Nhia Yeurng, a 65-year-old father and grandfather living near the Thai-Cambodian border, awoke one day to the sound of an explosion and his son’s voice crying for help. Yeurng rushed over to see what had happened. While out tending cattle only two hundred meters from his house, Yeurng’s grandson had triggered a land mine. Yeurng could not believe what he saw. His grandson was sprawled out in the road, his left leg covered with fragments from an anti-personnel mine. In an attempt to pick up his pain-stricken grandson and bring him to a hospital, Yeurng lost his balance and triggered another mine (Red Cross Factsheet).
Unfortunately, this story and others like it are not only shockingly true, but also extremely common. Every twenty minutes an antipersonnel mine maims or kills another victim (Human Rights Watch 6). With over one hundred million land mines planted in 70 countries around the world, the possibility of triggering a mine is a reality for millions of people (Red Cross Disaster Relief). In fact, the United Nations estimates that there is one mine in the ground for every 50 humans on earth (Capello and Cusac 18). With numbers so phenomenally high, it is clear why civilians in mine infested countries such as Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, Bosnia, Ethiopia, and Mozambique regularly suffer casualties.
Although a life-altering reality for millions of people worldwide, the issue of landmines seems to be a distant threat to most Americans. Very few people in our country are aware of the devastation that landmines cause in civilian populations and know little about past or present involvement by American companies, the U.S. military, and U.S. political leaders in this issue. Although landmines do not directly threaten American soil, as citizens of a global community it is our duty to be informed about the current issues surrounding landmines, to vocalize our beliefs as members of this community, and to publicize the atrocities caused by landmines in order to destroy them as a worldwide threat. If there is to be any progress made in the worldwide humanitarian struggle against mines, public awareness and involvement in the issue are crucial.
In this paper we will discuss the military and economic reasons behind the continued use of landmines, as well as the resultant health, humanitarian, and economic repercussions. We will then take a look at past and current international efforts to ban the use of landmines, de-mining efforts, and the role that governments, citizens, and non-governmental organizations are playing in the struggle to rid the world of landmines. Though tremendous headway has been made, we find that landmines remain a significant impediment to the health and economic stability of many nations throughout the world.
Since their creation in the mid-19th century, antipersonnel mines have become a fundamental aspect of military strategy, revolutionizing infantry tactics. There are four basic categories of antipersonnel mines: blast, fragmentation, directional, and bounding devices, each of which describes a different method of explosion. The blast mine is the most common. Hidden underground, the blast mine is activated when the victim steps on it. When not instantly deadly, these mines almost always require surgical amputation (Boutros 8).
Another major differentiation is between “smart” mines and “dumb” mines. Smart mines are a technological innovation in which the landmine self-destructs after a prescribed length of time. These mines, though significantly more expensive, are more humane because they do not remain a threat for generations. According to Army statistics, smart mines are 99.99% accurate at deactivation, and have a built in back-up deactivation mechanism when the battery runs out (Capello 18). Although appealing, smart mines have significant drawbacks; the name does not remove their function as deadly weapons, they are not always short-lived, and they can be reprogrammed. Caleb Rossiter, the director of Demilitarization for Democracy, stated the humanitarian point of view: “nobody who understands weaponry should use the term ‘smart mines.’ ‘Smart’ implies a computer that makes an intelligent discrimination between targets. Landmines aren’t smart. They are triggered by anything – children, animals” (Capello 18).
Tactically speaking, though, landmines are efficient defensive weapons for the military. Although some landmines kill, their primary purpose is to maim soldiers in order to slow the encroaching army. A wounded person also has a “detrimental psychological effect on his fellow soldiers” (Human Rights Watch 5). While landmines were originally planted by hand as defensive weapons to protect military installations and resources, or to impede enemy advance, in the 1960s armies began dropping mines from planes as offensive weapons, saturating target areas and preventing enemy retreats (Cameron 275). Remotely delivered (air-dropped) landmines tend to be more effective, but also more dangerous than planted ones because they can be mass deployed. Their use increases the probability of major post-conflict casualties due to their arbitrary landings and sheer numbers (Capello 18).
