Vital Role of Land Mines for Military

By Gaffney, Frank, Jr. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 22, 1997 | Go to article overview

Vital Role of Land Mines for Military


Gaffney, Frank, Jr., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The U.S. Senate's decision last April to ratify a multilateral treaty with the admirable, but totally unachievable, objective of effecting a worldwide ban on poison gas has had the predictable - and predicted - result of encouraging proponents of other, utopian arms control delusions.

Pre-eminent among these is the proposal now being massively promoted by a former British queen-in-waiting, the Red Cross, an assortment of generally left-of-center organizations (including the Vietnam Veterans of America), and a number of U.S. legislators led by Sen. Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat: A ban on the production, stockpiling or use of anti-personnel landmines (APLs).

At risk of being altogether lost in the frenzy of hype, do-goodism and political correctness associated with the effort to prohibit these weapons - devices routinely portrayed as inhumane and relentlessly exacting a toll on innocent civilians - are a few inconvenient facts:

cThe U.S. military uses certain types of anti-personnel landmines in a responsible manner in order to save American lives. Its active inventory consists entirely of mines designed to self-destruct after a short period (four hours to 15 days) - in contrast to "dumb" mines that remain deadly for decades. These self-destructing APLs are laid down in marked areas to protect U.S. forces especially in circumstances where they are outnumbered, as is the case in many combat and peacekeeping situations (notably, at the entry of forces into a theater of operations).

In fact, recent studies by the Army indicate that American casualties would increase by as much as 35 percent if U.S. land forces are obliged to fight without the use of landmines. As a result, the images of maimed children endlessly conjured up by proponents of the APL ban are not the only ones to be borne in mind; the practical effect of such a ban will probably be to create a great many more American flag-draped coffins and body-bags in future conflicts.

cU.S. anti-personnel mines are particularly important as a means of preventing tampering with or breaching of anti-tank mines, a weapon system that would ostensibly not be covered by the proposed ban. In fact, even retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who has in the past expressed support for a ban on anti-personnel landmines, has noted that "anti-tank mines...[are] undeniably militarily useful weapons."

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) - an organization spending millions of dollars (at least some of them apparently U.S. government contributions) promoting bans on landmines and various other weapons - wants, however, to prohibit "dual-purpose mines which can destroy, for example, either a vehicle or a person." The Leahy bill would make no distinction between self-destructing and "dumb" landmines; in fact, its broadly worded definition of the term "landmine" would cover a host of other non-mine weapon systems essential to U.S. war plans.

cWhile banning the use of anti-personnel landmines by the United States and other Western states that employ them responsibly will have a deleterious effect on those nations' military operations, such a ban will do nothing to address the problem with which its proponents claim to be concerned. …

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