- the eternal sentinels
A farmer walks along a rural road with his produce, but never
arrives at market. A playing child runs after his ball, and the
ball and the boy's foot are blown away. A mother stooping in a
rice paddy, with her child on her back, takes a step, and her
legs and her child are gone, in a deadly explosion. Daily routines
are violently ended, and people and countries continue to suffer.
Landmines, laid years before, for reasons long forgotten, take
their toll long after the guns have been silenced. They are a
scourge on much of the Third World, destroying lives and bodies,
as well as the futures for many struggling Third World countries.
The only solution to this global pox, is a total, worldwide ban
on the manufacture, sale, storage, and deployment of anti-personnel
landmines, through the United Nations, and supported by the United
Innocent men, women, and children in many Third World countries
are killed and maimed by anti-personnel landmines. The mines were
placed by soldiers during wars of aggression or by combatants
during civil wars. But, even when the wars are over and the soldiers
have gone, these eternal sentinals continue to maim and kill.
The numbers are staggering. There are now 100 million landmines
laid in 64 countries worldwide. 100 million more are stockpiled.
They are spread over the Third World like a smothering blanket.
In Afghanistan there are 10 -15 million mines, and there are 9
million in Angola. Cambodia has 4 -7 million mines laid and Iraqi
Kurdistan has 4 million more. 2 million mines lie under the ground
in Mozambique, 1 -2 million in Somalia, and 1 -2 million in Sudan.
In the former Yugoslavia there are more than 3 million mines --
2 million in Bosnia, 1 million in Croatia, and .5 - 1 million
in Serbia. Another .3 - 1 million mines lie in wait in Eritrea
In Africa alone there are 18 - 30 million landmines. During the
height of the war in the former Yugoslavia, 600,000 mines were
being laid each week.
The toll in dead and maimed that landmines produce is equally
startling. There have been more than 1,000,000 casualties of landmines
in the world since 1980, almost all in the Third World. Of that
number, it has been estimated that approximately 800,000 were
killed and 400,000 lost limbs. Every year, there are 26,000 new
landmine casualties worldwide.
In Afghanistan there are already 350,000 - 500,000 people dead
and injured by mines, and more occur daily. More than 50% if all
livestock in Afghanistan have been killed by a combination of
landmines and bombs. In Angola there are approximately 26,000
amputees, and in Cambodia 30,000. In Mozambique, 6,000 people,
mostly civilians, have been killed or maimed by mines since 1980.
Landmines don't go away, and because they never sleep, they are
called the "eternal sentinels". As a result of their
duration, landmines continue to cause harm for years, not only
to people, but to countries. Mines buried in farmlands and along
roads prevent farming and the transport of food to market. The
tens-of-thousands of young men and women taken out of the workforce
because of death or loss of limbs, further reduce the amount of
food grown or the number of roads and bridges rebuilt. Because
farmers have left the land and fled to refugee camps to avoid
death and injury, the land lies fallow. In Mozambique, all of
the major roads are unusable because of mines laid along them
during 15 years of civil war. In Cambodia, the economy, already
crippled by war, is further crippled by uncleared mines. Rice
paddies are left fallow because of mines, roads cannot be used
to transport food because of mines, and tourists stay away because
But, there would be no problem if there were no landmines.
The worldwide trade in weapons is legal, and individuals, companies,
and governments make lots of money selling arms. Landmines are
Almost 100 companies and government agencies in at least 48 countries
produce and export 340 types of antipersonnel landmines. Major
producers have included, the US, Italy, Sweden, Vietnam, Germany,
Austria, Britain, France, China, the former Yugoslavia, and the
former Soviet Union to mention a few.
And, as of October, 1994, landmines were still being laid in Bosnia,
Serbia, Angola, Cambodia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, and in Tajikistan,
Soviet Georgia, and Nagoro-Karabakh.
Although arms sales are accepted as legitimate commerce, most
arms, including landmines, are sold by arms dealers on the black
market, the sellers comfortably anonymous. Even if there were
a real effort made, monitoring the worldwide sale of landmines
would be impossible. The only way to try to eliminate the use
of landmines, is to ban their manufacture and trade.
There are precedents for attempts to restrict the availability
of weapons systems. In 1968, the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty
became international law. In 1972, a UN convention on the prohibition
of bacteriological weapons and toxins was agreed to. In 1981,
a UN convention called for a ban on chemical and biological weapons,
and by 1993, the ban had been signed by 159 countries. In 1993,
a UN convention on chemical weapons was passed.
In 1980, a UN weapons convention called for restrictions on the
use of invisible shrapnel, incendiary devices, such as napalm,
and anti-personnel landmines. The main obstacle to the acceptance
of this UN convention were countries with a vested interest in
the use, production, and trade of landmines, including the US.
