I want to thank the European Union for sponsoring this event hosted by the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and Mine Ban Treaty's implementation support unit. I regret that I am not able to join you.
In 1994 -- twenty years ago -- in a speech to the UN General Assembly, President Bill Clinton called for the elimination of anti-personnel landmines. It was an historic speech that I remember as if it were yesterday.
Two years later, in 1996, President Clinton said this, quote: "Today I am launching an international effort to ban anti-personnel land mines." He went on to announce a U.S. plan to develop alternatives to landmines, with the goal that the U.S. would end its use of anti-personnel mines by 2006.
In 1997, the United States missed an opportunity to be a leader in the international effort to ban anti-personnel mines when it refused to sign the Mine
2006 came and went. President Clinton's administration ended. After eight years of President George W. Bush, President Obama was elected and then reelected. In the meantime, U.S. troops fought two long ground wars without using anti-personnel landmines.
In 2010, I and 67 other United States Senators sent a letter to President Obama. We commended the President for agreeing to conduct a comprehensive review of the U.S. Government's policy on anti-personnel mines, and we urged him to conform U.S. policy to the Mine Ban Treaty as a crucial first step. Almost five years since the start of that review we are still waiting for the results.
After 20 years and three U.S. presidents, there is no evidence the United States is any closer to joining the treaty than when President Clinton made that speech. It is very disheartening.
We all know what the obstacle is. The Pentagon has long argued that it needs landmines to defend South Korea. In 1996, then Secretary of Defense William Perry said the Pentagon would, quote, "move vigorously" to achieve alternative ways to prevent a North Korean attack so they would no longer need landmines.
Yet, after 20 years, there is no evidence they have ever done anything to revise their Korea war plans without anti-personnel mines, or that any President has ever told them to.
Many believe the Pentagon's real worry is that giving up landmines, which are among a unique category of inherently indiscriminate weapons, would encourage efforts to prohibit other weapons. There is no substance to that argument.
Some have asked what difference it would make if the U.S. joins the Mine Ban Treaty. We have not used anti-personnel mines for 23 years and we do far more to support humanitarian demining than any other country. We have not exported anti-personnel mines since my amendment became law in 1992. We have spent many tens of millions of dollars through the Leahy War Victim's Fund to aid those injured by mines. We are not causing the problem, so why bother?
Because anti-personnel landmines continue to kill and cripple innocent people.
Because indiscriminate, victim-activated weapons have no place in the arsenal of a civilized country.
Because 161 nations, including most of our closest allies, have banned these weapons.
And because the United States has by far the most powerful military in the world and this treaty needs the United States.
As President Obama said in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize, quote: "I am convinced that adhering to standards, international standards, strengthens those who do, and isolates and weakens those who don't."
Twenty years after President Clinton's UN speech, President Obama can give real meaning to those words by putting the United States on a path to join the treaty.
That means destroying what remains of our stockpile of mines. It means revising our Korea war plans.
President Obama is the only one who can make that happen and time is running out.