Should the World Community Ban the Use of Landmines?

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Should the World Community Ban the Use of Landmines?
A standard weapon of war for many years has been the land mine. Mines explode when someone steps on them or otherwise upsets them. They can wreck a jeep, cause trouble for tanks, kill or maim soldiers on foot, and deny an area to civilian use. Mines are inexpensive to build and can be distributed across a large area relatively easily and cheaply. Once in place, mines make an area unusable by farmers and others and make soldiers move with extreme caution. Clearing areas of mines takes a tremendous amount of time and money and is not usually 100% effective. It takes troops, money, and time. Overall, land mines give armies the opportunity to either control an area without stationing soldiers or deny an area to opposing troops or farmers and other civilians. Military planners and strategists rely on land mines as a key part of their arsenal in times of war.

There is also a significant "down side" to land mines. Most land mines are of sufficient power to maim humans, but not to completely incapacitate military vehicles. Once planted, it is extremely difficult to keep track of the locations for later removal. This creates a very dangerous situation once hostilities have ceased and the population is ready to go back to daily activities. Children planting or gathering crops are at risk, roads and trails are dangerous to walk on, and a persistent fear takes hold of a community. The people know that they can't completely avoid mines, but they also know that they have to go about the routines of life such as farming and fetching water that put them at risk of suddenly exploding a mine and sustaining serious, life-threatening injuries.

The world community has recently come together to try and address the problems that land mines pose for societies across the globe from Cambodia to the former Yugoslavia to African nations to the Middle East. There are literally hundreds of millions of unexploded mines around the globe; most of them are located in rural areas where many in the population are peasant farmers. A proposal has been made to completely ban the use of land mines as a tool of war. Like the international ban on chemical weapons, nations that agree to this ban would refrain from using land mines in any conflict or war.

Supporters of the ban point to the incredible number of acres of farmland that are rendered useless because of the danger of mines and the tremendous loss of human potential from land mine-related injuries. They believe that land mines are inherently unjust and should be removed from the world's arsenals. Land mines are often placed willy-nilly with little regard for the long-term costs to the civilian population. The army goes home, finally, but the mines and their destructive potential remain for countless years. Only with a worldwide ban can there be an end to this deadly activity and a start to the cleanup of existing mines. Then, the prospect of a land mine-free world could become a reality.

Opponents of the ban think that all of this is well and good, but not very practical. In a world of limited resources, land mines provide (no joke intended) a great deal of bang for very few bucks. To eliminate this weapon from military planning raises the costs of war, which taxpayers are increasingly unwilling to bear. It also eliminates a crucial weapon that is used to protect the lives of a nation's soldiers and, sometimes, its citizens. Land mines deny access by enemy troops to areas that could not otherwise be protected. Without land mines, it becomes extra difficult to protect the lives of soldiers; the very soldiers who have put their lives on the line to protect the lives of the remainder of the community. Noone likes land mines, but in times of war any weapon should be available to the military to do its job and do it effectively.

The United States has been party to the negotiations for the proposed worldwide treaty banning the use of land mines. President Clinton must give direction to the negotiators. Should he direct them to support or resist the treaty? Give at least one reason.

John Zola

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