Transcript: Robert Beecroft Outlines U.S. Security Policy Aims
(U.S. official discusses small arms, landmines, other issues) (2900)
In an era when there is "no perceived overall world threat," regional and local agendas are being pursued more readily than was possible a decade ago, says Robert M. Beecroft, deputy assistant secretary for security operations in the State Department's Bureau of Political Military Affairs.
"The idea of massive nuclear exchanges has faded from consciousness," Beecroft said in a recent interview. "So people see the opportunity to press their agendas in ways that would have been considered risky 10 or 15 years ago." Outlining issues that are "very central to the administration's goals for advocating and for pressing world stability" in the post-Cold War era, Beecroft cited "dealing with landmines, dealing with insurgencies," and being involved with "peacekeeping operations."
Beecroft's current responsibilities also include efforts "to control and limit the flow of small arms and light weapons -- especially to areas of conflict." Another area where his bureau is actively engaged is "consequence management" -- responding to crises linked to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons.
There are many other spheres of concentration, he added, "but basically I deal in areas that the State Department would not really have been so operationally engaged in during the Cold War. The world has indeed changed."
Following is the transcript of the interview with Beecroft conducted by Washington File Staff Writer Dian McDonald:
QUESTION: How would you describe the key objectives of your role as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Security Operations?
BEECROFT: There are several areas of concentration. One has to do with planning for contingencies such as Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone -- wherever in the world the United States might get involved in peacekeeping operations.
Actually, I tend to avoid the word "peacekeeping" because it is restrictive and potentially misleading. There are several kinds of operations that we get involved in in the post-Cold War environment that we live in, all the way from peacekeeping to peace enforcement to peacemaking -- some more muscular than others. But none of them really bears much relationship to the kinds of military operations that we were planning for during the Cold War. We are talking about a more complicated world where humanitarian disasters and ethnic crises seem to be the order of the day.
Another of my responsibilities relates to humanitarian demining around the world. The United States has by far the largest humanitarian demining program in the world -- $400 million since 1993. Our goal is very simple: We get mines out of the ground. We work with governments. We work with NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). We work with private contractors. And we have a record of success which is far and away the best in the world.
Another area where I have become active recently is in attempts to control and limit the flow of small arms and light weapons -- especially to areas of conflict. And I'm thinking particularly of the Balkans and of Africa. Small arms and light weapons -- which means, basically, weapons that can be activated and manipulated by one person -- kill thousands of people a year. They are largely uncontrolled in crisis areas. They flow across borders.
There is a small arms and light weapons glut which has to be gotten under control. And we are now working in several different ways with a number of different countries to do that.
We are also active in what is called "consequence management." This means that we respond, or work to help others respond, to crises related to chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons. We are not necessarily talking about terrorism here. We're talking about possible accidents or incidents, as well, that are not terrorist-related -- for example, the near-disaster at the nuclear reprocessing facility in Japan a few months ago.
There are a lot of other areas, too. But the interesting point is that I concentrate on issues and activities which, by and large, the State Department would not have been so operationally engaged in during the Cold War. The world has indeed changed.
Q: Could you elaborate on the entities that you work with in carrying out your primary missions?
BEECROFT: We work with a number of like-minded countries. In areas such as the Balkans, we work with NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), and the countries of the region. There's a group of 18 like-minded countries that we work with on small arms and light weapons. Norway has been particularly constructive in that regard.
On humanitarian demining, we work not just with countries, but also with a lot of NGOs -- some of which have their own demining initiatives. One is the HALO Trust, with whom we have engaged in a number of mine-affected countries such as Cambodia, Somalia, Mozambique, Afghanistan, and Angola. Another is the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, which is the UN implementing partner for our basic, so-called Level 1 surveys. And there are others: Mines Advisory Group, the Marshall Legacy Institute, Handicapped International, and CARE, to name a few.
We also work with contractors. Last summer, we conducted a global competition for an integrated mine action support contract whose purpose is to give us flexibility to assign mine actions anywhere in the world without the delays associated with competition for each initiative. The winning consortium is associated with no less than six commercial demining companies.
We also provide support indirectly through international organizations such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Slovenian International Trust Fund. In Fiscal Year 1999, we channeled nearly 20 million dollars to these organizations to assist mine action initiatives that those organizations managed.
