Can We Ban Land Mines?

By Drinan, Robert F. | Commonweal, February 25, 1994 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Can We Ban Land Mines?

Drinan, Robert F., Commonweal

Land mines kill people, or maim them, because they're hidden. Most are buried, some are camouflaged. Step on one of them, or brush past its tripwire, and you're dead, or legless. Land mines cannot distinguish between the footfall of a soldier or a child or an old woman gathering firewood. Land mines recognize no cease-fire; a generation after the fighting has stopped, they can destroy the children of the soldiers who laid them.

Land mines are hidden not only physically but metaphorically; few people in this or other developed countries understand either the scope or the frightfulness of the problem they pose. Tens of millions of mines lie in wait in dozens of countries. According to a 1993 American Red Cross statement issued by Elizabeth Dole, exploding mines kill 800 people every month and injure another 450. Their presence not only endangers lives but makes much land too dangerous for farming or for resettlement of refugees. Yet until recently this enormous and still growing problem has had little attention.

That situation is beginning to change, so much so that one can ponder whether this lasting scourge of war may eventually be controlled and then, over decades, be eliminated. In October of last year a Boston-based nongovernmental organization called Physicians for Social Responsibility, an affiliate of Human Rights Watch, issued a 510-page report, "Land Mines, A Deadly Legacy." A media breakthrough was a comprehensive cover story, "It's the Little Bombs that Kill You," by Donovan Webster, published in the New York Times Magazine for January 24. Thanks largely to the leadership of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), some progress has been made on the political front as well. Late last year Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed into law a bill extending for three years a ban on all land mines first enacted in 1992, and he urged forty other states to follow suit. Last December 16 the United Nations General Assembly called for a worldwide ban on the export of these cheap, deadly devices.

Realistically, however, the steps taken to date are feeble compared with the magnitude of the problem. In his Time piece, Donovan Webster reports that in the former Yugoslavia some 60,000 new mines are laid each week, adding to a worldwide total of uncleared mines variously estimated at 85 million in fifty-six countries (the U.S. State Department) to 105 million or more in sixty-two nations (the United Nations).

Previous efforts at control are not reassuring. The first major attempt at regulation was the Land Mines Protocol of 1980, which has now been ratified by thirty-six nations (not including the United States, which has signed but not ratified the treaty). But the protocol stops short of banning the use of land mines outright; it forbids their use for military objectives in ways that violate international humanitarian law. In practice, the measure has proved porous and unenforceable.

In its exhaustive study, Physicians for Social Responsibility concluded that though land mines may be deployed for legitimate military purposes, they pose so catastrophic a threat to civilians that they must be outlawed. The report described the accumulation of the mines as "the equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction in slow motion." Since land mines in vast quantities have been sowed by governments and guerrillas in Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, El Salvador, Iraqi-Kurdistan, Kuwait, Mozambique, Nicaragua, and Somalia, among other nations, the PSR report had reason to declare that the mines are "aimed particularly at the developing world.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Can We Ban Land Mines?


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?