Press Conference by Ambassador Donald Steinberg, Special Presidential Representative for Global Humanitarian Demining

from US Information Agency
Published on 16 Sep 1999
Thursday, September 16, 1999
Palais des Nations, Geneva

STEINBERG: I am here in Geneva to participate in the standing committee of experts meetings regarding mine clearance which took place 13th through 15th, and then the 15th through the 17th -- a meeting which is still on going regarding survivor assistance for landmine accidents and mine awareness programs. These are associated with the Ottawa Treaty. We clearly are not a signatory of the Ottawa Treaty; nonetheless the meetings were open to all nations that have substantial programs either as donors or recipients of assistance, and we thought it was important to be here in order to coordinate and discuss mutual concerns with a number of parties.

I wanted to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about the United States program in Global Humanitarian Demining and to address any questions that you may have. I wanted to start out by announcing that the United States has decided to enhance our assistance to Global Humanitarian Demining to more than one hundred million dollars in fiscal year 2000, which goes from October 1, 1999 to September 30, 2000. That assistance is an increase over our fiscal year 1999 assistance but, equally important, it is a substantial increase over our average assistance over the past decade. The United States has provided about three hundred and fifty million dollars worth of assistance to a variety of demining actions, which I will describe shortly, since 1983. Our assistance entering that period was about two and a half time the assistance of the largest of their donors taken as individual nations. We are very proud of this assistance and we are looking forward to additional support over the course of the next years.

That assistance is going to be provided to a number of different activities. You have in front of you a description of the nation by nation breakdown of American assistance through 1999. It is important to note, for example that the U.S. will be providing about 35 million dollars to some 30 countries around the world to assist their internal fight against land mines. This assistance would be intended to support mine awareness programs, whereby children and their parents are trained to identify and avoid these weapons. It will be used for providing equipment to internal demining efforts, whether that is performed by internal governments or by United Nations or by non-governmental or private company demining groups. We would also assist capacity within the mine action centers in 30 countries around the world. In addition, we will under a separate budget of about 25 million dollars, which will be spent through the United States Defense Department, be providing training for foreign humanitarian definers. I am very proud to say that about a third of the world humanitarian definers up until this point have been trained by the U.S. military. That program will continue and even expend as we look ahead.

Another 14 million dollars will be dedicated specifically to the Slovenia Trust Fund. This is a program that the Slovenian Government has established to assist humanitarian demining throughout the Balkans region. It is emphasized so far Bosnia Herzegovina, but will be extending throughout the area as we look ahead. Those funds are also matching funds, and so they are intended to match contributions from other governments on a one to one basis. In addition to that we would be spending in the neighborhood of 25 million dollars on research and development in new demining technologies. This includes the adaptation of existing technologies which are used for military purposes to demining on an humanitarian basis. It would also includes support for 14 universities throughout the United States, under what we call the Multi-University Research Initiative, and they will be conducting basic scientific research into areas related to humanitarian demining. In addition, we have an institute called the Defense Applied Research Production Agency that will be investigating new projects in humanitarian demining technology. We are also very pleased that we will be continuing support to the Patrick G Leahey War Victims Fund. Over the past ten years we have provided under that program about 55 million dollars to assist the victims of landmine accidents and other victims of war all around the world. We have in the year 2000 perhaps a dozen countries that would be assisted under those programs. Those programs work through international organizations and non-governmental organizations to support prosthetic devices and orthotics for landmine victims, psychological treatment, vocational training , and reintegration to society. We are looking to expend that effort into new countries as they move toward peace, and indeed, Sierra Leone is at the top of our list in terms of expending that program. I am also pleased to note that we would continue our support for the emergency demining effort in Kosovo. I want to stress that our assistance to Kosovo has not come at the expense of any other program. We fortunately received additional resources from our Congress to support that program. As you are aware we are currently have eight demining teams in Kosovo. They are providing a variety of support primarily in the south-east of the region, but are operating wherever there are mines, unexploded ordinance, and bobby traps. They are using dog teams for mine detection, and are also engaged, to some degree, in mine awareness.

I also wanted ti highlight vis-a-vis Kosovo an initiative that we have undertaken working with UNICEF, the World Food Program, and -- most importantly -- D.C. Comics (sp?) to produce 500,000 comic books in which Superman informs the children of Kosovo on how to identify and avoid landmines. They have been prepared in Albanian, they have been field tested well in advance, and found to be exceptionally useful. They have now been shipped to Pristina and very soon they will be used throughout the region in schools as part, and let me stress: This: is a comprehensive program of mine awareness, this is not a stand alone activity, it is in support of what UNICEF, the United Nations Mine Action Service, and other groups are doing. It is in the Albanian language and it is appropriate to local circumstances.