The military also favors using landmines because of their price. The cheapest antipersonnel mines cost as little as three dollars each (Red Cross Factsheet). In both the Vietnam War and the Persian Gulf War, the United States deployed countless land mines. But the choice to continue using traditional landmines has also had drawbacks for the U.S. The Department of Defense estimates that in this century, 100,000 Americans have been injured or killed in landmine accidents since the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, ninety percent of all mine and booby trap components used against the United States were originally from our own arsenal, and in the Persian Gulf War, thirty-four percent of all U.S. casualties were caused by land mines (Human Rights Watch 6). Looking at these statistics, it appears that the landmines we used may have caused more harm to our own soldiers than necessary. In fact, the landmines we placed throughout those wars are still harming American soldiers today, as many landmines have an average lifespan of 50 to 100 years, claiming victims long after fighting has ceased (Human Rights Watch 6). As the Human Rights Watch points out, “the terrible irony of modern day peace keeping for U.S. troops is that their lives are sometimes threatened by landmines manufactured, sold, and shipped out from their own nation a few years or a generation ago” (Human Rights Watch 6).
Still, John F. Troxell, the director of national securities studies at U.S. Army War College, believes that the strategic value of landmines overrides the humanitarian costs. He asserts that, “while there are legitimate humanitarian concerns related to indiscriminate and undisciplined use of the weapons…there are equally valid concerns relating to the effectiveness and security of U.S. forces and their ability to accomplish assigned missions throughout the world” (Troxell 103). With no effective alternatives to landmines, Troxell argues that all mines should remain in the U.S. arsenal. Landmines are too vital a battlefield tool for channeling enemy forces, defending flanks, and restricting terrains and border zones to be eliminated as a weapon (11). Although the need to protect American soldiers is important, Troxell overlooks the statistics indicting U.S. landmines as a major cause of American casualties. Troxell also neglects to acknowledge the reality that civilians are primary victims of mines, especially after conflicts are over.
Beyond military influence, there are strong economic pressures on the United States to produce landmines. The United States has played a significant role in the use and distribution of both smart and dumb landmines and has only recently been curbing their use of the weapon. Until 1996, the United States was one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of land mines. From 1969 to 1992 alone the U.S. exported 4.4 million mines (“Landmines: Another Pro Life Issue”).
In 1996, a Human Rights Watch Report identified forty-seven American companies involved in mine manufacture or delivery, including Motorola, General Electric, Alliant Techsystems, and Ratheon (Human Rights Watch 2). In publishing their report, the HRW attempted to initiate protests against companies involved in the production of landmines in the form of letters from the public, divestment, and shareholder resolutions of protest (Human Rights Watch 5). After publication of the Human Rights Watch Report, Motorola and sixteen other U.S. companies terminated their involvement in the production and distribution process. Alliant Techsystems of Hopkins, Minnesota, was one of the many companies that refused to halt production. From 1985 to 1995, Alliant earned $336,480,000 in production contracts and sales, a profit that the company refused to part with (Human Rights Watch 3).
Because government facilities are the only locations to actually assemble complete landmines, many companies that manufacture landmine components do not feel morally responsible for their overall production. Since production of landmine parts is so lucrative for these companies, industry lobbying is likely to hamper the elimination of landmine production in the U.S. for years to come, and the humanitarian toll will continue to rise (Human Rights Watch 5).
As already mentioned, a large number of landmine victims are actually innocent civilians living in war-torn areas. Landmines are particularly devastating because their effects reach beyond individual victims to the community as a whole. Considerable health, welfare, and economic issues surround communities that have been heavily tormented by landmines.
According to Eric Prokosch, author of The Technology of Killing: A Military and Political History of AntipersonnelWeapons, “those who fall victim to [mines] are the most vulnerable in society: the innocents, the poorest of the poor. They are the ones who forage into the countryside, knowing that there are mines out there, because they are driven to do so by economic necessity” (Prokosch ix). Landmines are not only physically, but also mentally devastating to their victims. Unable to plough fields or carry heavy loads, victims become an economic and psychological burden to their families.
Communities also suffer the consequences of wars for years after the fighting stops because they are unable to rebuild. In many armed conflicts, landmines were planted around key economic installations such as power plants, water treatment plants, and market centers. Through the neutralization of essential infrastructure, landmines create a virtually insuperable obstacle to post-conflict peace-building and economic revitalization (Boutros 8).
Beyond the fact that they kill and maim, cause long-term psychological problems, and impose a financial burden on the entire family and community, landmines also have devastating indirect consequences. Because they block access to roads, arable land, and health facilities, landmines may stimulate an increase in waterborne diseases, malnutrition, and infectious diseases (Krug et al.). They also undermine the healthcare system because the demands of care are so high. Crucial services such as first aid, patient transport, and qualified staff become overburdened and ineffective (Giannou 1453).
International Efforts to Ban Landmines
In reaction to these inequitable and horrendous consequences, some governments and, more recently, humanitarian organizations have become involved in the landmines issue. Governments generally get involved by funding de-mining efforts and/or promoting the passage of domestic and international bans on the production and use of land mines. Non-governmental organizations often provide education, health, and relief services, along with promoting international de-mining efforts and encouraging governments to join such international landmine treaties.
