President Clinton called Thursday for an international agreement to ban the use of all land mines “as quickly as possible” and ordered the clearing of all active U.S. mines, except those in Korea, by 1999.
Although Clinton portrayed his decision as one that would speed the day that all mines would disappear from the face of the Earth, critics said he did not go nearly far enough and, in at least one respect, actually set back U.S. policy.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., accused the president of a lack of leadership on the issue and pointed out that Clinton would have to seek an exception - for Korea - to a bill he signed into law last year imposing a moratorium on the use of all U.S. mines by 1999.
The president said he would seek approval of a United Nations resolution that would commit its members to a global ban on all anti-personnel mines, including the live “dumb” mines that remain active until destroyed and the new “smart” mines that self-destruct.
“The United States will lead a global effort to eliminate these terrible weapons and to stop the enormous loss of human life,” the president said.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher said the actual work of obtaining a ban requires a “long, difficult negotiation” and might best be handled through the Disarmament Conference in Geneva, which also negotiated a chemical weapons convention.
After two years of talks in Geneva on the subject of banning land mines, the participating nations have agreed only to put 8 grams of metal in mines so that they would be detectable.
There are an estimated 110 million land mines in the ground worldwide, and about 70 civilians are killed or maimed each day.
Some 4 million active or “dumb” U.S. mines would be affected by the president’s decision to ban their use by 1999. There are another million such mines on the Korean peninsula. Despite this large inventory, the United States no longer produces such mines, although other countries do.
The president reserved the right to keep the “smart” mines in the U.S. arsenal until there is a worldwide ban. These mines, which can be programmed to self-destruct.