The Most Pernicious Weapon: Landmines

By Faulkner, Frank | Contemporary Review, March 1997 | Go to article overview

The Most Pernicious Weapon: Landmines


Faulkner, Frank, Contemporary Review


In an uncertain world, the global trade in armaments continues to impact heavily upon attempts to establish durable development and security regimes. Arms expenditures, despite declining from a peak approaching $1,000 billion in the late 1980s, still divert huge amounts of global wealth for military purposes; indeed, the estimates for the year 1995 have arrived at a figure of $744 billion. To consider the developing countries' share of this total, they are estimated to have spent $114 billion on defence-related material during this period. Significantly, approximately 800 million people in developing countries suffer malnourishment to some degree, and about one-third of the total population, or 1.3 billion people, live in absolute poverty.

The worldwide preoccupation with militarism is perhaps no more exemplified than the trade in anti-personnel landmines (APMs); since the onset of the Second World War, more than 400 million APMs have been sown, of which an estimated 65 million plus have been deployed since the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). Conservative estimates suggest that there are 110 million APMs currently infesting 64 countries, mostly in the developing world, with approximately 100 million stockpiled and awaiting future use. Each year, the problem grows progressively more acute; prevailing projections suggest that between two and five million more landmines are deployed annually.

Whilst the sheer scale of global APM proliferation alone is the subject of some disquiet, the statistics assume the proportions of a humanitarian catastrophe when available casualty figures are introduced. Up to 1995, there are at least 250,000 landmine-disabled persons in the world; the number of reported APM-related incidents reveals that there are roughly 26,000 new victims each year. Of these victims, the majority are unarmed civilians, including significant numbers of children.

APMs as a weapons system are, arguably, unique; with every other armaments classification available in the military inventory, target selection, and the act of discrimination between soldiers and civilians, are standard practice. Landmines, however, are incapable of making such choices, primarily because once deployed, an APM is effectively divorced from any human agency, and will inflict death or serious injury, irrespective of military or non-combatant status.

Over and above issues of discrimination, these devices also seriously inhibit an affected country's ability to recover from the ravages of war; this particularly applies to civil wars or counter-insurgency operations (which account for most modern conflicts), typified by a lack of standard military discipline usually associated with fully professional, national armed forces. In far too many of these instances, APMs stay in the ground long after a cessation of hostilities. To put this problem into proper perspective, Russia still mounts annual mine-eradication exercises during the spring and summer, to clear ordnance laid during the German invasion of World War Two; in Laos, farmers and their families are still being killed by APMs scattered by US aeroplanes twenty-five years ago

Landmines fit into two categories: Anti-Tank (AT), and Anti-Personnel (AP); however, for the purposes of this paper, the text will concentrate on the AP variant. APMs are broadly described as having three distinct types, which are as follows:

1. Blast Mines. This is the most common type of mine, which operates by using a pressure-actuated plate that directs explosive-initiated energy towards the target. The effects of the blast are usually accompanied by fragments of the mine casing and surrounding debris, parts of the footwear and bone shards, that often serve to exacerbate the scale of the injury. Fragmentation, however, is usually a secondary feature of this type of device, as the target invariably initiates detonation by direct contact.

2. Fragmentation/Bounding mines. …

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