The earliest international landmines conference, called the “Conference of Government Experts on Weapons that May Cause Unnecessary Suffering or Have Indiscriminant Effects,” was held in Lucerne in 1974. Forty-nine countries were present, but the only non-governmental organization allowed in the conference was the International Committee of the Red Cross. The conference came up with six requirements to be enforced upon ratification, one stating that, “antipersonnel land mines must not be laid by aircraft” (Prokosch 150). However, these requirements were shot down without any replacement measures, and the conference was terminated without a ratified treaty. Two more conferences followed the Lucerne Conference. Neither one was effective at establishing a code of conduct regarding the use of landmines that could be followed worldwide, although the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention did create the first formal United Nations Treaty ban on conventional weapons since 1899 (Prokosch 161-162).
It was not until 1992, when the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) established a prominent voice in the landmine issue, that countries began to address humanitarian problems surrounding landmines. The landmines campaign developed from groups concerned with human rights and overseas medical assistance. The six founding members of the ICBL are the French Handicap International, the German Medico International, the Mines Advisory Group from Great Britain, and the American organizations, Human Rights Watch, the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and Physicians for Human Rights (Prokosch 182). These groups recruited over one thousand organizations and numerous individuals to campaign to rid the world of landmines. The ICBL approached the issue boldly, fighting for a complete ban on exports and landmine use rather than searching for a balance between humanitarian and military needs (Prokosch 184). The justification for such a complete ban is that the adverse effects on society are so high that they outweigh any possible military needs (Prokosch 184).
The ICBL’s successes are in large part due to its ability to “attract public sympathy and favorable treatment of its cause by the news media through its forthright portrayal of the sufferings of mine victims” (Prokosch 182). Individuals such as Princess Diana, Elizabeth Dole, and Nobel Peace Laureate and ICBL coordinator Jody Williams have dedicated countless hours to raise awareness and significant funding for landmine victims (Vidulich). At Princess Diana’s tragic death, the American Red Cross stated that, “the Princess brought the power of her presence, her compassion and her position to some of the most important humanitarian issues of our time, saving countless lives and bringing comfort to countless others. Her work to bring about a global ban on the landmines did more to galvanize the world opinion on this issue than any other single individual” (Red Cross News Release). Since Princess Diana’s death, Queen Nor of Jordan has continued the Princess’ role as a powerful voice in the campaign. It is through the significant public support by such prominent individuals and organizations that the ICBL has been so influential in its proposal to ban landmines.
Another reason for the International Campaign to Ban Landmine’s success is its ability to conduct field research quickly and efficiently, as well as publicize its results in a timely manner all around the world. The ICBL also has access to national decision makers and has the information and credibility necessary to persuade them to act quickly and decisively.
In 1992, the United States Congress adopted legislation imposing a moratorium on the sale, transfer, and export of mines from the United States as a result of effective lobbying by the ICBL (Procosch 183). The moratorium permits the continued manufacture and use of landmines as long as the size of the actual stockpile does not increase. (Boutros 8). While not complete, the moratorium still represented a victory for mine opposition, and was later extended through 2000 (Human Rights Watch 11). Although the U.S. has not produced any more anti-personnel mines since 1997, the Government reserves the right to resume production at any time (Landmine Monitor Report USA).
In 1994, another well-known international organization joined the fight when Cornelio Sommaruga, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), called for a complete ban on landmines (Red Cross Factsheet). The ICRC is a Swiss based organization that works for the application and development of international laws that regulate the conduct of armed conflict, known as “international humanitarian law”(Prokosch 148). The American Red Cross also joined their international counterpart, setting out specifically “to achieve a global ban on landmines as soon as feasible, using all venues possible, to provide assistance to landmine survivors today while offering hope for a world free of antipersonnel landmines tomorrow” (Red Cross Factsheet).
In 1997, the ICBL saw it’s largest victory, as the momentous Ottawa Treaty was drafted. Formulated at the “Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction,” the treaty declared the use of landmines to be a violation of international law, outlawed the production of mines, mandated the destruction of existing mines over the next four years, and blocked any transfer of landmines between participating countries (CNN). Although the Ottawa Treaty demands that signatories destroy their stockpiles within four years and clear mines inside their own territories in ten years (Vidulich), realistically the onus to follow through with these actions lies within individual countries, as there are no substantial criteria established for enforcing the treaty.