Again I emphasize, our goal is to get mines out of the ground. The U.S. Humanitarian Demining Program is a truly interagency effort with the Department of Defense as our principal partner. It enjoys broad support in the U.S. Congress.
Q: How would you define the key cause of small arms/light weapons proliferation?
BEECROFT: One serious problem is that small arms and light weapons don't deteriorate very rapidly, so that you can find small arms and light weapons that are decades old still floating around from place to place. As a consequence of the end of the Cold War, a lot of countries that had had these small arms and light weapons under relatively strict control lost that control. So you will find stockpiles here and there, for example in parts of the former Soviet Union, that have been leaking to areas of tension.
Weapons that had been part of Cold War stockpiles are now turning up in areas of tension in the Balkans, in the Caucasus, in Africa, in East Timor. We have a number of initiatives in progress to try to get control over this.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenges as you try to combat the small arms/light weapons problem?
BEECROFT: We have several goals. One is to destroy the weapons. Another is to safely control -- keep under lock and key -- those which are not destroyed, but which countries feel are necessary for their own security. A third area is to help countries in terms of exports, imports, and legislation. With the group of 18 like-minded countries, for example, we have been sharing U.S. legislation on arms brokering. There are licit and illicit brokers. The U.S. has the most effective and far-reaching legislation on arms brokering in the world. And this has been a matter of great interest in countries where, for example, there is no real export or import licensing procedure. They are looking at how we do it -- both in terms of licensing procedures and of our legislation -- as something of a model.
Q: Are there other instances that you would like to mention that reflect U.S. cooperation with other countries in the effort to control the spread of small arms and light weapons?
BEECROFT: We are working directly with the government of Norway. Norway has been providing some welcome funding, and we have been providing the technical expertise in gaining control of illegal small arms and light weapons flows, in particular in the Balkans. Additionally, I have just come back from Sarajevo, where there was a meeting of the so-called "Balkan Stability Pact Security Table." One of the issues that that table deals with is small arms and light weapons. So the Stability Pact, which was established by governments at the head-of-state level last summer, is now beginning to take real action. The U.S. has proposed several initiatives in the realm of small arms and light weapons control.
Q: How many countries take part in this pact?
BEECROFT: All of the countries of the Balkans -- with the exception of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- plus the United States, the countries of the EU (European Union), Canada, and Russia.
Q: Are there any major U.S. initiatives that you would like to see implemented in the future?
BEECROFT: What we are looking toward is a United Nations conference on small arms and light weapons scheduled for 2001. Much of what we are doing now is to lay the groundwork for a successful conference. We want a conference that focuses on practical results, not rhetoric.
We also are working with the OAS (Organization of American States), which has put in place model legislation for small arms and light weapons control in this hemisphere. We are very pleased at the way that has been developing, and I would like to commend the OAS for the leadership it has shown.
Q: How would you assess the impact of the U.S. decision not to sign the Ottawa Convention on U.S. efforts to push worldwide demining activities?
BEECROFT: First, I'd like to point out that the Ottawa Treaty principally was an agreement that would ban the manufacture, sale, transfer, and use of anti-personnel landmines. While it contains a provision calling for humanitarian mine action assistance by the signatories, that was not its primary purpose. And, as I stated before, the United States is the unquestioned leader in providing mine actions assistance. This fiscal year alone, we will provide over 100 million dollars, including over 18 million for research into new mine detection technologies. I should also point out that the U.S. has signed and ratified the Landmine Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). This agreement prohibits the sale or transfer of anti-personnel landmines, as does the Ottawa Treaty.
As for the latter, we see no contradiction between our global humanitarian demining activities and our inability to sign the Ottawa Convention. We work very closely with the government of Canada and, indeed, with governments around the world on humanitarian demining. I was in Ottawa to discuss demining a few months ago. Our Canadian friends also come down here, and we stay in close touch.
The fact is that the United States has international obligations and responsibilities that prevent us from signing the convention at this time.
In Korea, the North Koreans have more than a million soldiers poised only 35 kilometers north of Seoul. The United State and the Republic of Korea bear the responsibility for holding that line. Therefore, we deploy anti-tank mines that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention, in spite of the fact that they self-destruct in a matter of weeks. There are prices to pay for being the 800-pound gorilla. But no one else can take over our responsibility, and we will have to maintain it for the time being.