The program that I have identified for the United States for the year 2000 focuses on government activities, but, one of our very important exercises is to try to encourage public/private partnership in the United States. We have several existing initiatives that are underway. Perhaps the flag ship of this programs has been one that are United Nations Association of the USA has put together. It is called the Adopt A Mine Field Program. About 18 months ago a group of American entrepreneurs took a trip around the world including coming to Africa, and visited Angola in fact, when I was Ambassador there. They decided that they needed to do something about the problem, and do something tangible. So they returned to the United States and, working through the United Nations Associations, asked the United Nations too identify for them the hundred worst mine fields around the world, the ones that are actually affecting individuals in terms of causing accident and amputations, keeping people from returning to their homes, affecting education and water supply and power generation. The United Nations went out and identified mine fields and they did this in five countries, and obviously, part of the identification was related to what actually could be done. So in a number of countries there may be bad mine fields but we can address them because of continuing instability or other factors. So they identify mine fields in five countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, Croatia, and Mozambique. They also , at our request both the United Nations Associations and my Government, identify the cost to clearing these minefields and who would do it, whether it was an internal authority at the United Nations, etc. We, then. working with the United Nations Association produced a brochure that identify all of these mine fields, put a price tag next to them, and the general price tag is about 25 000 dollars, and, this program was launched in March, over the course of the last six month we, including the United Nations Association, The U.S. Government and a variety of other actors have been going around the United States to talk to church groups, businesses, civic organizations, and wealthy individuals to say, make a difference around the world, if you contribute 25 000 dollars you can clear a mine field, you can allow tenth of thousand of people to return to their homes. You can make the difference.

I am very pleased to say that over the course of the last six month the program has raised two million dollars and it is just getting going. Already 30 mine fields have been adopted around the world. Many of the mine fields are now being cleared, and the program is just getting off the ground. I have had the opportunity to travel around the United States to Los Angeles, Atlanta and Houston, and at each site, individuals have stepped forward to adopt mine fields, and, as I said, these are every thing from small church groups to big corporations to wealthy individuals. We have support from the United Nations Foundation, which is the Ted Turner charitable contribution organization. Ambassador Andy Young is one of the lead players in this, our former Ambassador to the United Nations. Robert Mondavi, the vintner in Northern California, has put on fund raisers for this activity. I am also pleased to know that in the United Kingdom as well as Australia similar groups are being established to perform a similar function.

I also wanted to highlight a couple of other private-public partnership. One is going to be launched next week by Queen Noor in Washington. It is the Marshall Legacy Institute Canine Corps (sp?). As you are all aware, the use of mine detecting dogs in demining exercises has a paramount importance. There is no way to substitute for what a dog can do to in identifying where there is gunpowder under the ground. The beauty of dogs is that they sniff for the actual mine. By contrast, when you use a metal detector, you can pick up a lot of false positives, if there is an soda can in the ground or whatever. Dogs don't do that, they search for the mines. And we have found that they are exceptionally useful, and in some circumstances, are irreplaceable.

The Marshall Legacy Institute is an American private organization. What they have constituted is a K-9 Corps (sp?) project, where they are identifying, training, and deploying mine detecting dogs around the world. Their primary focus so far has been to Central America. The effort here is to go again to these same private organizations and corporations, including people like dog food producers, and say you can make a difference in the world if you assist us with this project. Contribute money, help us buy and deploy dogs around the world. As I said, this will be launched officially next week in Washington. Let me say that the United States Humane Society strongly supports this effort. You may think that it might be a little strange since we are putting dogs in potentially dangerous situations, but it is important to remember that, whereas we are all very concerned about the 20 000 people or so who are injured around the world each year by landmines, some half million animals are killed by land mines each year.

It is clear that -- with the exception of our elephant friends in Thailand -- they are not receiving rehabilitation treatment. In most cases they simply pass away.

There are a variety of other public-private initiative underway, but I think I would hold at this point and ask Dennis Barlow to say a few words. We are indeed delighted to support in a number of ways, the initiative of James Madison University, although his work goes well beyond simply the project in which we are collaborating. He has made an important contribution to the entire James Madison University structure for global humanitarian demining. Let me also say that I am perfectly prepared to address question regarding the Ottawa Treaty. I will do that in responding to questions.

