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NOBEL LAUREATE JODY WILLIAMS: Landmines are considered to be a global epidemic, a public health problem. They’re also a political problem; they’re a military problem in that they’re, you know, the tritest, the aftermath of war.
KRISTIN MCHUGH: This week on Common Ground, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
HOLLY BURKHALTER: The injuries are especially grievous, more so than almost any weapon I can think of, precisely because of the nature of it. You step on it and the blast goes up and forces blood and bone and tissue and dirt and metal parts right into the wound.
KEITH PORTER: Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Keith Porter.
MCHUGH: And I’m Kristin McHugh.
TUN CHANNARETH: I step on the landmines in 1982. And at that time I want to die because I knew very well about my body, like it’s gone.
MCHUGH: Tun Channareth knows firsthand the physical and psychological damage that landmines can cause. Known simply as “Reth” to his friends, the Cambodian lost both of his legs in 1982 after walking into a mine field. Motivated by his own experience, Channareth now campaigns around the globe to ban the sale and use of anti-personnel devices as part of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. The organization and American Jody Williams jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for their efforts. Currently there are more than 50 million landmines buried in the ground in 68 countries. And each year more than 25,000 people are maimed or killed by them. I recently spoke with Tun Channareth, Jody Williams, retired General Robert Gard of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and Holly Burkhalter, of Physicians for Human Rights, about the ongoing American efforts to abolish landmines. Williams, who now serves as an ambassador to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, says the cornerstone of the campaign is the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
WILLIAMS: It plain and simple outlaws the use, the production, the stockpiling, and the trade of anti-personnel landmines. It requires a country, countries, to destroy their stockpiles within four years and to get the mines out of the ground within a decade. Obviating, you know, the problem in the future. If you’re not producing mines, if you’re not putting them in the ground, eventually you’ll be able to clean up the mess so that other fathers will not have to struggle to find ways to provide for their family, like Reth. Landmines are a, considered to be a global epidemic, a public health problem. They’re also a political problem; they’re a military problem in that they’re, you know, the tritest, the aftermath of war. But they’re a very clear way to understand the realities of the aftermath of war. Seventy countries around the world are littered with tens of millions of landmines. Many of these mines have been in the ground for decades. Obviously the wars are no longer going on, but the mines are still taking victims. Recent studies by the Campaign, the Landmine Monitor, which monitors the treaty and compliance with the treaty, have revealed that the stockpile problem is also huge. Much bigger than we originally understood. Some countries around the world have stockpiles as big as 110 million landmines. China, for example. The total stocks around the world are probably over 250 million landmines. Now, imagine those weapons used in conflicts in the future, producing new mine victims. The beauty of the treaty is that it requires those stocks to be destroyed so they’ll never cause new victims.
MCHUGH: And of course, victims are victimized in horrific ways.
HOLLY BURKHALTER: The nature of the weapon and the injuries caused by this weapon is an important part of why there’s a treaty banning just this weapon.
MCHUGH: This is Holly Burkhalter, Advocacy Director for Physicians for Human Rights.
BURKHALTER: And our movement, which includes people like Reth and doctors and vets and peace activists, we didn’t go after all the weapons in the world. We went after this weapon. And for two reasons. One, it is a weapon that stays on the ground long after the soldiers leaves and some innocent steps on it. Thus it is the most indiscriminate weapon I can think of, next to chemical and biological. But the second reason, I think, is precisely because the nature of the weapon is to create horrific injuries. It is what I—what some people say, “grievously injurious.” If it doesn’t kill—it does kill many of its victims, particularly children, particularly in countries where it’s a long trip to a hospital or to a medical center. The loss of blood from a landmine blast is so great that many victims do indeed die. But the injuries are especially grievous, more so than almost any weapon I can think of, precisely because of the nature of it. You step on it and the blast goes up and forces blood and bone and tissue and dirt and metal parts right into the wound. Similarly, if a child were to pick it up and get it anywhere near its face it takes eyes; it really does wound in ways that a gunshot does not. And it makes it especially heinous. And it’s precisely the nature of those wounds and the nature of the weapon itself that organized and galvanized a huge community of activists around the world to say, “This weapon cannot be used anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.”
MCHUGH: Knowing that this is obviously a campaign that’s worldwide, how much support do you have right now for the treaty?
WILLIAMS: As of today, as of the beginning of the year 2000, some 137 nations are signatories to the treaty and 90 have ratified. Every single country in the Western Hemisphere except the United States and Cuba. All 19 members of NATO, except for the United States and Turkey. All of the European Union except Finland. Some 45, I think, countries of Africa; the Philippines; Japan; all of our major allies are part of this treaty. The United States essentially stands alone in its superpower status not signing this treaty.
