Pentagon backs away from ban on land mines

Land Mines

April 19, 1996
Web posted at: 7:50 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said Thursday that the Pentagon is not ready to sign on to an immediate ban on antipersonnel land mines. The Pentagon, he said, would prefer a "phase-out" of the weapons after the turn of the century.

Sources said the Pentagon proposal would ban "dumb mines" in five years, but would allow so-called "smart mines" equipped with "self-disabling" devices to be deployed by the U.S. military until the year 2010.

Willaim Perry

"That allows the personnel land mines to be used for the military purpose, but doesn't leave them around as a legacy for killing civilians for years or decades afterwards," said Defense Secretary William Perry.

Patrick Leahy

But Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), the U.S. senator leading the fight against antipersonnel land mines, says the Pentagon's plan sends the wrong message to the rest of the world.

"In fact, what they are saying is that the United States will not take leadership in getting rid of antipersonnel land mines, and that we will not do what our other allies, like Germany, Canada, Australia, and others, have done," he said.


The all-out ban was supported in an open letter to President Clinton signed by 15 top-ranking retired military officers, including Desert Storm Commander Norman Schwarzkopf, Supreme NATO Commander John Galvin, and Joint Chiefs Chairman David Jones.

But the Pentagon insists that mines are essential in stopping, slowing, or redirecting an enemy ground attack. For example, in the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the United States says minefields are fundamental to deterring the North, and saving thousands of U.S. and South Korean lives.

"Until we can find a way of replacing that military capability, we have to somehow keep those (mines) in service," Perry said.

anti-tank mines

But critics said that only bigger anti-tank mines -- not small antipersonnel mines, which can be set off even by the slight pressure of a child's weight -- would be needed to repel an attack. Anti-tank mines would not be affected by a ban.

"If we have to rely on antipersonnel land mines to defend South Korea, then South Korea ought to just run up a surrender flag today," said Leahy.

Pentagon planners said that by 2010 new technology may render mines obsolete. For example, ground sensors that can trigger a hail of artillery fire may be available. Until then, the Pentagon is convinced that the land mine is a cheap and effective way to protect American soldiers.

From Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

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