BARLOW: In 1996, President Clinton and Secretaries Albright and Cohen made a decision that, in order to implement the Leahey Bill and to be able to address mine action more effectively, they called for an expansion of American efforts to be involved in mine actions. But they also called for new approaches to the Department of Defense. DOD realized that we would have better ability to get its information out and to share information with deminers around the world, if they work through an organization that was not, in quotes, so "military." So, they approached the University and indicated that our university at James Madison, located in the Shanendoah valley, Virginia, would like to take on this role. With a very small contract in 1996 for 80 000 dollars, we have continued, and now we have a contract for about 500 000 dollars a year. So I think that it is fairly cost effective. The only thing that the Department of Defense tells us to do is to communicate with deminers around the world and to collect as much pertinent information on demining as we can and to disseminate it to whom ever needs it or wants it. We are not concerned with who uses it, we are not concerned with any kind of classified information. We make a very cohesive effort to capture all the information we can on demining, country by country, function by function. Not only mine clearance, but also mine awareness, victims assistance, logistic support deployments, coordination. What we have done in our Web site which is kind of our flagship effort, is try to have all of these different aspect of demining covered. We are not the creators of the data. We are not experts in demining. What we are experts in is information management and we have linked to every other organization for bits of information we can find and we organize that in a friendly way for people who tune in to our Web site.

We have other information outreaches as well. We conduct conferences that are global in scope, but we have themes so that we can zero in a particular aspect of demining and try to get more control of it. For instance, last December we had a conference on geographical information systems, so we van help the deminers around the world figure out which system would be best for them. In the Shenendoah valley, we had the five manufacturers of the most used GIS systems, actually come and show how their software system could support demining. That led to many partnerships between demining organizations and GIS. We are just completing today a conference in Ljubljana that showcases the dog capability. We have all the major dog breeders and trainers in Ljubljana along with the operators so that they can interact. We had three dog demonstrations yesterday. Thirty countries come to our conference -- about 170 delegates. It was vastly different from the meeting we had today. It was filled with operators who had tactical questions, and that was our thrust. We put out a journal of mine actions three times a year which is electronic in nature and accessible through our Web site. It has been so successful that we are now going to a paper version with our next edition which would be out next month. That's a victim assistance issue, and if anybody wants to tune in to the web site we will be glad to send it out and the subscription will be free. Once a year we do a regional issue. Our last was Africa. Our last edition was machine assisted demining. What we try to do is we try to look at all the aspect of mine action and we try to zero in on themes that we think that the demining community is the most interested in. Our Web site has about 577 hits a day. Most of these come from military organization that are involved in humanitarian demining in their countries. Many come from UN agencies and organizations. Most come from NGOs such as NPA and others. We try to keep very up to date with the meetings and so forth that are occurring. Our calendar of events is a pretty good indication of where conferences are and where events are being held. We turned out some videos on victims assistance and trauma, and we also burn some CDs. So our multimedia approach in information management is becoming our strong suit, yet we don't feel that is any substitute for the real time information that we can get out during our conferences.

One final word, it is very cost effective because I as a Director go to the professors who have specific expertise, for example our geographical information science department has six professors who help me as on an as needed basis. So we wind up paying them only for the time that they contribute to that particular task. So I have six teams within the university. My multimedia team s made up of people who are computer science CD experts for instance. So I am able to only use people when they have a task to perform, in support of either State Department request or Defense Department request.


Q: this booklet goes up until April 1999. Could you update me on what other developments, in the Middle East for example -- this humanitarian project in Oman, then you have your work in Egypt to establish a national demining program. Then another point is: Does Queen Noor, this function in Washington, does she have another hat, like patron of demining activities in Jordan or something of that sort, and how is that related to the Middle East? And a last point: Has Kuwait suffered from any mining activity due to the invasion or the liberation?

STEINBERG: I am not going to get into the very specific details regarding the country programs. I will say that in the case of Egypt discussions are still under way regarding our contribution, that contribution is not being made yet because there is no program that has been developed to this point. The Government of Egypt is still in consultation with a number of international organizations as well as specific countries and as that gets elaborated we will proceed with assistance in that case.

