Thank you, Vikram, for that introduction and to the USIP team for hosting us this morning on this incredibly inspirational and important topic. It is an honor to be on this panel with Ambassador Vinh and Ambassador Knapper, who I visited in Vietnam a few weeks ago just before I traveled to Quang Tri province in central Vietnam to see U.S. funded projects to find and remove unexploded ordnance (UXO).
So being here this morning is very timely. But it also underscores how incredible it is that we all can sit here as partners, colleagues, and friends. In Quang Tri, I not only saw the incredible work being done to remove explosive hazards, but also the important work of reconciliation in action and in particular the resilience of the women demining team I had the pleasure of meeting.
As the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, I oversee the Bureaus of Political-Military Affairs (PM), Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance (AVC), and International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN). In addition to policy and programs for preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction, our mission includes oversight of security assistance and defense trade, as well as deterring conflict and enhancing strategic stability.
Since 1993, the United States has provided more than $665 million across East Asia and the Pacific to find UXO, remove these dangerous items, and help communities heal and grow. This work is only possible because of the commitment of people—the people of Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam who conduct the dangerous work of finding and clearing landmines and UXO. Their dedication is inspiring, and I thank them.
I also want to recognize the efforts of our partners in local governments and among the NGO community. It is because of leadership at mine action authorities and cooperation among implementing partners that our programs to clear explosive remnants of war have been so successful.
And because of this continued coordination among stakeholders, the United States has been able to provide historic levels of funding in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Last year alone, we provided more than $67 million to address UXO issues in these three countries. And this year, we are on track to spend more than $75 million.
Our commitment is also measured in impact. We want all people in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam to live safely and in peace.
When I was in Quang Tri province in central Vietnam a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with some women deminers working with our implementing partners—Mines Advisory Group, Norwegian People’s Aid, and PeaceTrees Vietnam.
These brave women took time out of their day to share their experiences as deminers in the field and leaders in their communities. I was in awe. One woman’s comment was particularly moving—she said that her job as a deminer was “her pride” because, while the wars in Vietnam were over, she was contributing to ending pain in her community.
Her, and the many women working as deminers, personify the goals of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security.
However, we recognize that there is still a gender gap in security policy formulation and reform in many countries. Women are underrepresented at all levels in the national security decision making process.
Over the last three decades and across bi-partisan lines, the United States has been trying to rectify this issue in our Congress, in our political leadership, and in our representation at the United Nations. Around the world we need women meaningfully participating in decision making at all levels to secure the prevention and resolution of conflicts, to conduct peace negotiations, to carry out peace-building, peacekeeping, and humanitarian response, and, just as importantly, in post-conflict reconstruction.
This is why I am so proud of the work I saw in Quang Tri and throughout Southeast Asia. Clearing UXO is foundational to our relationship because removing explosive hazards is a requirement for development. There is still much to do, but I am heartened by our progress on UXO clearance and all war legacies issues.
I would also like to mention how inspiring it is to see the progress of the U.S.-Vietnam relationship, in less than 30 years since normalization. As Ambassador Knapper mentioned, next year marks the tenth anniversary of our bilateral Comprehensive Partnership. This milestone offers a chance to reflect upon the many areas of shared interest between the United States and Vietnam.
In particular, the United States and Vietnam are working together to promote stability and adherence to international law in the South China Sea, and we seek to push back on unlawful maritime claims in the region. We are proud that Vietnam now operates two former U.S. Coast Guard cutters, and we are excited to transfer a third to help Vietnam secure its coastline.
We are also working with our partners at Harvard, USIP, and the International Commission on Missing Persons to help Vietnam find its missing soldiers.
We are also expanding our relationship in the non-proliferation field. Through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation’s Export Control and Border Security program, and the Department of Defense’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency, we are working together to develop regulations and strengthen biological, chemical, and radiological security across Vietnam’s ports, border crossings, and institutions.
For many years, Cambodian communities remained impoverished because mines were scattered and left uncleared in farmlands. Access to agricultural activities were limited due to more than three decades of armed conflict. Today, in support of Cambodia’s goal of becoming mine-free by 2025, the United States and Cambodia continue to cooperate to address war legacy issues, including the reduction of UXO contamination, as well as accounting for missing U.S. service members.
With the United States’ support, Cambodia has experienced two decades of robust growth and made significant progress in advancing its sustainable development goals, including clearing millions of landmines and unexploded ordnance.
In Laos, the United States has provided more than $310 million to clear and dispose of UXO since our efforts started in 1995. Laos was severely affected by UXO during the Indochina War, and the United States is working to make sure our UXO operations support the Government of Laos on its target to remove UXO as an obstacle to economic development by 2030.
As you can see, the United States is dedicated to working with Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos to address these war legacy issues, help heal the wounds of the past, and support communities to thrive.
These are only some of our many successes in our bilateral relationships. And because of the trust we have built between our governments by addressing the legacies of war, we have opportunities in new areas of our relationships.