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Diplomacy in Action

Briefing On the Release of the "To Walk the Earth in Safety" Annual Report

Special Briefing
Thomas J. Masiello
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs 
Washington, DC
August 3, 2010


MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Department of State. To begin today, we have released today an annual State Department report called “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” which underscores United States efforts around the world to eliminate the threat of a variety of conventional munitions to civilian populations, particularly those in post-conflict societies. That would include landmines, it would include light weapons, it would include shoulder-held missiles that can be a threat to civilian aviation. But here to kind of underscore what the United States is doing around the world is Brigadier General Tom Masiello from the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs to outline for you the report they released this morning. Tom?

BGEN MASIELLO: Thank you. Good afternoon. It’s my pleasure to announce the release of “To Walk the Earth in Safety” as P.J. just mentioned. It is the Department of State’s annual report on U.S. conventional weapons destruction efforts throughout the world. Now, this is the 9th edition of the report. Earlier editions just concentrated on humanitarian demining. And humanitarian demining is an element of conventional weapons destruction program, but not the entire piece and I’ll talk to you in about a minute or so what conventional weapons destruction encompasses as well as the demining effort.

Now, the United States is the largest contributor in humanitarian demining as well as conventional weapons destruction. As the report indicates, since 1993 we have contributed up to $1.8 billion in effective programs in over 50 nations. Now, this year for 2009 detailed in this report, we continue a very strong and robust effort investing and contributing up to 130 million. And currently we have programs ongoing in 32 countries.

Now, let me just talk a little bit about the whole of government approach. Obviously, this is a Department of State-led effort and within State, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs is the lead bureau. But obviously the scope of the program is well beyond the Department of State. Our big government partners include the Department of Defense, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Department of Health and Human Services, specifically the center for disease control and then the dozens and dozens of both private and public NGOs who are essentially our implementing partners. I think it’s a good example of when Secretary Clinton talks about smart power. And she mentions the synergies of integrating defense, diplomacy, and development into a single effort to help create significant effects.

And a good example of that in action and it’s described in the report as our community-based demining effort in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan itself, our (inaudible) philosophy is local control. So we help fund and support NGO – Afghan-based NGOs who go out then and look for local-type programs, local control. So they will work within a village, talk to the elders, sheiks in the area, help determine priorities of let’s say what areas to be cleared first. Then they’ll hire, train, and employ local individuals from that area – one, it provides employment; these programs can last months. They’ll clear the land and then you have USAID there as partners to help build sustainable programs on that land, mostly agriculture, once it’s cleared. And then from a defense standpoint, here you are cleaning these explosive remnants of war that are potential IEDs that can be used against our troops or Afghan security forces. You’re helping remove that threat as well. So again, it’s a good integration of all three of those.

Now, I did mention that the mine is a big piece of our program, but not the only piece. It includes the conventional weapons destruction. Another big aspect of that is stockpile management as well as stockpile and surplus munitions destruction. In many nations that can’t afford to actually manage their stockpile properly, we help bring in the expertise to do that. More importantly, I think we get better effect in that we help them destroy their small arms and light weapons that are surplus as well as munitions that could be in stockpiles for decades.

A good example of that is I was just in Bosnia this spring. And Bosnia, first of all, they have a significant landmine issue; probably one of the most heavily mined areas in the entire world, which we’re helping to demine. But also, due to decades of conflict and just not having the resources to effectively manage their munitions stockpile, they have weapons depots spread throughout the entire country. It takes scarce resources to protect those stockpiles.

In many cases, not necessarily in Bosnia, but other parts of the world these stockpiles are at risk to pilfering, looting, as well as accidental detonation. So we’re working in Bosnia, for example, with the Minister of Defense to help identify those stockpiles, those, the most are at risk, and then help fund programs and build sustainable programs to help reduce and destroy those at-risk munitions as well as small arms, light weapons. That leads to security – national security. It also leads to regional security. So again, the report details that and we’re very proud of the work that we are doing.