In the case of Queen Noor, I am not sure of her exact title, but she is a patron of the landmine survivor network and has been very supportive of that organization, and much of her effort has been devoted towards assistance to survivors of land mines accidents. I am actually going to be speaking on the panel with her at another conference in San Francisco at the end of the month where she will be focusing on those question. She has shown remarkable commitment to these issues over the course of last year, not only globally but also with in Jordan and it is a tribute to her influence as well as others clearly in that country that Jordan is now. with regard to Kuwait, there was an international program that the Kuwaiti government sponsored, a very expensive program, to eliminate -- not so much land mines, but more important the unexploded ordinance in that country. I don't know the actual number but I had heard a number as high as 800 million dollars involved in the cleanup operation for Kuwait that was sponsored by the Government itself going out to private deminers and ordnance cleaners all over the world.

Q: (inaudible) I would like to know your approach on countries like Angola (inaudible) are you going to (inaudible) How long does it take to define a country like Mozambique (inaudible)

STEINBERG: With respect to countries that are in a period of conflict it is probably counterproductive to try to proceed with demining in those areas as a general rule. In all cases we believe that it is essential to continue with various forms of mine actions however, including mine awareness programs, and indeed it made more important to proceed with those kind of programs so that children and their parents are educated as to identification of mines and how to avoid them -- as well as survivor assistance programs. Those two sets of programs continue in emergency situations even in the face of conflict.

The two specific locations you mentioned: In Angola we are continuing, as I said, to provide humanitarian awareness and survivor assistance programs. Indeed over the course of the last six years, we provided about 20 million dollars worth of total assistance. We are continuing until the end of this contract a demining program that is now in place with Norwegian aid. We are also supporting a number of community-based demining demining effort. We will have an assessment team go to Angola within two or three months, to see about the possibility of extending those programs beyond their current limit, which is in early 2000. There is clearly a presumption that it would be very difficult to continue or to expend any programs in a area of conflict. However the one element that is important that is that in Angola we are seeing an increasing number of displaced people. We are going into new areas that had previously not been subject to displacement, and as they are going to these new areas, they are finding land mines. So it is essential that we address that issue.

With respect to Ethiopia and Eritrea, there is been obviously in the middle of the conflict, suspension of various form of cooperation. They came along with the conflicts that emerges in those areas. We have specifically indicated our intention to continue with mine awareness programs in those areas and as part of a peace agreement, we would be very interested in enhancing support for demining as it goes ahead. I mentioned the dog program around the world, and I am very pleased to note that a private organization, in the United States, called the Humpty Dumpty Institute, intents to provide assistance for 100 000 dollars worth of trained dogs for Eritrea, as soon as this process calms down.

Let me say also, and this is an essential element of why we do humanitarian demining. If you take the situation like Peru and Ecuador, rapidly following the agreement for peace on that border we provided essentially one million dollars: 500 000 dollars apiece to assist Peru and Ecuador in proceeding with demining. Not only because of the humanitarian element, but because it is a confidence building measure. It's a way of getting previously warring parties together to address the common concern. We would hope that in Ethiopia and Eritrea, we would see the same phenomenon.

In terms of the length of time to define areas: Under the Ottawa Treaty, countries were given essentially ten years to proceed with demining. Under the program I run, the President's Demining 2010 Initiative, our goal is to eliminate the threat of land mines to civilian s around the world by the year 2010. It is important, in my view, not to establish this notion that we would get rid of very landmine around the world by ten years from now. I think that this is simply not going to happen, and we need to be pragmatic about that. What we can do, is to identify where the mines are around the word, identify mines fields, establish priorities. There may be some areas in which land mines exist. You could mention Egypt for example. There are some areas of Egypt where indeed mines have been present from World War II, and even before, where they don't affect individuals. There are in remote areas, in other cases vis-a-vis Egypt, that is not the case, they are directly affecting individuals on a daily basis, but to the extend that we can establish a clear sense of priorities and address the most dangerous minefields, the one that affect individuals, the ones that keep people from returning to their homes, the ones that affect social, economic recovery after a period of conflict, I think we can proceed toward the goal of a mine safe world by the year 2010.

Q: What is the actual attitude in the U.S. towards the Ottawa Treaty and about the President's 2010 initiative when was it announced?

STEINBERG: Let me answer the second question first. That was the end 1997 that we announced that initiative. And indeed at that point my office was created to oversee that initiative. Regarding the first question, when you say in the United States, I assume you referring to our Government. I think there are others, maybe even at the conference this week, who might speak on behalf of other American citizens.

