June 16, 1998 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

Unilateral Dismemberment

Our boys are in trouble. And girls too for that matter. I'm referring to those serving in our armed services-and the threat appears to be domestic, not foreign.

Last year President Clinton took the advice of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and declined to sign an agreement-the so-called Ottawa Convention-that called for a global ban on land mines. Now the administration is waffling.

In a May 15 letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., National Security Adviser Sandy Berger wrote: "The United States will sign the Ottawa Convention by 2006 if we succeed in identifying and fielding suitable alternatives to our anti-personnel land mines and mixed anti-tank systems by then."

The problem: There are no suitable alternatives, and Sen. Leahy is trying to codify this mumbo jumbo into law. The kinds of weapons we're talking about are used to protect our troops. Try to envision a Marine or GI-your son or nephew, perhaps-sleeping in a foxhole. Ask yourself whether he would be safer or more at risk with his perimeter protected by mines in case his buddy on sentry duty is wounded or killed.

Commanders, and especially the commander-in-chief, should be able to look the parents of a dead American soldier in the eyes and say, "We did everything we could to protect your son." These words would ring hollow if the United States were to de-mine places where U.S. troops are daily at risk, such as South Korea.

Signing the Ottawa Convention would amount to unilateral disarmament by the United States-and lead to unilateral dismemberment of our troops in the field. China, North Korea, India, Iraq and Iran have all rejected invitations to sign this "global" mine ban. Even if they did sign it, only the gullible would trust them to obey it. As The Stars and Stripes newspaper put it, this treaty would be as effective as "a starter pistol at the Battle of the Bulge."

Not that I'm insensitive to the heart-tugging footage of the late Princess Di meeting with one-legged Cambodian children victimized by these crude weapons. But those were mines left behind from wars that ended years earlier. Today, the United States manufactures only "smart" mines, the kind that self-destruct after a limited time and pose no threat after hostilities cease.

The United States also has been giving millions of dollars annually to international de-mining efforts and conducting research into technologies that will enhance our abilities to find and disable mines that are no longer needed. We should call on other countries to do the same.

Buying into the Ottawa agreement would be another blow against U.S. defenses. On a grander scale, America remains vulnerable to ballistic missile attack thanks to the abandonment of President Reagan's vision of an anti-missile system.

And what about conventional forces? The Pentagon's goal is to be able "to fight two major regional conflicts nearly simultaneously." With the forces we have now, we couldn't fight one Gulf War, much less two.

Consider: President Reagan once had a goal of a 600-ship Navy. The Gipper came close with 569, but President Clinton has reduced the armada to 347. Ditto the Air Force, which has gone from 26 active tactical wings to 13. The Marine Corps, once a force of 199,000, has been downsized to 174,000 active-duty personnel. And the Army has been slashed from 18 active divisions to 10.

From land mines to missile defenses to conventional forces, the sad truth is that our commander-in-chief appears AWOL.

Note: Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org), a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office