Online Writing Lab

Roane State Community College

The Use of Landmines

by Alejandra Galindo

El Salvador, 6 April 1992--Three siblings died near the Guazapa volcano last weekend when they stepped on a mine planted during the period of civil warfare. Ironically, their parents had returned to the area only a few days earlier. The children were four, six and eight years old. Parts from the three children's bodies were found as far as 30 metres from the explosion site. (qtd. in Grant 25)

Antipersonnel landmines kill thousands of people every year. Antipersonnel landmines do not recognize a cease-fire; they continue killing or maiming for many years after the conflict is over. Antipersonnel landmines do not discriminate between soldiers or civilians. On the contrary, more and more they are being used in an indiscriminate way, terrorizing civilians and transforming agricultural fields into killing fields. In addition, de-mining is a very slow and very expensive process, and after a war most countries are not prepared to cope with the constant health care demands imposed by the number of injured by landmines. Finally, landmines make it very difficult for refugees to go back to their cities and villages. As response to the landmine problem, the international community has come up with a treaty to ban landmines. On March 1, 1999, the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty came into effect; so far 134 countries have signed the treaty. Unfortunately, the U. S. is not one of them.

The Encarta Encyclopedia defines a landmine as "an encased explosive device that is concealed below the surface of the ground." It can be made of "metal, plastic, glass, or wood" (n. p.). Probably the concept of landmines is almost as old as the existence of organized armies. Philip C. Winslow, in his book Sowing the Dragon's Teeth, describes how Roman soldiers, before the beginning of the first millennium, used a plant with spikes as a landmine in order "to delay pursuers" (126). The Chinese, according to Delbruck, used "ground mines" made out of explosives in the year 1232 (qtd. in Winslow 126). Six hundred years later, in 1840, the use of landmines was introduced in the United States; they were used "in large quantities" during the Civil War (Winslow 126, 127). In the course of the First World War the landmine technology was further developed, but it was "during the Second World War [that] hundreds of millions of mines were buried across Europe and North Africa" (Winslow 130). Thus began a massive use of this kind of weapon.

There are four main types of antipersonnel mines, explains James P. Grant, Executive Director of UNICEF. Blast mines, the kind more commonly used, are "normally detonated by the pressure of a foot and the resulting explosion will kill or severely injure [the] victims" (9). Fragmentation mines are normally triggered by tripwire and "jagged metal fragments are sprayed over a 100-metre radius. Anyone within a 25-metre radius is likely to be killed" (10). Directional mines, Grant continues, propel "steel balls forward in a 60-degree arc. These mines can kill at up to 50 metres and maim at up to 100 metres" (10). Bounding mines leap "45 centimeters into the air before shattering into more than 1,000 metal splinters. The lethal causality radius is at least 25 metres" (10). The end result in all the cases is either death (mostly in the case of children) or loss of body parts. In contrast with other armaments, landmines cannot be aimed to specific targets. Once deployed, they cannot be controlled. Even when the conflict is over, they cannot be stopped. They "can remain active for as long as 50 years. Land-mines placed today may still be killing and maiming . . . in the middle of the next century" (Grant 1). Landmines cause indiscriminate destruction and do not differentiate between soldiers, civilians, children, animals, or tractors. "It is estimated that land-mines have killed or injured more than one million persons since 1975, the vast majority of them civilians" (Grant 2). Furthermore, the United Nations reports that "every month over 2,000 people are killed or maimed by mine explosions" (1).

Nevertheless, according to Faulkner, in a war landmines are useful because they can "protect military establishments and other important installations." They also can "channel enemy forces" into specific areas and can "deny routes and strategic or tactical ground to the enemy" (3). Even if there is no war, landmines can help to protect specific areas or installations. Two examples can be found in South Korea and Cuba. In the event of an attack from North Korea, Heilbrunn explains, "millions of mines . . . have been laid by the U. S. and South Korea" in the border between the two countries (2). Cuba also uses landmines, "around the U. S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay," as protection from any American move (Canada-Mexico 11). However, it is hard to believe that in these days of sophisticated weapons and detailed satellite information another alternative to landmines cannot be found. Furthermore, even when landmines can have a specific and necessary function, they can very easily become a problem. For example, Hambric and Schneck reported that landmines caused "33% of all U. S. casualties" during the Vietnam War and "34% percent [sic} of all U. S. casualties" during the Gulf War (qtd. in Human Rights Watch, "The Global" 2).

Moreover, after the Second World War landmines have been used in agricultural lands, "villages, water sources, religious shrines," and also as "anti-morale, or terror weapons[s] targeting" civilian populations (Faulkner 3, 4). According to the United Nations, landmines can cost as little as $3.00 (1). Because they are cheap and effective, they are being used more and more in different conflicts around the world. "It is estimated that more than 110 million active mines are scattered in 70 countries" around the world (United Nations 1). However, the inexpensive cost of landmines is in great contrast with the expensive cost to remove them. According to Patrick Blagden, a United Nations de-mining expert, de-mining costs "between US $300 and US $1,000 per mine" (qtd. in Grant 3). Countries that have suffered a war in their own land encounter many rehabilitation tasks; landmines make these tasks very difficult and also put an extra economic burden on the country.

As is the case with the price of de-mining, the healthcare expenses imposed by the landmine injured are very high. Furthermore, most of the time, a war-torn country does not have the healthcare infrastructure necessary to cope with the demands imposed by this kind of injury. For example, the United Nations reports that "the number of units of blood required to operate on patients with mine injuries is between 2 and 6 times greater than that needed by other war casualties" (1). These expenses are only for physical injuries and are not taking under consideration any psychological damage. "Up to 1995, there are at least 250,000 landmine-disabled persons in the world" (Faulkner 1, 2). This number gives a clear picture of the magnitude of the healthcare problem confronted by the affected countries.