We welcome the commitment of the international community under the Ottawa Treaty and through other means to address the crisis around the world caused by the presence of some 70 million anti-personal land mines planted in up to 70 countries around the world. Indeed the President's demining 2010 Initiative is clearly consistent with the goals in the Ottawa Treaty. We have not been able to sign that Treaty because of concerns that we have regarding the security of American servicemen and women as well as our commitment of the safety and security of our friends and allies around the world. During the 1997 negotiations on the treaty, The United States sought two changes in the treaty. We sought the right to continue to use our anti-tank systems which include essentially an anti-handling device which is an anti-personal munition that surrounds the anti-tank weapon. These are all self-destructing, so we put them in a battle area and within four to six hours they blow themselves up. Therefore we don't believe that they pose an humanitarian long term threat. But they are clearly illegal under the Ottawa Treaty. We sought an extended time period to get rid of the dumb mines the ones that are not self-destructing that we are using in Korea. Regrettably, those accommodation could not be made and therefore we didn't sign the treaty. At the same time we have taken a number of steps. We have destroyed 3.3 million of our dumb mines, all of those that we don't need either for Korea, or for our training purposes. We have permanently banned the export or transfer of landmines as of 1997. We have now adhered, several month ago, to the amended mines protocol, the second amendment to the Convention on Conventional Weapons which put very strong restrictions on various aspect of use and transfer of landmines, and importantly covers a number of countries that are not signatories of Ottawa. We have pledge that by the year 2003 we would not use dumb mines anywhere in the world outside of Korea. We have pledged an aggressive effort to identify alternatives to both the anti-tank systems and the current use of landmines in Korea. If we identify and can deploy those weapons we will sign the Treaty or adhere to the Treaty by the year 2006.

I know a number of Americans who are uncomfortable with that position, but we, certainly in my position on the humanitarian demining side, work very closely with a number of organizations that are part of the international campaign to ban landmines in our common effort to address the crisis cause by the presence of landmines.

In response to the previous question, we also very strongly support a number of organizations doing mine surveys around the world and I just want stress how important that effort is. We talked a lot about landmines as if we really knew where all them were and where mine-affected countries are and the full extent of the impact. We do not. I was Ambassador to Angola for three and a half years. I would, every month or so, go out to mine fields participate in training programs for deminors, assist other efforts, and yet I could not really tell you what the real mine situation in Angola is. I think a variety of the so-called experts who say that they really know what the situation is really don't. I think one very positive development is that we all getting a lot more realistic about what the challenge is out there. One important effort in that regard is to do comprehensive surveys, what are called level one surveys, in the key mine affected countries to go in and try to figure out where the mines are and what the social economic impact of those mines are. Because increasingly we are becoming very sophisticated in the sense of not so much worrying about numbers of mines, or that sort of clearance effort, but the social economic impact of these mines.

Q: How many mines are still left in your stockpiles and do you still use these mines?

STEINBERG: the figure we usually use is somewhere in the eight to ten million figure, if we include all the different types, including anti-tank systems. That is the figure that is usually cited and the landmines are produced to replace the existing stock pile. We have capped the stockpile. But new mines are produced to re place other ones as they expire. There is a time limit. We are very concerned in a number of cases about what happen when landmines start to deteriorate. We have not even talked about this, but around the world our estimate is that there are some 60 to 70 million landmine in the ground, but there is an equal estimate that there are perhaps 250 million landmines in stockpiles around the world. In many cases, those landmines deteriorate. They deteriorate structurally and in some cases they involve explosives that are real threat environmentally. So that is a very deep concern of ours to eliminate structurally unsafe landmines around the world.

Q: Getting back to Kosovo, could you give us a figure on U.S. assistance?

STEINBERG: It is a difficult number to come up with but the probable number is somewhere around 3.5 million to 4 million dollars already. This involves not only the deployment of the teams that I just mentioned, but also our support for a number of programs by UNICEF for mine awareness throughout Kosovo, including in the camps in Albania and Macedonia before people returned. We are also looking at enhancement of support for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation to do survey over the course of the winter. We are going to hit a period, within a matter of weeks, where it will be very difficult to do demining in Kosovo. what we would focus on at that point is mine awareness program, programs and training of indigenous capacity there throughout the winter period. We have assistance that has been designated for that as well. So I would say for the emergency period, we are basically looking at somewhere between 3.5 and 4 million dollars and as we go ahead we are looking at enhanced assistance over the course of the next years. I need to say that this is part of a very expensive international program where there about 15 non-governmental organizations or private companies representing some dozen countries around the world and the response working through the United Nations mine action service and their center in Pristina, has been e very good cooperative effort. One aspect I want to highlight in that rega