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Landmines do not discriminate between friend, foe, or civilian; they recognize no cease-fire; and continue to be destructive long after they are deployed. The problem with landmines is that they are an inexpensive weapon that can be implemented in great amounts and almost at random, so as to cause the maximum physical and psychological damage to an opponent. Because of their low cost, landmines have been manufactured and dispersed at an exponential rate; and when the war is over, millions of mines remain in the ground, ready to detonate on hapless civilians, children, livestock, or anyone else who should happen to stumble across it.
The landmine got its origins from a military invention of the ancient world called the caltrop. The caltrop was a piece of metal consisting of four metal spikes arranged in a tetrahedron. When it was thrown on the ground, one of the spikes of the caltrop always faced up, waiting to sink into the foot of an advancing enemy. The explosive booby trap was first put into use in 16th century, but the landmine was not refined into the effective weapon it is today until World War II.
The modern landmine was first developed in response to another modern invention, the armored tank. Anti-tank mines were large explosive charges that required hundreds of pounds of pressure in order to detonate. These mines were easy to discover, easy to remove, and easily redistributed by the enemy. The anti-personnel mine was developed to be deployed amongst anti-tank mines, to deter the enemy from tampering with them. Anti-personnel mines have become possibly the most loathsome weapons ever to be widely employed.
Today there are more than 350 varieties of anti-personnel landmines, and it is still possible to fashion crude mines from common materials. There are three major types of modern anti-personnel mines: blast, bounding, and fragmentation. The blast mine is the most common type of mine. It is buried a few centimeters in the ground and detonates explosively outward when triggered by pressure or a trip wire. The bounding mine, when activated, hurls the explosive device a few meters into the air. When it detonates, it causes severe damage to the target’s head and chest. The fragmentation mine releases shards of shrapnel in all directions, or it can focus it in a particular direction.
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There are some undeniable and gruesome realities about the current world situation involving landmines. It is estimated that there are currently 110 million landmines buried, and more than 100 million stockpiled in the world today. There is one landmine related death or injury approximately every 20 minutes. Half of all landmine incidents are fatal, if not immediately, later from blood loss and trauma. The widespread distribution of landmines also disrupts agriculture and animal raising. Fear of landmines renders farming and grazing lands useless. In Afghanistan and Cambodia, around 35% of the land is unusable due to the millions of landmines buried. It costs an average of ten dollars to make one landmine, and about one thousand dollars to clear one.
Afghanistan has been troubled by war for decades. Even before the recent conflict between the Taliban and Allied coalition forces, there has been much civil disruption and war. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the Afghan resistance fighters relied on a defensive posture that slowed the Soviet advance and harassed them to the point of submission. The Afghans received arms from the United States to supplement their own meager arsenals, and one of the most valuable weapons to their defensive strategy was landmines. The inexpensive weapon was very effective against the Soviet invasion forces, as it forced the Soviets to advance very slowly, clearing paths through mined areas as they went. It also had the effect of being very psychologically taxing on the Soviet, as there is little defense against the invisible threat of mines, and it is very tedious and demanding work to remove them. When the Soviets finally withdrew, the Afghans were left with plenty of landmines stockpiled. Well, like any good economically unstable and politically virulent nation does when it has finally defeated its enemy, Afghanistan went to war with itself. The Taliban and Northern Alliance, as well as many other ethnic divisions, have spent the thirteen years since the end of the Soviet occupation happily at war with each other, putting their stockpiles of landmines to good use. The only problem is that neither side ever really used any method to their deployment, nor kept any records or maps of how many mines they deployed or where they deployed them. As a result, Afghanistan now has to live with an average of 88 civilians, many of them children, being killed or maimed by a landmine every month. Afghani citizens never know where they or a loved one might step on a landmine next; it could be near their homes, at a school, or in a public park. The widespread and random use of landmines has also affected agriculture in Afghanistan. Landmines have rendered 35% of all arable land in Afghanistan practically useless. A farmer can’t plow a field, or let his livestock graze, if there is a danger that he or one of his animals will become a statistic. The situation in Afghanistan is scary. The Afghani people are concerned about their country, their livelihood, and their children; and they are only one of many countries that has to deal with this deadly matter.
The professional issues that landmines bring up stem from the fact that landmines are, at the center of their nature, a very effective military weapon. They are designed to aid an army in deterrence, detection, and destruction of the enemy; and serve that role quite nicely. Many countries are not willing to give up their practice of using landmines, because to do so would compromise the effectiveness of their military doctrine. Other factions choose not to give up the use of landmines because they simply do not care about the collateral damage that they cause. These factions tend to be very extreme, very war-prone, and very radical.
There have been many attempts to curb the problems that landmines have with legislation and policy. The most significant piece of policy that has been raised to address the landmine issue is the Ottawa Convention. In 1997 Canada called together 50 nations that held the same interest in banning the use, production, stockpiling, and exportation of anti-personnel landmines. The result of this Ottawa convention was a treat calling for exactly those measures, as well as calling for all nations to contribute to the demining effort. So far, 123 countries have signed the Convention, but there are many who have not. Not all of the countries that have abstained from signing the convention do so out of disregard for the lethality of landmines. The largest abstention: the United States. The United States will not sign the treaty because it interferes with current US military doctrine that calls for the use of remote operated anti-personnel mines at the small infantry platoon level. The U.S. has publicly declared its desire to join the 127 nations that have signed the treaty, but only when it has suitably replaced the doctrine.
The ethical issues of landmines arise when the side-effects of their employment are examined. When landmines are used, it is not just the two military sides of a battle that are the stakeholders. Mines affect the lives of innocent civilians, long after hostilities have ceased. They maim and kill civilians and children, they destroy livestock and make farmland hazardous to use, and they cost hundreds of times as much to clear as they do to sow.
The major stakeholders in the landmine issue can be divided into three major groups: the manufacturers of landmines, the military implementers of landmines, and the millions of innocent people affected by landmines near their communities. The utilitarian approach to the landmine issue would say that the effectiveness of landmines as a weapon is far overshadowed by the endangerment to innocent life. This approach would provide the maximum amount of benefit to the most amount of people. The innocent civilians far outnumber the manufacturers and military powers, and how can one put a price on the life and health of a child. The manufacturers can still make a living by producing other types of military equipment, and the military powers can always adopt new doctrine to guide how they fight their wars, like the U.S. is currently attempting to do.
In conclusion, it would be in everybody’s best interest if all the nations of the world moved toward the total eradication of landmines. The practical value of landmines was totally negated the day that the first child lost their life to a landmine. There are millions of landmines still hidden in the world, and they will continue to lay hidden until a poor child steps on it, as has happened all too often before.
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