November 2, 1997 in Nation/World

U.S. Pushes Clearing Of Land Mines Initiative Follows Rejection Of Treaty Banning The Mines

Bradley Graham Washington Post
 

The United States announced plans Friday to try to boost international spending on efforts to remove land mines by more than 500 percent over the coming decade - to $1 billion a year - and clear the world of all mines that threaten civilian populations by 2010.

The unilateral initiative is an attempt by the Clinton administration to reassert a leading role in anti-mine activities after its controversial decision in September not to join scores of other nations in an agreement to ban land mines. Anti-mine activists welcomed Friday’s move, but cautioned that added money alone would not ensure faster progress in the task of locating and removing an estimated 100 million mines in more than 60 countries.

Outlining the plan at a news conference, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said the United States intended to double its own spending on mine-clearing, to $77 million next year, and would persuade foreign governments, international financial organizations and other public and private sources to reach the new program’s ambitious goal. To this end, the administration intends to host a donors’ conference in Washington next year.

“Thirty-six years ago, President Kennedy set for our nation the goal of enabling a man to walk on the moon,” Albright said. “Today, President Clinton is reaffirming the goal of enabling people everywhere to walk safely on the Earth.”

While the focus of a growing international anti-mine movement has been on banning such weapons altogether, Albright said the emphasis should be on eliminating mines already in place, many of them left from long-ago conflicts in poor countries.

“This call for a concerted effort by the international community is based on the premise that the best way to protect civilians from land mines is to pull mines from the soil like the noxious weeds that they are,” she said.

Much of the existing international mine-clearing effort has remained loosely coordinated at best, and, as Albright noted Friday, “the most common tool we have for detecting land mines is still a stick attached to a person’s arm.”

But administration officials involved in drafting the initiative acknowledged that it was developed quickly over the past few weeks, with many details still to come. They could offer no specific projections about U.S. spending on mine-clearing beyond fiscal 1998 and said discussions with other potential key donor nations were just beginning.

Asked how the $1 billion target was chosen, Karl F. Inderfurth, the State Department official named to coordinate the initiative, suggested it was more an attention-getting device than a firm calculation of the true cost of clearing the world of mines.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., a leading advocate in Congress for the land mine treaty, commended the administration’s effort but said it is no substitute for a ban on land mines.

“Why spend billions of dollars to get rid of the mines, if they are only going to be replaced with new mines?” he said in a statement. “We need to destroy the mines in the ground, and we need to stop laying of new mines. Both are necessary to rid the world of these insidious weapons.”


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email