One hundred and thirty-four of the 147 signatories have since ratified the treaty (ICBL). The United States, however, is among forty-seven countries, such as Iran, Iraq, Egypt, N. and S. Korea, Turkey, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan, who refuse to sign (Red Cross Guidance). Although the United States supports the Ottawa Treaty in theory, it cited several reasons as to why it could not sign. The primary excuse made by the American government in 1997 was the claim that “the United States has ‘special needs’ for land mines in South Korea where 37,000 troops face a one million man North Korean Army” (CNN). The U.S. uses landmines in conjunction with anti-tank mines not mentioned in the treaty, and the military asserts that it is essential to maintain this system until a better alternative can be found (“Landmines: Another Pro Life Issue”). United States officials cited additional military reasons for their reluctance, and only destroyed 3 million of its stockpile of 15 million landmines (Human Rights Watch 2). Currently the U.S. maintains a stockpile of 11 million “smart” mines that can be used and replenished whenever deemed necessary.
Since the 1997 Ottawa Conference, efforts to encourage support for the landmine issue in the United States have faced difficult setbacks as media coverage has declined significantly. In 2001 the U.S. Government abandoned former promises to sign the Ottawa Treaty in 2006, and President Bush has since decreased aid for international de-mining programs from $100.6 million in 2000 to $81.8 million in 2001. This twenty percent cut in funds affected de-mining research, education, and mine action activities (Landmine Monitor Report USA). Despite this decrease, the United States remains the leading financer of international de-mining efforts.
As evidenced by the United States, government leaders are continuously balancing pressure from the military, economic arguments, and humanitarian perspectives, and it will take substantial public and media involvement to balance the scales. As Prokosch points out,
“Until governments are pressed to adopt strict limits for the prohibition of weapons causing superfluous injury or having indiscriminate effects, until there is a truly effective worldwide citizens’ movement concerned about wars and the conduct of warfare, the growth in suffering inflicted in armed conflicts will continue” (Prokosch 195).
Issues surrounding mine clearance include the technological limitations of detection and removal techniques, a shortage of sufficient funds, and a lack of a definitive knowledge of the extent of the problem. Although the idea that technology will solve our landmine crisis is appealing, it is unrealistic. Technological advances are in fact worsening the global mine crisis. As landmine technology advances, the mines become more difficult to detect and remove because of new materials and a higher level of sophistication in electronic fuses. Unlike landmine technology, mine clearance technology has advanced little since the 1940s (Boutros 8). Currently, detection equipment is only 60-90% effective in finding mines made with a minimum of metal (Boutros 8). Some new methods are being explored, and over the past several years mine-detecting dogs have been added to the arsenal, improving safety and increasing efficiency seven fold. Unfortunately, they are prohibitively expensive, and only approximately 400 have been trained worldwide (Porth).
Until governments of developed countries become fully involved in research and funding, new techniques will not be developed and humanitarian mine clearance will remain slow, dangerous, and expensive. While landmines cost as little as three dollars to make, cleanup costs range from three hundred to one thousand dollars to remove, not including medical costs associated with accidents caused in the process (Red Cross Factsheet). These figures are rarely taken into consideration by military cost-benefit analyses on the use of landmines.
The United Nations funds many mine clearance programs around the world, and it has found that the most cost-effective and successful method of de-mining is to train locally recruited clearers (Boutros 8). Clearance costs remain high, though, as they include management, training, equipment, communications, medical support, casualty evacuation, insurance, and compensation for the workers. Beyond monetary costs, de-mining is a slow and dangerous process because of the precision it requires. Each time an individual faces a landmine, he puts his life at risk attempting to deactivate it. In Kuwait, for example, eighty-four experts were killed or injured while removing mines that were laid during the Gulf War (Red Cross News Release).
The largest mine clearance issue is that it is impossible to determine the full extent of the problem. Understanding the magnitude of injuries caused by landmines is crucial for the development of appropriate interventions and optimal use of resources. However, organizations have difficulty accumulating complete data because the regions most affected by landmines are generally poor and inaccessible areas, some of which are still in the midst of wars (Krug et al.). There is no way to accurately tell the number of landmines planted in the world today. Many armies do not create maps of their minefields, and if the maps are created, they are usually inaccurate (Boutros 8). This has been a problem for many mine-ridden nations.
Country-specific Case Studies
In Afghanistan, for example, the Soviet Union scattered landmines across the countryside by airplane, making Afghanistan the most heavily mined country in the world. These mines were not recorded and did not contain self-neutralizing devices, leaving long-term consequences for the Afghani people (Prokosch 182).
