landmine In 1999, the Land Mine Treaty was proclaimed into law. A Canadian initiative, it has been signed by over 100 countries, including all European NATO countries. Its authors and champions won the Nobel Peace Prize. The Treaty simply states that signatories will not produce and will not use landmines under any circumstances. Exempted are some anti-tank mines that must be specifically detonated by the army planting them — they will not explode on contact or by accident. The notable non-signatory countries in the world: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Russia, and, you guessed it, the US.

The US Government Accounting Office (GAO), whose job it is to assess the efficacy of weapons, has repeatedly reported that landmines serve no useful military purpose. Their sole function is to terrorize, destabilize and isolate civilian populations. Virtually all landmine victims are civilians. One half never make it to hospital, and one third are children, some attracted by the bright colours of many mines. Those that live almost all lose limbs. Cambodia alone has 35,000 mine-caused amputees.

Prior to the signing of the treaty there were about 120 million land mines sitting unexploded on the ground in 80 different countries. Since then 30 million have been destroyed, and another 50 million have been identified as remaining unexploded. The other 40 million, plus any produced since then, are unaccounted for, and non-signatories refuse to identify their inventories. During peacetime about 20,000 people per year worldwide die or lose limbs from contacting unexploded landmines. Each costs as little as $3 to produce and a minimum of $300 to safely locate and detonate.

During the 1991 Gulf War, the US and Kuwait added 200,000 of their own landmines to the millions already laid by the Iraq regime. By the time of the Afghan War, the US had largely switched to combination ‘Gator’ bombs (also called ‘dumb bombs’) that combine multiple anti-tank and anti-personnel (people-killing) landmines. There is no estimate of the number of Gator bombs deployed in Afghanistan, which already had (and still has) untold millions of bombs laid by the Russians and Afghanis during the earlier war, and more recently by the Taliban. Afghanistan is now the most mined country in the world, and more than 200,000 Afghanistanis have been killed or injured by landmines in recent years.

About 100,000 US landmines, including Gators, were shipped to the Mideast (mostly in Qatar and UK Indian Ocean islands) for possible use in the most recent Iraq war. The military claims they were not used, probably because all the US allies had signed the Land Mine Treaty. However, the US simply replaced landmines with cluster bombs, which leave about 20% of their explosives (deliberately) unexploded, and hence have largely the same effect as landmines. There are no estimates of the amount of such unexploded ordnance (UXO) sitting on the ground in Iraq, but since cluster bombs were part of ‘Shock & Awe’, the quantity is undoubtedly massive.

The costs of this insanity go far beyond the horrendous cost of medical care and safe detonation. These terrorist weapons inflict lifelong psychological damage on the entire civilian population, and render millions of square miles of land inaccessible and unusable. They are a lingering reminder of the menace and ruthlessness of the invading force.

The Nobel-winning group that developed and fought for the Land Mine Treaty is working to expand it to cover cluster bombs and other avoidable unexploded ordnance. What we need to do in the meantime is get the hold-out countries to sign the Treaty. The candidates in the 2004 US election must be made to clearly state their position on the Treaty. Clinton waffled. Bush has refused to ‘tie his hands’. The Democratic candidate must commit to end the atrocity of using weapons whose only function is to kill, maim and terrorize civilians. Arguments to continue the manufacture and use of these criminal munitions are morally bankrupt. Time to stand up and be counted.

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  1. Camilo says:

    The horror of physical injury due to landmines goes together with the alienation from one’s own country, the knowledge that somebody has decreed and cruelly enforced an edict by which you can not go on peacefully around anywhere. It is a beautiful landscape, marrred by the knowledge of death as soon as you walk over it, despair and hopelessness taking over.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks Camilo. I was especially proud of this post, and a bit dismayed that no one had commented on it. Maybe it’s so obvious that there’s nothing left to comment on — it’s hard to find someone in favour of landmines. But I haven’t heard any politician from either US party say they’re opposed to them, and willing to sign the Treaty, and that concerns me.

  3. O RLY YA RLY says:

    I agree completely. Isn’t the same happening with a treaty against torture?

  4. Gil Gilliam says:

    I don’t think I would put myself down as “in favor” of any method of killing or maiming another human being, however……I would quibble with this statement:”Their sole function is to terrorize, destabilize and isolate civilian populations”Are there any sources you could point me to from US military doctrine or policy documents regarding having these items in inventory for the “SOLE” purpose of inflicting terror and injury on civilians? Could you point me to evidence from Afghanistan or Iraq where a US military commander deliberately employed these items against civilians (meaning non-combatants)?I’d really appreciate any pointers to information that supports the assertion that the reason the US maintains and uses these weapons is to ” kill, maim and terrorize CIVILIANS”.If so, I’d be as appalled as you are and support a ban on the use of these devices in that manner.On another point, once the GAO has conclusively demonstrated their ability to hold a defensive objective against a superior attacking force without the use of mines as one of their potential tools, I’d be inclined to give their assertions a little more credence.Thanks for your help.

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