At the same time, I would like to point out that unlike some Ottawa signatories, the United States does not export landmines and has not for years. President Clinton has made clear that by the year 2003, all U.S. non-Ottawa-compliant landmines will be retired, except in Korea. We are now conducting research on technologies that could replace the mines in Korea by 2006. If we meet that goal -- and I am optimistic that we will -- then we will sign the Treaty.
Q: Do you think that the world has gotten the message that the United States is not exporting anti-personnel landmines, and do you think the U.S. policy is understood?
BEECROFT: No. We could do better. And we are trying to do better. We work with NGOs very productively. I think they understand better our specific concerns and responsibilities. In a word, what has evolved is a quite productive division of labor. We consider the balance pretty good. Those countries and NGOs with whom we work understand our concerns better, and we do our best to respond to their concerns.
Q: Can you describe some of the things that the United States is doing in conjunction with other nations to find better techniques for mine detection and clearance?
BEECROFT: In addition to the research that I mentioned before that bears on the landmines themselves, we support NGOs and private companies around the world that are looking at improved technologies for mine detection and mine clearance. There are several aspects to humanitarian demining. The first is mine awareness. When everything else fails, the fundamental goal has to be to make people aware of mine dangers in a given country. In this we work with the United Nations, which has a leading responsibility for mine awareness. And we have also had our own initiatives in places like Kosovo and Bosnia.
Mine detection is obviously a primary goal. We are very strongly in favor of the use of dogs in this function. Dogs are great at mine detection. They can do a lot more than humans in the same amount of time, and they seldom get injured. They don't depend on whether a mine is metal or plastic, which is where a lot of mine detectors fail. Their sensitivity is to the powder itself. We have been pushing strongly for the broadest possible international use of dogs.
And then there is mine clearance. That is an area where I think we are technologically very advanced. There are many different kinds of mine clearance, depending on whether minefields have been set in place by militaries -- in which case charts or maps may exist -- or the more dangerous situation where you have random mines placed in the ground, sometimes by insurgents, sometimes simply by peasants who are leaving their farms -- this happened frequently in Bosnia -- and want to discourage others from taking them over. No one knows where those mines are, because the farmers often did not return. Then you can end up with a human tragedy.
Q: What are the major roadblocks to overcome in order to achieve the administration's goal of eliminating the threat of landmines to civilians around the world by the year 2010?
BEECROFT: The president's goal is a world which is landmine-safe for civilians by the year 2010. The main obstacle is that mines are still being placed in the ground. There is a direct link between peace and the absence of landmines. And when you look at a place like, say, Angola, or Afghanistan, insurgencies, and sometimes governments, are still putting landmines in the ground. And I am talking not only about anti-tank mines, but anti-personnel mines, so-called APLs -- the kind that can maim or kill an individual and often do.
So dealing with the problem of the use of mines by insurgencies and by governments is part of the goal of getting those mines that hurt civilians and kill civilians out of service by the year 2010. Frankly, I was more optimistic a couple of years ago than I am now that we were getting the message across that the use of landmines would no longer be tolerated. The fact is that landmines are, sad to say, one of the cheapest ways of making a political point.
We, and other responsible world powers, have to do better at informing those who would be tempted to deploy mines to achieve a political goal that such an action is simply not acceptable.
Q: How do the operations of your office factor into the formulation and implementation of the overall U.S. international security policy?
BEECROFT: A number of the areas that I have already mentioned are central to the U.S. Government's estimation of what national security is in the post-Cold War world. We no longer have a situation in the world where the black hats and the white hats are fairly easily discernible. It's a more turbulent world -- not less. The idea that history is at an end is clearly at odds with what we see on the ground. Indeed, what we see are a lot of more limited and more specific agendas coming to the fore, because there is no perceived overall world threat.
That means that such activities as peace operations, dealing with landmines, dealing with insurgencies, have become central to the administration's goals for greater world stability. That's really what we are talking about -- world stability in a world where local agendas can be pressed more easily than would have been possible 10 or 15 years ago.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: usinfo.state.gov)