The 1997 Ottawa Convention banned the use and stockpiling of anti-personnel mines. 156 nations had signed the treaty as of April of 2010. The USA and Cuba were the two primary nations abstaining. The Convention’s aims became official United Nations policy with General Assembly Resolution 53/77. The Mine Ban Treaty comprehensively bans all use, production, and trade of antipersonnel mines, requires destruction of stockpiled mines within four years, requires destruction of mines already in the ground within 10 years. It also urges extensive programs to assist the victims of landmines. The public debate and pro and con arguments in this debate are presented below, particularly in the context of whether the United States and other non-members should sign and join the treaty (or accede to its principles). The issue gained renewed attention in May of 2010 when sixty-eight Senators drafted a letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging his support for an international treaty banning landmines.
Unlike other weaponry, landmines remain hidden in the ground long after conflicts have ended, killing and maiming civilians in some of the world’s poorest countries years, even decades later. This violates the laws of war that armies may not indiscriminately kill civilians.
“Since the early 1990s when the mine ban movement began in earnest, the number of mine producing countries has dropped from 54 to 14. Trade of the weapon has come almost to a halt, and more than 52 million antipersonnel landmines have been destroyed from the arsenals of the world. Nations have removed millions of landmines from communities devastated by the weapon and have provided medical and rehabilitative support to victims of landmines. Most importantly, say anti-landmine advocates, casualty rates from the weapon have dropped from approximately 26,000 people per year to 15,000-20,000 per year, though millions more continue to suffer the agricultural, economic, and psychological consequences wrought by the presence of the weapon in more than 80 countries worldwide.”
It is generally important for nations to respect cease fires and peace agreements following the cessation of hostilities. The use of landmines makes it impossible for this to happen.
Zach Hudson, coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines: “The human cost of landmines far outweighs their military utility. An overwhelming majority of states have formally recognized this.”
It is true that many weapons kill civilians during war, and that civilian casualties have long been part of war. But this is no excuse for using an indiscriminate weapon such as landmines, which inflict particularly tragic damage on civilians during and after conflicts. It is appropriate to ban a class of weapons on these grounds.
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. called the US decisions to avoid signing the treaty a “default of U.S. leadership and a detour from the clear path of history.”
Steve Goose, Arms Division director at Human Rights Watch: “Joining the treaty is the right thing to do from both a humanitarian and a military perspective.
as supporters of mines here see it, land mines in South Korea are virtually a symbol of peace and security […] ‘Many people talk about the humanitarian aspects of land mines,’ said Lieut. Gen. Park Yong Ok, the Deputy Defense Minister and a fervent defender of the mines. ‘Deterrence of war is more humanitarian than anything. If we fail to deter war, a tremendous number of civilians will be killed. And the use of land mines is a very effective way of deterring war.'”
Jim Coles 3d, a civilian spokesman for the 37,000 American troops in South Korea: “The use of mines here is extensive but judicious, aimed at preventing breakthroughs and not just at blowing people up.” When the use of landmines is targeted and isolated in this particular way, the risks to civilians – both immediate and long-term – are minimal, while the defensive military value is very high.
Landmines, unlike other tools of war, serve a defensive purpose that prevent aggressors from crossing borders and invading other countries. This defensive tool is valuable as a means of protecting civilians from aggressors and the plight of war.
Landmines are not uniquely bad in this way and the debate about them has distorted the public perception of landmines – in truth, they are little different to a hundred other types of weaponry that remain legal under the Ottawa ban
The appropriate use of landmines is governed by the Geneva Convention. This ensures that the use of landmines in specific instances is consistent with international humanitarian law and norms. The use of landmines in the DMS of Korea, for instance, can be justified under the Geneva Convention, because they pose no real threat to civilians, and serve a defensive purpose. The real issue is ensuring that landmines are used in this kind of a way under the Geneva Conventions, not whether we should ban them altogether.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the Obama administration had decided against signing the treaty: “We would not be able to meet our national defense needs nor our security commitments to our friends and allies.”
A 2010 letter from US senators to president Obama: “our NATO allies have addressed their force protection needs in accordance with their obligations under the Convention.’ The US has already gone without using these weapons for almost two decades. It is time to make a commitment never to use them again.” The United States has not used antipersonnel mines since 1991, has had an export ban in place since 1992, and has not produced them since 1997.
In 1996, military experts from 19 countries signed on to an ICRC policy statement based on an independent study that concluded that mines were of “limited military utility”. This is in part because landmines can be defused by an enemy with relative ease. And, also, they can be worked-around, with tunnels and alternative routes. Finally, as seen below, they also inhibit the movement of those that plant them, which can be particularly dangerous if a military is flanked and forced to move across the mine field.
