New Developments in the United States Approach to Landmines

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[The following are excerpts of the On-The-Record Briefing, Washington, D.C., February 27, 2004.]

I wish to announce the President's policy decisions and initiatives relating to landmines. There are several elements, but the thrust of the policy is that the United States will now accelerate, by its example, diplomacy and resources, the effort to end the humanitarian crisis caused by live landmines left behind in former conflict areas all over the world. More specifically, under the new policy, the United States is committed to eliminate persistent landmines of all types from its arsenal by a date certain and is requesting a substantial increase in funding for our humanitarian mine action programs worldwide.

The President's policy serves two important goals: a strong push to end the humanitarian risks posed by landmines; and ensuring that our military has the defensive capabilities it needs to protect our own and friendly forces on the battlefield. The new policy demonstrates that our humanitarian and military goals are fully compatible; one does not have to be achieved only at the expense of the other. We can and will prevent unnecessary harm to innocent civilians and, at the same time, protect the lives of American service men and women.

The President's approach departs from landmine policy formulations of the past. It addresses squarely the condition that has caused the humanitarian crisis of civilian casualties and continued hazards in cities, towns and farmlands around the world. That condition is called persistence, referring to a live landmine that sits, ready to explode, for months, years, and often decades, after the conflict that led to its use has ended. We estimate that there are sixty million persistent landmines posing risks to innocent civilians in more than sixty countries today.

The President's policy applies to all persistent landmines, be they anti-personnel landmines or the larger anti-vehicle landmines. Let me spell out the four key elements of the President's new policy:

* The first element is the President's firm, specific and unconditional commitment that after 2010 the United States will not use persistent landmines of any type, neither anti-personnel nor anti-vehicle landmines. The United States becomes the first major military power to make this comprehensive commitment regarding all persistent landmines. Any use of persistent anti-vehicle landmines outside Korea between now and the end of 2010 will require Presidential authorization. The use of persistent anti-personnel landmines during this period would only be authorized in fulfillment of our treaty obligations to the Republic of Korea. In either case, use of these mines would be in strict accordance with our obligations under international agreements on the use of these weapons. Within two years, the United States will begin the destruction of those persistent landmines that are not needed for the defense of Korea.

* The second element of the new policy is a firm commitment that within one year the United States will no longer have any non-detectable landmine of any type in its arsenal. The United States becomes the first major military power to make a commitment covering all landmines to the internationally recognized level of eight grams iron ore equivalent of metal content, assuring reliable detection by humanitarian deminers using the standard equipment in use today.

* Third, the President has directed a concerted effort to develop alternatives to its current persistent landmines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, incorporating enhanced self-destructing, self-deactivating technologies and control mechanisms, such as "man-in-the-loop" and on-off commands that would allow our forces to recover the munitions. These enhancements are to be brought forward within the decade.

* The fourth major element of this policy is the President's decision to request from Congress a 50 percent increase in the budget for worldwide humanitarian mine action programs administered by the Department of State, starting in fiscal year 2005, measured against the fiscal year 2003 budget level, to a total level of $70 million. …