to clear away these deadly devices. Every
mine removed from the ground is another child potentially saved.
Fourth, we will redouble our efforts to establish serious
negotiations for a global antipersonnel land mine ban in the
Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. We will begin by seeking
an export ban next year, and one that applies to the major land
mine producers, the people who themselves caused this problems
because they're making and selling these land mines -- none of them
were present in Oslo -- in the end, we have to get them on board,
I am determined to work closely with the Congress, with
Senator Leahy, Senator Hagel and others, to implement this package,
because, I think together we can take another step in the elimination
of land mines that will be decisive.
In that connection, let me say, I had a brief visit with
Senator Leahy today, and I think that there's no way I can say
enough about what he has done. He has -- he is a genuine worldwide
leader in this effort. He has been recognized around the world.
He has worked with us very closely. And I thank him, and I'm
confident that we can do more by working together.
I believe, and I think everyone in the United States,
and everyone leading the Pentagon believes that every man,
woman and child in this world should be able to walk the Earth
in safety; that we should do everything we can to guarantee this
right, and we can do it while preserving our own ability to secure
the safety of our troops as they protect freedom around the world.
These steps will make a major dent. We are working hard and we
intend to keep going until the job is done.
Q: Does that mean the U.S. will not be represented at Ottawa?
And how much threat is there of a famine-stricken North Korea being
able to invade South Korea at this -- I mean, aren't they starving
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, we've done everything we
could to prevent them from starving to death, you know. I've strongly
supported humanitarian food aid to the North Koreans. But, frankly,
it depends on how you read the risk. I mean, the tension between the
two Koreas is still there. They have a million troops there. And my
elemental experience in human psychology, and I think a lot of our
experts in military strategies agree that sometimes people are most
dangerous when they feel most threatened and most helpless,
So I would just say to you, the fact that they have had some
food problems does not in any way, in my mind, mitigate the risk.
And anybody who's ever been to the DMZ and who has ever driven from
Seoul to the DMZ and seen how short it is and has seen a million
-- you know, the numbers of troops there, and you see our people up
there in those outposts and how few they are -- and again I say,
these mines are put along the DMZ in clearly marked areas to make
sure that no children will walk across them. There is no place like
it in the world.
And let me also say, this is not a unilateral, American
presence there. We are there under an armistice agreement that
proceeded from the authority of the United Nations to conduct the
Korean War in the first place, and then to have the armistice. We are there fulfilling the worldwide community's responsibility
to preserve the peace and safety there.
And it's very easy if you're not one of those Americans in
uniform up there, saying, oh, well, this will never happen, they'll
never do it. But you could move a million people into Seoul pretty
quickly. And no one I know believes that under present circumstances,
with the hostilities that still exist between the two countries, that
we could do anything to stop that if we didn't have the strong deterrent
of the land mines that are in that very carefully-marked field there.
Q: Sir, does it pain you to be in the company of Russia and
China, Iran, Iraq -- other countries that won't be signing in Ottawa?
THE PRESIDENT: No, we're not in their company. It pains me
that for whatever reason -- and I understand -- I have a lot of sympathy with a lot of these countries in Ottawa, that were in Oslo. I have a lot of sympathy with the countries that have, themselves,
had a lot of people killed from land mines. But the argument that
I have tried to make to them is that what we really have to do -- we
will never solve this problem until we get the producers, the people
that are making these land mines to stop making them, stop selling
them, and stop using them. That's what we have to do. And I believe
the United States is in a better position to work with the rest of
the world to get that done than nearly any other country. But I
don't feel that I'm in their company at all.
We unilaterally stopped producing, stopped selling, stopped
using these land mines. We have unilaterally destroyed 1.5 million
of them. I imagine that no country in Oslo can make that claim.
We're going to destroy another 1.5 million by 1999. I doubt that
any country in Oslo can make that claim.
We have done everything we could. We have even said we are
going to unilaterally give up our self-destruct land mines that do
not -- as far as I know, have not killed a single civilian or maimed
a single child anywhere in the world. And thousands of them have
been tested. They all self-destructed when they were supposed to,
except one that was an hour late.
So we are not in their company. I wish we could sign the Oslo
agreement. I understand the difficulties of the countries involved
and the emotional feelings surrounding this issue. But we have to
have some time to deal with our challenge in Korea, and our antitank
mines, we believe, are more effective than other countries' are,
and there is an explicit exception for antitank mines that is
written in such a way that doesn't cover ours. And I could never
agree not to have antitank weapons, given the kinds of combat that
our people are likely to be in, in any kind of projected scenario,
over the next 20 to 30 years. I couldn't do it. We have to have
some resolution of that. It would just be -- that would be
completely irresponsible for me to let our people be in combat
situations without an antitank device that I thought was the most
Q: Have you asked Congress to stay in session in order
to pass tobacco legislation?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say, what I will ask
Congress to do is to get into this now, bring all the parties
together, have hearings as quickly as possible and move as quickly
as possible. I think the most important thing is that we make it
clear that this process is not dead, it's taken new life, it's gone
on to a new step. Congress has to resolve all these jurisdictional
questions -- how many committees in the House, how many committees
in the Senate, who does what. But I'm going to work with them.
I hope to give new life, a new impetus to this by the announcement
I made today, and I think we did.
Q: Sir, you have the Secretary of State with you. What do you think of the next steps for the Middle East peace
process and what impact will that have on your remarks to the UN on Monday?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I think she did a
superb job in the Middle East with a very difficult circumstance. And I have nothing -- I could sit here until midnight and not give
a better synopsis than the one line she used in the Middle East
where she said, "The good news is we made some small steps, but we
need to take big steps." And that is my -- that Secretary Albright
distilled in that one phrase where I think we are.
But Mr. Berger and the Secretary and all of us, we're
putting our heads together, we're going to do everything we
can to keep pushing this. And I have seen some encouraging
signs in the last couple of days that all the parties realize
that they have special responsibilities to get this thing back
on track. And we're going to look at our options and do
everything we can.
But I also say what I've said from the beginning -- if you
look at all the good things that happened early on in my administration in
the Middle East, the United States facilitated them, but did not create them. In the end, the peace is for the parties there to make, and they have to have the vision and the courage and the strength to do it. But we're going to do everything we can to try to create the conditions in which they can succeed and
to try to protect them from the down sides if they do take risks for peace.
THE PRESS: Thank you.