Magazine article The Nation

Dangerous Ground

Magazine article The Nation

Dangerous Ground

Article excerpt

In 1994 President Clinton spoke out for a comprehensive ban on land mines in an address to the United Nations General Assembly. Since that time he has toed the line for the Pentagon, which has steadfastly opposed this goal. But now, because of the situation in Bosnia, where the toll of land-mine casualties among IFOR troops continues to rise almost daily, the effect of the proliferation of mines has begun to hit home. This grim reality, as well as growing international pressure to face the crisis (an unprecedented international coalition of some 450 groups in more than thirty countries has been mobilized), is finally forcing the U.S. government to acknowledge that land mines are an intolerable threat to soldier and civilian alike. Even retired generals Norman Schwarzkopf, John Galvin and David Jones have joined the call for a total and permanent ban.

Prompted by a letter from U.N. ambassador Madeleine Albright, Gen. John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has ordered a full review of US. military policy on land mines. Until now, the military's rationale for continuing to use land mines is that they can be used strategically to protect our troops during a conflict. This reasoning discounts the bitter history of Vietnam, where 15 percent of U.S. casualties were the result of land-mine blasts. It also ignores the fact that the land-mine peril is not primarily to soldiers but to civilians - women, children and noncombatant men - approximately 90 percent of the 26,000 victims land mines claim every year.

In December, Congress passed a modest provision introduced by Patrick Leahy and Lane Evans calling for a one-year moratorium on the use of land mines by U.S. forces, to begin in three years, and an extension through 1997 of the export moratorium enacted in 1992. This important first step to limit U. …

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