If I could just give you a few numbers here, over the course of the program, since 1993, we have destroyed 1.4 million small arms and light weapons and 80,000 tons of munitions. And also, the third piece of that conventional weapons destruction is MANPADS, Man-portable air-defense systems , or shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. Since 2003, we’ve helped destroy over 32,000. So that’s all I have in terms of an introductory on the report itself.

I’ll open it up to questions now. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: How do you reconcile these activities, the energy and (inaudible) to go with the fact that the U.S. hasn’t signed, as far as I know, any international treaties on banning the use of cluster bombs or landmines? I mean, this looks like guilt money.

BGEN MASIELLO: Well, I wouldn’t call it guilt money. But just because we haven’t signed those treaties doesn’t mean we don’t understand that – the humanitarian effects of those types of munitions. And that’s why again, the United States, we are the largest contributor to both demining and conventional weapons destruction.

QUESTION: I understand that. It still looks like an odd contradiction. I mean, does the State Department have – do you have any ongoing discussions with the White House about actually taking a more proactive step instead of a reactive step like this seems to be?

BGEN MASIELLO: Well, I will tell you the anti-personnel landmine, the Administration’s currently doing a review on that. However, again, just because we’re not party to these international treaties doesn’t mean we don’t sympathize and understand the humanitarian effects and will help working to– to mitigate those effects.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: So how do you establish or do you prioritize geographical priorities in this case for demining and so on? For instance, in Lebanon or along the Iraq-Iran border where the emphases are elsewhere, politically and so on. What is happening in terms of clearing these areas from mines and so on? All of them are anti-personnel mines.

BGEN MASIELLO: Well, what we do is – I think it’s the priorities usually start at the local level with – we work with the embassies and the country teams to help determine the extent of the problem, also help to determine how much government assistance the host nation is looking towards, and then we’ll build a program to support. In our – you mentioned Iraq. This year we’re spending upwards of $22 million.

On Lebanon as well, I can’t cite the exact figure, but we have a robust program in Lebanon. I mean they have explosive remnants of war due to civil war, due to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict a few years ago. In fact, talk about cluster munitions, we have a strong program to help clean up cluster munitions as a result from that war. And then also in Georgia. There in the Georgia conflict with Russia in 2008, there’s a concentrated area of territory where a lot of heavy fighting occurred that received a large amount of cluster munitions, and we are working with the Georgians to help clean up that area as well. It’s truly a global program.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. military involved directly in cleaning it up or is it always using local?

BGEN MASIELLO: The U.S. military is not involved at all in doing the actual cleanup. They – part of their contribution, number one, is working technologies. They have a center that works on just mine cleanup to work new technologies. And then they also help provide training to other militaries on explosive ordnance detail and that sort of activity. But they are not involved in any kind of direct cleanup.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Have you come up against any political kind of fallback in terms of – I’m thinking specifically in Southeast Asia – certain countries kind of being a little reluctant to pair with the U.S. on these efforts?

BGEN MASIELLO: Well, I will say, I mean we have great cooperation in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A lot of that, if not the vast majority of those remnants of war, are due to our doing from the Vietnam conflict. And all three of those countries are very cooperative, have built a very competent local mine action centers, and we’re working with them and helping fund them to clean up those explosive remnants.

QUESTION: How big a problem is left in those areas?

BGEN MASIELLO: Huge. I won’t sugarcoat it. At the current rate, it’s – it could take decades. We had a delegation from Laos and this was just a few weeks ago and I was talking to them about it, and they mentioned again decades, at the current pace.

QUESTION: Is there any estimate of the numbers of munitions left to uncover?

BGEN MASIELLO: I couldn’t tell you that off the top of my head, but I think we have those estimates and we can get you that information.

MR. CROWLEY: Other questions?

BGEN MASIELLO: Okay, thank you.

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