A group of 15 retired top-ranking US officers publicly asked President Bill Clinton to support a total ban. They stated: “Given the wide range of weaponry available to military forces today, anti-personnel landmines are not essential.”
One former US Marine, Gen. Alfred Gray, Jr., said in 1993: “We kill more Americans with our mines than we do anybody else… What the hell is the use of sowing all this (airborne scatterable mines) if you’re going to move through it next week or next month?…”
If all countries are part of the mine ban treaty, than no country is disadvantaged by not producing and using mines. This equality offers protection.
Land mines serve a basic function. They prevent troops and tanks from crossing a certain territorial border. This is an important means of self-defense. And, it is valuable to consider that it serves a defensive purpose, as opposed to an offensive purpose.
They permit the defense of an area without requiring large numbers of personnel. This is a legitimate aim both in warfare, when military personnel are spread too thinly to protect all civilians, and in poor countries during peacetime, who would rather invest in their infrastructure than funding the military capacity that would otherwise be required to defend the same ground. In the future, landmines may not be needed. However, whilst armies still depend on conventional weapons and movement – moving tanks and large infantry groups – and borders are weak, the defensive tactic of landmines is highly appropriate: it is cheap, affordable, and maintains borders. Their existence can slow or stop an advance, delaying or even halting conflict; they can deter invasion in the first place. By guarding wide areas from swift armed advance on civilians, they can prevent genocide.
Militaries around the world benefit from being able to keep the tactic of land mines on the table. While the use of land mines should be discouraged in general, a full-on ban eliminates the option of using landmines when it may be necessary and valuable for national defense and even humanitarian reasons during some conflicts.
Landmines are used to protect peacekeepers abroad. Stopping their use would endanger the lives of peacekeepers and make the USA less likely to enter into such operations – part of the reason the USA refused to sign the Ottawa treaty in 1997, and has declined to do so since.
Without landmines, a country may feel it is necessary to expand the size of its army in order to protect its borders and people. This can become very costly for a nation. And, once an army is up and running, the country may get the idea, why not use it?.
That the United States would come to the defense of South Korea in the event that North Korea invaded means that North Korea would certainly lose in an all-out war. This certainty is a sufficient deterrent against North Korea. Land mines are unecessary.
North Korea has built an extensive tunnel network underneath the landmines in the DMZ, which would allow its forces to move underneath the mined area unobstructe
“Myth: The U.S. landmine barrier system is a principal deterrent of an invasion by North Korea. Reality: […] Landmines in the existing barrier are old and many are non-functional. This fact is well known to the North Koreans.”
North Korea has built an extensive tunnel network underneath the landmines in the DMZ, which would allow its forces to move underneath the mined area unobstructed.
Human Rights Campaign: “Letters from US Senators in 2010 to Obama in support of joining the ban addressed two issues raised over the years by those who were hesitant to join the treaty. One is whether land mines would have to be removed from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The letters note that the mines there are the responsibility of South Korea, not the United States, and that if the United States joins the treaty, mines in the DMZ would not be affected.”
“Myth: The 37,000 U.S. troops stationed on the DMZ are the first line of defense for South Korea. Reality: Official U.S Army briefers in Korea have stated that the U.S. has no responsibility for the frontline defense of South Korea; Instead, U.S. forces will form a mobile reserve behind the front lines when an attack is imminent.
“The armed forces of the Republic of Korea are better equipped and trained that the North Korean military and will be supported by modern U. S. weaponry.”
“Myth: Landmines are an integral part of our battle plans in Korea. Reality: U.S. military officers concede that the existing barrier will be an impediment to our counter-attack; […] Use of landmines in the U.S. battle plan for Korea will be deferred because of the logistical difficulty in getting them to the front – and because of the hazards they pose to our own forces.”
“Myth: Landmines in Korea are not a hazard to civilians. Reality: Seventy-five civilians have died from mine accidents in Korea since 1990 and the number of injuries is much higher; It is estimated that there have been over 1,000 civilian mine victims since the end of the Korean War. Landmines stockpiled for use in Korea are non-self destructing or “dumb” antipersonnel landmines that can remain active for decades.”
