Briefing on the Release of the Tenth Edition of the "To Walk the Earth in Safety" Report
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
I also want to thank all those who have been involved in the preparation and publication of this report, and I want to recognize all of our partners from agencies across the U.S. Government as well as our numerous private sector partners that contribute to the success of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program. These programs are truly a collaborative effort between the Department of State, the Department of Defense, USAID, and the Centers for Disease Control. These agencies strive to help countries recover from conflict and create safe, secure environments to rebuild infrastructure, return displaced citizens to their homes and livelihoods, assist survivors to integrate into society, and establish situations conducive to stability, nonviolence, and democracy.
The State Department is also proud of its public-private partnerships initiative in conventional weapons destruction, which presently connects the Department with close to 70 private sector partners. These partnerships help unite the resources of the private sector with the passion of the nonprofit sector. And through the reach of the U.S. Government, we are able to make a concrete difference.
Looking ahead, despite all of our successes, we anticipate that the risks from poorly secured conventional weapons will remain a major humanitarian concern for the foreseeable future. The fact remains that there are still countless thousands of undetected persistent landmines buried around the world, each posing a great threat, each rendering the surrounding land unusable. Childhood is far from carefree for millions of children growing up in countries recovering from conflict. Even a simple game of soccer entails serious risk of injury or even death when a playing field may contain hidden hazards such as buried landmines or unexploded munitions.
As the Secretary noted, and as is clear in this report, our conventional weapons destruction programs save lives and are critical to helping war-ravaged areas recover. While I know that budgets are tightening, the value of these programs to U.S. national security is also without question. By helping countries recover from the effects of war, our assistance is playing a vital role in advancing stability and prosperity around the world. With that, I'd be happy to take any questions you might have about the report.
QUESTION: Yeah. Secretary Shapiro, just one quick on Libya, which the Secretary referenced.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Yeah.
QUESTION: I believe the most recent figures that the Department has given regarding the number of MANPADS located, destroyed, et cetera is roughly 5,000 out of an estimated 20,000 that the Qadhafi regime is believed to have had. Has that figure gone up now? Have you found any more since then than the 5,000, or is that still where it is?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, as you know, I was in Libya last Sunday when I said we’ve secured nearly 5,000 weapons. We’re roughly around the same number now. We do believe that perhaps thousands were destroyed during the NATO bombing campaign and that the rest remain in-country, likely with militias or others who looted the Qadhafi era ammunition stocks. So the key now is convincing those who hold onto these weapons to turn them in and take them out of circulation. And we are working with the Libyan authorities on the best way to do that, and that was the topic of – one of the topics of discussion during my visit to Libya last Sunday.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of how many of those weapons remain in militia control and whether any of them made their way out of the country?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: We are continuing our efforts to categorize and assess how many weapons are still at large. It will require us going back to the ammunition storage areas that were bombed and actually digging them up and figuring out how many we got. And we are also talking with militias as well and engaged in conversations with them as well as the Libyan Government. And again, that was a topic of my discussions last Sunday. So thus far, we have not seen any firm evidence that they have left the country, but we are obviously very concerned about it, and that’s why we have such a substantial effort on the ground in Libya to work with the Libyan authorities to secure these weapons.
QUESTION: Okay. And I have one follow-up. I know this number 20,000 has been bantered about for months now. Is that still your best estimate of how many there were before the NATO bombing campaign began?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Let me be clear. We believe that’s how many the Qadhafi regime had attained since the 1970s. We don’t know how many they used during their training, how many were no longer serviceable, but that’s based on our review of shipping receipts and other things that we have obtained, our best estimate of how many they have. As we go through these bunkers that were bombed, we may discover additional information that indicates that some of them were used during training or had been destroyed or are no longer serviceable. So that was the high-end number that we had of how many the Qadhafi regime had obtained since the 1970s.
QUESTION: But – and that figure hasn't changed since you’ve gone about your business? You haven't been able to lower that figure at all?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: No, no. It’s based on what we’ve seen thus far. And again, we are going through ammunition storage areas and bunkers for any additional evidence.
QUESTION: There was some criticism recently that too much attention was being placed on the MANPADS at the expense of everything else. I mean, is there an equal sort of opportunity thing here for all the sorts of different conventional weapons that are at play, or --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, one of my discussions with Libyan authorities, we talked about both MANPADS, but also securing conventional weapons as well. And we discussed working with them to develop proper stockpile management as well as encouraging those who have conventional weapons that they don’t need to turn them in and that – to encourage Libya, where its conventional weapons, where they do not need them for their defense needs, to work to destroy them. And so we – that has been a topic. Indeed, our efforts on the ground – we’ll work with the Libyans both on the MANPADS issue as well as on securing other conventional weapons.
QUESTION: Is it somewhat incongruous that, given the United States’ commendable record on cleaning up landmines, that the United States doesn’t sign a outright ban on landmines – been resisting that over the years?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: Well, as you know, we’re currently undergoing a review of our policy. But as you noted, the United States is the largest contributor towards landmine survivor assistance as well as clearing away landmines around the world. And so thus far, our review is taking into accounts what impact it would have on our ability to conduct military operations. And after that review is done, we will come to a decision about the best way ahead. But that should not in any way detract from the significant efforts that the United States has made towards clearing landmines and helping landmine survivors.
I would say even – we did send an observer to the Ottawa Convention annual review conference last month. And I think even nongovernmental organizations would agree that the United States has been the leading contributor to these efforts.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? When do you expect to complete the review, one? Two, with the death of Kim Jong-Il, you – it’s – I wonder to what extent the U.S. Government might feel ready to with – to remove the – any of the thousands of mines along the North-South Korean border.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: We don’t have a timetable for the completion of the review, but we have made significant progress during the review. And obviously, the impact on Korea will be – is something that’s being considered during the review, but I have nothing to add, other than that the review is ongoing.
QUESTION: Do you hope to finish it before the current – President’s current four-year term ends, or can you not even say that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SHAPIRO: That is the goal.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.