Bill Clinton photo

Remarks on the Antipersonnel Landmines Initiative

May 16, 1996

Death of Admiral Jeremy M. Boorda

The President. Thank you very much. Please sit down. I want to thank the members of the veterans organizations who are here. General Jones, thank you for your presence. All the members of the administration and, especially, I'd like to thank Secretary Perry and the Joint Chiefs who are here, not only for their presence and their help on this policy but for their determination to go forward with this announcement on this very difficult afternoon for all of us.

I want to begin with a word about Admiral Mike Boorda, our Chief of Naval Operations, who died this afternoon. His death is a great loss, not just for the Navy and our Armed Forces but for our entire country. Mike Boorda was the very first enlisted man in the history of our country to rise to become Chief of Naval Operations. He brought extraordinary energy and dedication and good humor to every post he held in a long and distinguished career. From Southeast Asia to Europe, he devoted his life to serving our Nation.

I am personally grateful for the central role he played in planning our mission in Bosnia, both when he commanded our forces in southeastern Europe and later when he came here to Washington. He was known for his professionalism and skill. But what distinguished him above all else was his unwavering concern for the welfare of the men and women who serve the United States in our Navy. We will all remember him for that, and much else.

Our hearts and prayers go out to his family, to his wife, Bettie, and his children, David, Edward, Anna, and Robert. And I'd like to ask everyone to just join me now in a moment of silence in memory of Admiral Mike Boorda.

[At this point, a moment of silence was observed.]

The President. Amen.

Antipersonnel Landmines

Today I am launching an international effort to ban antipersonnel landmines. For decades the world has been struck with horror at the devastations that landmines cause. Boys and girls at play, farmers tending their fields, ordinary travelers—in all, more than 25,000 people a year are maimed or killed by mines left behind when wars ended. We must act so that the children of the world can walk without fear on the earth beneath them.

To end this carnage, the United States will seek a worldwide agreement as soon as possible to end the use of all antipersonnel landmines. The United States will lead a global effort to eliminate these terrible weapons and to stop the enormous loss of human life. The steps I announced today build on the work we have done to clear mines in 14 nations, from Bosnia to Afghanistan, from Cambodia to Namibia. They build as well on the export moratorium on landmines we have observed for 4 years, an effort that, thankfully, 32 other nations have joined.

To pursue our goal of a worldwide ban, today I order several unilateral actions. First, I am directing that effective immediately, our Armed Forces discontinue the use of all so-called dumb antipersonnel mines, those which remain active until detonated or cleared. The only exception will be for those mines required to defend our American troops and our allies from aggression on the Korean Peninsula and those needed for training purposes. The rest of these mines, more than 4 million in all, will be removed from our arsenals and destroyed by 1999. Just as the world has a responsibility to see to it that a child in Cambodia can walk to school in safety, as Commander in Chief, my responsibility is also to safeguard the safety, the lives of our men and women in uniform. Because of the continued and unique threat of aggression in the Korean Peninsula, I have therefore decided that in any negotiations on a ban, the United States will and must protect our rights to use the mines there. We will do so until the threat is ended or until alternatives to landmines become available.

Until an international ban takes effect, the United States will reserve the right to use socalled smart mines or self-destructing mines as necessary, because there may be battlefield situations in which these will save lives of our soldiers.

Let me emphasize, these smart mines are not the hidden killers that have caused so much suffering around the world. They meet standards set by international agreement. They destroy themselves within days, and they pose virtually no threat to civilian life once a battle is over. But under the comprehensive international ban we seek, use of even these smart antipersonnel mines would also be ended.

We're determined that lands around the world will never again be sown with terror. That is why I will propose a resolution at the 51st United Nations General Assembly this fall, urging the nations of the world to support a worldwide ban on landmines. I have instructed Ambassador Albright to begin work now on this resolution.

Third, while the exceptions I have mentioned are necessary to protect American lives, I am determined to end our reliance on these weapons completely. Therefore I am directing the Secretary of Defense to begin work immediately on research and development of alternative technologies that will not pose new dangers to civilians.

Fourth, as we move forward to prevent the minefields of the future, we must also strengthen the efforts to clear those that still exist today. At this moment, unbelievably, some 100 million mines still lie just beneath the earth in Europe, in Asia, in Africa, and in Central America. To help end the anguish they cause, the Department of Defense will expand its efforts to develop better mine detection and mine-clearing technology for use in the many countries that are still plagued by mines. We will also strengthen our programs for training and assisting other nations as they strive to rid their territory of these devices. For these efforts, as well as those to develop alternatives to antipersonnel mines, we will assure sufficient funding. I will personally work with Congress on this issue.

Many have worked to bring us to this moment. I especially want to say a word of thanks to Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Although I know he has differences with our approach, his dedication and his moral leadership on this issue have played a vital role in alerting the conscience of our Nation to the suffering that landmines cause. I also want to thank the many nongovernmental organizations that have worked so hard to put this issue at the top of the international agenda.

As we turn to the task of achieving a worldwide ban, we must work together, and we will be successful. Let me say, again, I greatly appreciate the time and the energy that General Shalikashvili and the Joint Chiefs have devoted to this important issue over the last few months. It may take years before all the peoples of the world feel safe as they tread upon the Earth, but we are speeding the arrival of that day with the decisions announced today. I will do everything I can to implement them all, including the international agreement to ban all antipersonnel mines, as quickly as possible.

Now, I think it is important to turn the microphone over, first to Secretary Christopher and then Secretary Perry, to finish the presentation.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:27 p.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his remarks, he referred to Gen. David Jones, USAF (Ret.), former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The related proclamation of May 17 on the death of Adm. Jeremy M. Boorda is listed in Appendix D at the end of this volume.

William J. Clinton, Remarks on the Antipersonnel Landmines Initiative Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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