The indiscriminate use of landmines in rural areas has been devastating for these communities. Fertile agricultural lands are turned into "unusable and uninhabitable" landmine fields. And the grazing of livestock and domesticated animals becomes very dangerous for both the animals and the people taking care of them--a labor very often done by children (Faulkner 4). The economic and social consequences are impoverishment and malnutrition, accompanied by the feeling of despair and helplessness. In addition, the use of landmines make it very difficult for refugees to go back to their villages and towns, and, as just has been mentioned, to go back to their past activities.

Through the history of civilization, there have been a number of laws to "regulate conduct that is inherently brutal. . . . Societies have observed restrictions on the conduct of warfare for thousands of years. Just as there has long been a medical ethic, so there has been a warrior ethic" (Grant 15). There have been a number of attempts to regulate the use of landmines; but, for different reasons, they have failed to solve the problem. In October 1996, the Candian government sponsored a conference to discuss the strategy to achieve a total ban on antipersonnel landmines. This conference, explains Mary Wareham, a Senior Advocate for Human Rights Watch, led to a number of other conferences; and on December 1997, in Ottawa, "122 countries signed the Mine Ban Treaty" (3). It is also important to mention that in December 1997 the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and its coordinator Jody Williams were awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for "their role in making the treaty a reality" (3). The treaty, as Wareham explains,

prohibits the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of antipersonnel landmines. It also requires that stockpiles be destroyed within four years of the treaty's entry into force, and that mines already in the ground be removed and destroyed within ten years. It also requires state parties to provide detailed information about antipersonnel mine stockpiles and minefields. It calls on states to provide assistance for care and rehabilitation of mine victims. (2)

Forty countries, Wareham continues, needed to ratify the treaty in order for it to become international law after six months had passed (3). In September 1998, the fortieth country ratified the treaty (Canada-Mexico 3). And six months later, on March 1, 1999, the treaty became binding international law. As of February 31, 1999, Human Rights Watch reports, "134 nations have signed the ban treaty (including all of NATO, except the U. S. and Turkey), and sixty-five nations have ratified." The U. S. has plans to sign the treaty in the year 2006, "but only if the Pentagon's search for alternatives to mines" is successful ("Historic" 1).

In a world that has many important problems--the war in Kosovo, the Ozone layer, AIDS--it is very difficult for people to keep informed. In a survey I conducted among eighteen students and two professors at Roane State Community College, only four people knew about the Landmine Ban Treaty. Nevertheless, thirteen thought the U. S. should sign it. The use of landmines constitutes a pressing problem for the world, but unfortunately, not many people are aware of it (see Appendix for a copy of the survey).

Landmines make the recovery process for countries that have suffered a war in their own land extremely difficult. Landmines put a tremendous economic burden along with psychological effects in the morale of the population; they may even perpetuate the conditions for a future conflict. The United States should sign the Mine Ban Treaty now, not in the year 2006. And also, the U. S. should put pressure on other countries to do the same. As it is, the advances made during this century in weapon technology are already impressive; the world does not need to wait for more new developments in order to ban the use of landmines. Human civilization should not begin a new millennium with the knowledge that new landmines are being produced and planted. The ban of the use of antipersonnel landmines should be in our "warrior ethic" for the next millennium; let us hope that the human race can achieve more than that in the next century.

Appendix

Questionnaire
The Mine Ban Treaty

The 1997 Mine Ban Treat (also known as the Ottawa Convention) bans all antipersonnel landmines. All the countries signing the treaty are required to destroy, within four years, all stockpiled mines and, within ten years, the mines already in the ground. Also, countries signing this treaty are obliged never to use, develop, produce and transfer antipersonnel landmines.

On March 1, 1999, this treaty came into effect. One hundred and thirty-four nations have signed the treaty. In the American continent all the countries have signed, except for the U. S. and Cuba. The NATO countries have signed, except the U. S. and Turkey.

1.    Did you know about this treaty?

        Yes 4
        No 16

2.    Do you think the United States should sign the treaty?

        Yes 14
        No 6

3.    Why?

Works Cited

Canada-Mexico Regional Seminar for the Promotion of the 1997 Convention for the Total Ban on Antipersonnel Landmines. "The Mine Ban Treaty and the Americas." Human Rights Watch Fact Sheet. 11-12 January 1999. 22 April 1999.

Faulkner, Frank. "The Most Pernicious Weapon: Landmines." Contemporary Review 270. 1574 (1994): 136-142. InfoTrac, ASAP Expanded Academic ASAP, 15 April 1999.

Grant, James P. "A Catastrophe for Children." UNICEF. n.d. 25 April 1999. <http://gopher://gopher.unicef.org:70/00/.cefdata/booklet94/landmine>.

Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia. "Mine (Warfare)." CD-ROM. Microsoft Corporation. 2 cds. 1993-1996.

Heilbrunn, Jacob. "Minefield of Dreams." New Republic. 13 Oct. 1997: 4-6. InfoTrac. Academic Abstracts FullText Ultra, 15 April 1999.

Human Rights Watch Organization. The Global Landmine Crisis. Human Rights Watch Arms Project Report. April 1999. 22April 1999.

---.  Historic Landmine Ban Treaty Takes Effect. Arms Division--Human Rights Watch World Report 1999 Chapter. 31 February 1999. 19 April 1999.

United Nations. Land Mine Facts. 19 April 1999.

Wareham, Mary. The Mine Ban Treaty and the Middle East/North Africa. Human Rights Watch Fact Sheet. July 1998. 28 April 1999.

Winslow, Philip C. Sowing the Dragon's Teeth: Land Mines and the Global Legacy of War. Boston: Beacon P, 1997.