MCHUGH: And why is the US not signing this treaty?
GENERAL ROBERT GARD: Because the Pentagon has convinced the Commander-in-Chief that we should retain this weapon in the interests of protecting our troops.
MCHUGH: This is retired General Robert Gard, military advisor to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation.
GARD: The President was a leader in the initial stages of this campaign; called for an international treaty to be consummated as soon as possible. When the Pentagon then objected because, it argued, it would jeopardize the life of American soldiers, the President simply echoed the Pentagon’s position. The fact of the matter is that the only legitimate military function of an anti-personnel landmine is to inhibit the movement of foot troops. And we have other ways of doing that, as Secretary of Defense Perry said in 1996, that have to do with tactics, techniques, and other weapons. But that’s the reason that the President backtracked on the position that he had taken earlier.
MCHUGH: Why should the US sign the treaty?
GARD: Well, for two reasons. One, not only are landmines not essential to our military defense and operations, but if the US stays out, as the only superpower, as Madeleine Albright has said, the problem countries will certainly not comply with the treaty if the US gives them cover and keeps them company. And so the treaty will be much more effective in encouraging nonsignatories to become part of it if the US signs.
WILLIAMS: General Gard has rightly noted that the United States was an early leader on this issue. He also pointed out that the Commander-in-Chief, in some of our view, abdicated the development of the policy and gave it over to the Pentagon, which in the most powerful democracy in the world, we think to be a problem. The country, the President, has felt very conflicted about this, and has tried to demonstrate leadership in a different way: by throwing lots of money at mine clearance, which is an important component. But we believe that the US needs to be consistent. They need to align their policy with their purse. They need to sign the treaty, not just throw money at the problem after the fact.
MCHUGH: Is the US actually developing new landmine technology as we speak?
GARD: Well, the President as early as 1994 instructed the Pentagon to start looking for alternative ways to accomplish that one legitimate function performed by anti-personnel landmines. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the Pentagon has dragged its feet. Because the President’s position now is that the US will sign the treaty only when and if we have discovered alternatives and fielded them. And he puts an important proviso: they must be suitable alternatives. And the Pentagon has very little motivation, a) to find alternatives, or b) to consider them suitable.
BURKHALTER: Just to add to General Gard’s remarks, there’s actually a weapons system in production now that is supposed to come online in the year 2001 that is not treaty-compliant. It is an anti-tank mine—that would (be) the weapon that would blow up a vehicle—that is fired from an artillery canister surrounded by anti-personnel landmines. That—the anti-tank component—of that weapon is treaty compliant, which the treaty doesn’t deal with anti-vehicle weapons. But the anti-personnel landmines delivered with it are not treaty compliant. And there is a new, this new weapons system called “RADAM,” which combines the RAM anti-tank system with the ADAM anti-personnel landmine, is not in production yet, but the Pentagon has requested money for it. They requested $8 million—well, they requested and got $8 million in the current fiscal year and they’re likely to request a lot more because they intend to be in production of the RADAM system by 2001. And that to me shows that the Pentagon isn’t the slightest bit serious about following the President’s instructions to find alternatives. They are creating a weapons system which is illegal under the treaty and which they’re gonna have to destroy if the United States ever signs the treaty.
GARD: Well, the rationale for the Pentagon’s action—and I certainly don’t support it—but the rationale is that the President has stated that we would eliminate free-standing anti-personnel landmines by the year 2003. So, if the Army can claim it needs an artillery-delivered weapon that will comply with the President’s instructions, and they also argue that they need anti-personnel mines to protect the anti-tank mines—then they could not deliver the anti-personnel mines along with the anti-tank mines, unless they were together in a mixed system. And that’s, that’s the rationale for developing the weapon.
PORTER: Coming up, more on the American efforts to ban the use of anti-personnel landmines.
BURKHALTER: The best thing the United States can do is sign this treaty and then demand that other countries come along. Our government is in a very poor position to condemn the use of this weapon by other countries, when we will not sign ourselves.
PORTER: Printed transcripts and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that conducts a wide a range of programs designed to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.
MCHUGH: You obviously have a tough fight in the US, not only with the President and the administration, but with the American public. Because I really think that the perception is that the American public doesn’t know anything about this issue. How do you go about educating them?
BURKHALTER: We’ve given this a lot of thought, as a grassroots organizer of the US Campaign to Ban Landmines.
MCHUGH: This again, is Holly Burkhalter.
