Historically, the widespread use of landmines as tools of war has not always been favorable, both for countries that use landmines and the countries against which landmines are used. The anti-personnel landmines employed by the American military are, by definition, undiscriminating–their deployment can cause casualties not just for the enemy, but also for unsuspecting American soldiers who stumble upon them.
Furthermore, scattering these explosive devices across what are often unfamiliar swaths of land can restrict the speed and mobility of military units. Because these devices can lie inactive for decades before being triggered, they are dangerous even in regions where they have not recently been laid. More than 25,000 people die per year after accidentally activating “leftover landmines.”
That being said, though these devices can pose several disadvantages, they can be used effectively in combat zones as tools of defense rather than attack. Landmines, which are both easy to carry and obscure, have been employed successfully by United States troops in several recent conflicts, most notably the Persian Gulf War. Many military experts consider any drawbacks the result of misuse of landmines, not of the actual landmines themselves.
Last month, the U.S. defended its continued use of anti-personnel landmines, despite a political climate in which they have become increasingly unpopular. Over 160 nations have joined the Ottawa Convention, a treaty banning the creation and deployment of mines, since its enactment in 1999, but the U.S. again refused to enter the Convention at a review conference held in Maputo, Mozambique in June.
Instead, U.S. officials vowed not to create or purchase anti-personnel landmines; a promise critics have decried as meaningless and proponents have called strategic as American forces are already estimated to own up to 13 million of the devices and therefore have little need to produce more. The U.S. hinted that it might join the Ottawa Convention in the future, contingent on its military finding a way to “mitigate the risks associated with the loss of anti-personnel landmines.”
Whether the U.S. will follow through and eventually enter into the Ottawa Convention is anyone’s best guess, but one thing is certain: the debate over the use of anti-personnel landmines will continue.
– Elise L. Riley