In 1993, Senator Patrick Leahy (D - Vt.) introduced legislation
to place a moratorium on the US export of antipersonnel landmines.
In 1993, the Clinton Administration imposed a 3-year moratorium
in the US on the sale, export or transfer abroad of mines. And,
in December 1993, the Clinton Administration sent letters to 44
mine-producing countries, asking them to declare similar export
In 1994, the UN General Assembly unanimously passed a resolution
to move the world toward an international anti-personnel landmine
ban. In August, 1994, South Africa banned landmines. They are
also banned in Germany and Italy. In September of 1994, President
Clinton declared a goal of the eventual elimination of landmines.
At present in the US, landmines are banned for export, but only
Although there is momentum toward a total ban on landmines, there
are also resisters. The 1980 UN convention on landmines and incendiary
devices, was obstructed by the US, France, and Britain. In addition,
the US fought attempts to stop the production of napalm. Today,
in the US, the Pentagon wants to preserve the availability of
landmines to protect troops and to channel enemy forces into "killing
Recently, the US has tried to have the UN Convention on Landmines
amended to require a switch to self-destructing and self-de-activating
mines, instead of having an outright ban on the weapon. Supporters
of a total ban say that self-destructing mines are too expensive,
and would not be purchased by poorer countries, if cheaper ones
In 1992, an international campaign to ban landmines began to attract
new support. That year, a committee representing a number of worldwide
organizations, launched the campaign. The committee represents
over 350 human rights, humanitarian, medical, development, arms
control, and environmental groups in more than 20 countries. US-based
groups include the Vietnam Veterans of America, the International
Committee of the Red Cross, Oxfam America, Physicians for Human
Rights, and the International Rescue Committee. Also represented
are UNICEF and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
It looked like 1996 would be the year of change. A huge international
effort to ban landmines yielded some results. Forty-one nations,
from Afghanistan to Uruguay, have now stated their support for
an immediate and comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines. Twenty-four
nations have renounced use of AP mines. Eleven nations are now
destroying part or all of their stocks of antipersonnel landmines.
Twenty one nations have prohibited production of antipersonnel
mines. In January, Canada suspended all production and use of
antipersonnel mines, effective immediately. In April, Germany
renounced all production and use of antipersonnel mines, effective
immediately. On May 3, the last day of the recent UN review conference,
France, Portugal, Malta, Angola, and South Africa called for an
In the US, several high-ranking military officers, both active
and retired, called on President Clinton to support an immediate
and total ban on landmines, and Clinton had wanted to announce
that the US would ban the use of land mines by 1999.
Clinton caves in
But, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces was strongly
opposed to a land mine ban, and Clinton sinply caved in and adopted
the Joint Chiefs' position. He felt he could not upset the Joint
Chiefs and appear to be a weak Commander-In-Chief in an election
year. So he accepted the Pentagon plan for continued use of land
In announcing his policy President Clinton failed to fulfill his
September 1994 pledge to eliminate antipersonnel landmines. He
is yielded to the wishes of his most hawkish military advisers,
while ignoring the protestations of many in the State Department,
Agency for International Development, and other branches of government
who are most familiar with the humanitarian and socio-economic
disaster caused by mines.
Rhetoric but no action
President Clinton's declaration for the elimination of antipersonnel
landmines is empty rhetoric until a definitive deadline is added
to that goal. The Clinton Administration promises the US will
work for the elimination of long-lived landmines and will promote
the use of short lived landmines. Short- or long-lived, all landmines
are indiscriminate and especially injurious weapons of terror.
Long-lived mines inflict lifetimes of suffering on in nocent people
for years after the conflicts end. Continued promotion and production
of any antipersonnel mines legitimize their continued use. Continued
use of short-lived mines will complicate verification of a comprehensive
ban. Survivors of war will still be prevented from rebuilding
their lives and communities.
A landmine by any other name is still a landmine. To use landmines
is immoral and should be made illegal. Present policies and actions
of the U.S. government fail the humanitarian cause of protecting
civilians from the scourge of landmines.
The US. is now an obstacle
to international efforts to ban mines. It stands alongside nations
such as China and Russia which continue to insist on producing
and using antipersonnel mines, rather than joining forces with
the majority of Western nations that have acknowledged that the
humanitarian costs of those mines far outweigh their limited military
American voters will need to
make a concerted effort to convince both the White House and the
Congress, that a worldwide ban on anti-personnel landmines will
not only remove a devastating burden from countries in the Third
World, but that it is immoral to produce and use them.
To support the ban effort, contact the President, and your Senators
and Congressperson, and tell them that you want the production,
stockpiling, and use of anti-personnel landmines by the United
States ended, now.
For information on the international
effort to ban landmines, contact:
Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation
1347 Upper Dummerston Road
Brattleboro, VT 05301
Foreign Policy and Pentagon
and death in Third World