BURKHALTER: It seems to me that the task of countries that are afflicted with landmines is to have the, the energy and the imagination to imagine a world without landmines. But it is our task in the United States to imagine a world with landmines. We don’t have them here. And, you know, if I had to tie my 2½-year-old daughter to a tether when she went out to play just because the radius of a demined area that safe for her was about 3 feet long, I have to tell you, I’d be a full-time mine ban activist. But Americans’ relationship to the problem is much more peripheral than any Cambodian’s would be. That’s not to say that landmines don’t touch American lives. We have many friends who are landmine victims. One of our closest friends is Ken Rutherford, who is a humanitarian worker with the International Rescue Committee, who lost both his legs in Somalia. He’s an aid worker. US soldiers on peacekeeping missions to Bosnia or in Kuwait, are losing their limbs from this weapon. So it’s not a complete abstraction. But certainly because we don’t have landmines planted here, I think most of us don’t have that sense of urgency that has animated the international landmines movement and that drove Tun Channareth, for example, to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures from his fellow Cambodians demanding that the world ban this weapon. And I think it is our task to, to insist that our government act, play the leadership role that is required of it. And it is also our task to make common cause with the victims and insist that our government do more to help them than it is currently doing. And the best thing the United States can do is sign this treaty and then demand that other countries come along. Our government is in a very poor position to condemn the use of this weapon by other countries, when we will not sign ourselves.
MCHUGH: You have linked up with an interesting ally in Iowa, and that is the Iowa farmer. And that is probably the last person that I would think of, of getting involved with the issue. How did that come about?
WILLIAMS: I think that it’s not that big of a leap.
MCHUGH: Again, Nobel laureate Jody Williams.
WILLIAMS: When I first thought about it I did wonder a little bit. But as one of the Iowans against landmines himself said today, “You know, we’re an agricultural state. We can easily imagine trying to plow our fields if they were full of landmines. We feel great empathy for the people of Cambodia, the people of Angola, who have to try, in an agricultural society, to do that.” Where the only seeds coming out of their soil are seeds of death instead of seeds to give life to the society. So it’s a natural link. I think part of the problem in the United States, along with what Holly said, is that there is a perception that the US has done the right thing. People everywhere think that this problem has been solved. Because the US was an early leader, because President Clinton did say the right things early on, because the US is throwing a lot of money to the demining side, people are shocked when they hear that the US has not signed the treaty. They’re shocked when they hear that the US is an impediment to making this treaty effective around the world. And it’s our job to jump over that new mythology and make US citizens understand that we still need to get out there and make sure this happens the right way.
GARD: I think there’s another factor.
MCHUGH: Again, retired General Robert Gard.
GARD: Certainly the fact that the President took the leadership initially and indicated strong support for the treaty and indeed, advocated it publicly in the United Nations, in 1996, for a complete ban as soon as possible, and then later concluded that we could not ban it in this country because we needed to protect the lives of American soldiers. And I think that has a tendency to resonate with the American public, who believe that the President was sincere in wanting to sign but then couldn’t because of the need to protect American soldiers. The other factor that is often emphasized by the administration is that US landmines now are self-destruct mines—that if they fail to self-destruct the battery goes dead and they become inert. And then we claim, wrongly in my view, that that means that the US is not part of the problem because we are not planting these long-lived, so-called “dumb” mines that do not self-destruct. But the fact of the matter is, that we cannot retain our mine capability, even though they may self-destruct, and expect others to give up theirs which may be more dangerous in the long-run. In fact, the concept of employment of these self-destruct mines is to scatter them, often in places that we were unable to plant mines in the past. Namely in enemy rear areas. And it’s precisely in those rear areas that you will find civilians. And the smart mines are just as dumb as the dumb mines before they self-destruct or deactivate. And the International Committee of the Red Cross has estimated that indeed, the use of the so-called “smart” mines may in fact increase civilian casualties.
MCHUGH: Are you hopeful that you will be able to turn the tide on the American stance on this issue? And how long do you think that will take?
BURKHALTER: I don’t have a timeline and I would be, it would be dangerous when we’re going to achieve a victory here. But I have some hopes on two fronts. First of all, Jody is right when she said President Clinton wants to sign, or wanted to sign the treaty. He has told her that he wants to sign the treaty. And he’s clearly getting bad advice from some of his military people. They aren’t using the weapon and they don’t need to use the weapon. It’s an interesting observation that when the United States engaged in 90 days of military activity in Kosovo, and in alliance with all of our NATO partners, we did not use anti-personnel landmines in any way, shape, or form. Our NATO allies could not have done so. They were not permitted to do so because of their treaty obligations. But the United States was, whatever one might think of the Kosovo war, was able to achieve what it wanted to achieve and it never resorted to landmine use. Now, it made me very unhappy that the spokesman for the Pentagon came forward and said “We reserve the right to use anti-personnel landmines,” signaling to the whole world that the greatest military power on earth still needs and wants this weapon and will use it if it has to, when in fact they clearly did not have to use it. They don’t use it. It’s an obsolete weapon. I think it has more to do with the fact that the Pentagon does not want to give up any weapon for humanitarian purposes and is clinging to this one. And I think quite shamefully exploiting this notion that to do without it endangers our servicemen and women. But the reason I have some hopes is that I do think that Bill Clinton cares about how he’s remembered in history and this is something that would reflect extremely well on the Clinton presidency. He came very close at one time, and he had lots of military support for banning the weapon. But flinched at the end. But he can change his mind, and he has a year to do it. And I hope he does, because I think that it will be one of the finest gifts Bill Clinton could leave this country. And it will long outlast any memories of other aspects of his presidency that aren’t so attractive.