The mines are effectively the only things blocking the North Korean menace. Although South Korea’s defenses are also formidable, it can be easily crashed by the lines of North Korean artillery and by its irregular and unconventional weaponry, which South Korea is not equipped against, as its armed forces are not suited to fight against irregular forces, which North Korea is mostly made of. That being, South Korea is vulnerable North Korea. And the only thing standing between the gun and the bird is the mines, yet the people sitting behind desks are talking about banning them…
Without it, North Korea’s million man army could easily cross into South Korea and take Seoul before defences could be organised. South Korea is a key ally of the USA and to join in the ban on landmines would be to betray that ally. The failure of the Ottawa Convention to grant an exception for the Korean peninsula was the key reason for USA non-participation.
“Every military expert is sure that the United States and South Korean forces could defeat a North Korean attack without using any land mines. But most of the experts say that to slow a North Korean invasion and hasten its end it would be helpful to lay down new mines as well as rely on existing minefields.”
These zones are called “killing zones” in the military. By making it more difficult and potentially costly in terms of lives for aggressors to launch attacks, land-mines – even if not covering the entirety of a border – help deter aggressors.
“One American military study suggested that without the land mines, the United States would need an additional 20,000 or more troops in South Korea to stop a North Korean invasion.”
“Another computer simulation, cited by South Korean officials, estimated that if land mines were not used against a North Korean attack, there would be an additional 2,500 to 3,000 South Korean and American casualties each day of a conflict.”
This is an important fact in defense of the United States’ policies. It illustrates that the United States uses landmines only for a specific zone in a single country, rather than deploying landmines in a widespread effort. This is important because most of the costs associated with landmines relate to the broad use of them in war zones and civilian areas. The United States is certainly not doing this in Korea. US policy, therefore, is not susceptible to the many arguments against landmines.
There is a difference between the United States agreeing to stop producing and deploying land mines in new places and it agreeing to actively remove its existing landmines from the DMZ. Such active removal of landmines is more disruptive to existing US strategic calculus in North Korea. A “no new mines” policy, if anything, is superior.
“There is no evidence that the U.S. has used antipersonnel landmines, with the exception of the North/South Korean border area, since 1991.” And, it seems to be the sole exception requested by the US as a condition of it agreeing to joining the Land Mine Ban Treaty.
Not signing the treaty sends the signal that landmines are an acceptable tool of war. This message could spur other countries to maintain some landmines, and this could ultimately undermine US interests.
“Regardless of arguments for the positive military application of chemical or biological weapons, the global backlash that would accompany a nation’s admitted employment of these indiscriminate weapons is now politically untenable.”
“if Obama is as determined as he says to take on the huge issue of eliminating nuclear weapons, surely he can get rid of land mines and cluster bombs now.”
The US has expressed concern regarding the Ottawa Treaty in relation to how it would effect anti-tank mines. Yet, the treaty does not actually ban the use of these mines.
The US signed the Amended Mines Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). This regulates the use of mines. It is, therefore, not necessary for it to sign the Ottawa Treaty.
The appropriate use of landmines is governed by the Geneva Convention. This ensures that the use of landmines in specific instances is consistent with international humanitarian law and norms. The use of landmines in the DMS of Korea, for instance, can be justified under the Geneva Convention, because they pose no real threat to civilians.
The US goes to extensive lengths to clear landmines around the world. Its policy is generally opposed to the use of landmines. It reserves the use of landmines only for a very select few instances, namely, North Korea.
“anti-mine campaigners have several objections to the new mines. They say they still pose a hazard to civilians, who are sometimes caught in battles and have to move through mine-laced land.”
“if the United States uses the ‘smart’ mines, countries like Iraq, which also hasn’t signed the treaty, will be encouraged to continue using their old mines in reaction.”
“[‘Smart mines’] are also irrelevant to solving the mine problem because almost no one besides the United States uses them or can afford them. The Pentagon recognizes this.”
All weapons have a failure rate. Civilians hold all the risks surrounding these weapons potentially failing, and exploding well after a conflict.
Smart mines are landmines that automatically shut-off or self-destruct after a certain period of time.
The Americans have mines that can deactivate themselves and can self-destruct. America only manufactures smart mines, and since 1976 the USA has tested 32,000 mines with a successful self-destruction rate of 99.996 per cent. The ban also fails to distinguish between responsible and irresponsible users. Under American deployment, only smart mines are used, and they are used responsibly, being set and removed in a methodical manner.
“Permitted mines must also be self-deactivating — that is, they must be powered by a battery which will exhaust itself in 120 days or less if self-destruction fails. But such failure is most unlikely. In more than 65,000 tests under a wide variety of conditions, no activated U.S. self-destructing mine has failed to self-destruct.”