The situation was exacerbated by American retaliation after the September 11 terrorist attacks on United States. Errant U.S. air strikes spread cluster bombs and devastated de-mining infrastructure, killing four de-miners, two detection dogs, and destroying de-mining equipment (Landmine Monitor Report Afghanistan). The ICRC recorded 1,368 new landmine casualties in Afghanistan in 2001, but that number is not comprehensive (American Red Cross Disaster Relief).
Landmines are a serious problem in nearby Northern Iraq due to the Kurdish civil wars. According to the ICBL, about one person a day steps on a mine in that region (ICBL Iraq and Landmines). De-mining efforts were extremely active between 1998-2002, when over 9.7 million square meters of land were cleared under the UN Mine Action Program, and mine risk education reached 143,175 beneficiaries. However, Iraqi government delays and refusals to grant visas for essential mine action personnel have hindered the program (Landmine Monitor Report Iraq).
Along with these delays, Sadam Husein has been denounced in the past for his use of landmines. During the recent war between the United States and Iraq, landmines were again deployed as a last ditch effort by Saddam’s troops, though there is no official data documenting how many landmines either side used in the war (Landmine Monitor Report Iraq). As noted previously, neither country has signed the Ottowa treaty.
The fight against landmines has made progress in some countries. The Angolan government, for example, recently joined the fight against landmines, ratifying the Ottawa Treaty on July 5, 2002 after years of appeals from humanitarian organizations to end their use of landmines.
These mines have been a significant problem for Angolans; according to the 2002 Landmine Monitor Report, between 1998 and 2001 there were 2,055 mine casualties, 487 of whom were children. (Landmine Monitor Report Angola). According to Chris Giannou’s article, “Antipersonnel Landmines: Facts, Fictions, and Priorities”, published in the British Medical Journal in 1997, “The absolute number of mines is of little consequence. Whether a square kilometer of rural Angola contains 10 mines, 10,000 mines, or 10,000,000 mines is not important: it is one square kilometer of farmland that cannot be used to grow crops to feed families. That is what is important” (Giannou 1453).
Anna Catildi, writer of the article Resilient People Amidst an Armed Truce, states that in Angola “its not a case of teaching people to avoid mines. Every Angolan knows that somewhere there is a mine with his name on it. We [the UN] try to ensure that the meeting is postponed for as long as possible. Its like telling someone that they’ve got cancer and may live for a few months or twenty years. All we can do is offer help to prolong that” (Cataldi). Physicians Against Landmines estimates that at the current rate of de-mining, it will take over a century to rid Angola of all of its landmines (“Landmines: Another Pro Life Issue”). Progress has been made, though, as only 660 casualties were reported in 2001, a significant decline from 2000 and the Angolan government has recently designated a National Mine Action Plan and Commission on Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (Landmine Monitor Report Angola) .
Cambodian citizens also face incredible odds in their struggle against landmines. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world today. With a population of 9.9 million, landmine deaths and injuries total over 700 per month. Although there is no exact count of the number of deaths from landmines, it is estimated that one out of every 236 people is an amputee, compared to one out of every 22,000 in the United States (Krug et al.). According to the Red Cross, “with an estimated eight to ten million mines scattered throughout the country, Cambodia remains one of the world’s most mine affected countries. Mines have affected almost every aspect of Cambodia life, destroying lives and families, rendering valuable fertile land too dangerous to farm, endangering roads, bridges, and rail lines throughout the country and posing a constant threat to civilians trying to reconstruct their lives after years of civil war” (Red Cross Factsheet).
Although there are currently 1,400 trained mine cleaners in the country, the de-mining process is slow because mines are overgrown by one foot of grass and each blade must be removed individually in order to prevent pulling tripwires (Boutros 8). In 1991, the Red Cross began its rehabilitation program in Cambodia. The 3.6 million dollars in funding that the program utilizes covers the renovation of hospital facilities and an upgrade in surgical and nurse training programs, as well as the construction of a rehabilitation center for landmine victims and other disabled (Red Cross Factsheet).
Landmines will remain a growing problem long into the future unless action is taken to stop their creation and utilization, remove those mines already in place, and educate and support populations affected by mines. Their ease of production and military effectiveness makes them popular weapons for use by both countries and rebel armies, nevertheless, their true costs need to be taken into consideration. Only through international consensus and adherence to a treaty can we prevent the problem from escalating even further, allowing us to focus on de-mining and rebuilding what has already been lost. Unfortunately, efforts of the ICBL and its member organizations have demonstrated the difficulty of accomplishing this task. Without strong, sustained support from the public, people around the world will continue to live lives of fear, uncertainty, and poverty for generations to come. The continued use of landmines should be a major concern for anyone interested in economic development, peace, or equity in the modern world.
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