MCHUGH: General Gard, are you hopeful?
GARD: Well, I’m not optimistic that we’ll get it done between now and the end of the Clinton administration, but I do believe the President would like to sign the treaty. I would just hope that he would have staff members on the National Security Council who would take a position other than, “We just have to trust the Pentagon.” One cannot expect a member of an organization that is dedicated to being able to defeat the enemy with the fewest possibly friendly casualties to voluntarily offer to give up a weapon, however marginal its utility may be, that might, under some circumstances, save the life of an American soldier. That’s the way our government works. You could no more expect a staff member of the Environmental Protection Agency to advocate publicly reducing the limitations on pollution. Our government works in a way that people who belong to organizations in the federal government become advocates for the function performed by that organization. But we have a President who is to oversee them all, and who has an obligation to weigh, for example, the military utility of this particular weapon, which is at best marginal, against the reality of the horrendous humanitarian costs of its continued use. And I’m hopeful that the President may reconsider. And we’re doing everything we can individually and collectively to try to persuade him to do so.
MCHUGH: Jody Williams.
WILLIAMS: When I think to the beginning of this campaign, Physicians for Human Rights was one of the founding organizations. Physicians for Human Rights is one of the important organizations working to educate the public to the issue. We received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 and in the comments of the Nobel Committee they said that they had awarded us this amazing recognition because we had taken a utopian dream and turned it into virtual reality. In the space of five years we made a non-issue an international treaty.
MCHUGH: Why—all three of you—why are you involved in this issue? Starting with Jody?
WILLIAMS: I believe that ordinary people can change the world. I believe that anybody who cares enough about anything if they’re willing to put their work into it can make a difference. I believe the landmine issue is about making life better for people like that, but it’s about more than that. It’s about international law. It’s about the fact that we’re all part of a very small world and we all have to pay attention to the impact of what we do, the impact that that has on people. And that also applies to the military. This argument that, you know, the military can do anything it wants to protect its service people, I understand the logic. But they are also part of this larger society. They are supposed to be defending me, as an American citizen. My military is supposed to be defending me. I do not want them defending me by using a weapon that the world has determined is illegal. Not in my name. That’s why I’m here.
MCHUGH: General Gard?
GARD: I think most members of the armed forces do not serve because they want to employ indiscriminate weapons to kill disproportionate numbers of civilians. We’re interested in the national security and indeed international security. And part of that, as Jody says, is to employ force responsibly. And while those within the institution must maintain loyalty to it and its leaders, those of us who have retired from it and are not currently serving are in a position to take a broader view of security and to consider the longer run interests of the country, and therefore to be able to support bans on indiscriminate weapons that cause humanitarian chaos and disaster.
BURKHALTER: The issue engages me for much the same reason. I come from a family of pacifists. My father was conscientious objector in the Second World War, and the religious tradition that I came from sees war as the ultimate evil and the worst possible evil. I’m not a pacifist myself but I am very, I don’t believe we’ll ever eradicate war. But I’m increasingly interested in the many and varied ways that as a civilization all of us, the human race, is finding ways to try to leash the dogs of war, put limits on what weapons soldiers may use against one another. That doesn’t mean I’m interesting in banning all weapons. But I, when I see that in the past poison gas was used and millions died and the world no longer permits that. We won’t have that. And the landmine is the modern-day equivalent of that. And it is the only weapon in use whose principle victims are non-soldiers, noncombatants. And as such I think it’s the issue to work on. It’s the largest killer of innocents I know of. And that’s the fight I want to be involved in.
MCHUGH: That is Holly Burkhalter, the Advocacy Director for Physicians for Human Rights. We also heard from Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams, also Ambassador to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines; landmine survivor Tun Channareth, who also serves as an ambassador to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines; and retired General Robert Gard, who serves as the military advisor to the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. For more information on the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, the Web address is www.vvaf.org. For Common Ground, I’m Kristin McHugh.
Our theme music was created by B.J. Leiderman. Common Ground was produced and funded by the Stanley Foundation.
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