Utility of Anti-Personnel Landmines

15 Sep, 1997    ·   14

Dilip Samarasinghe argues that landmines continue to have a utility especially when it comes to low intensity conflicts

Few voices have been raised against the recent ban on the manufacture, deployment and use of anti-personnel land mines. How could one speak in favour of a weapon that inflicts each year about 24,000 casualties, often long after conflicts are over?



The truth is that the anti-personnel mine (AP Mine) developed nearly 60 years ago not as the terror weapon it has become today, but to be used alongside Anti-Tank Mines, to counter combined armour/infantry thrusts. In contrast today, AP Landmines are sown along the borders of countries like Angola and Namibia to counter the sheer disregard guerrillas, armies and illegal immigrants have shown for the borders of those states. AP Mines have also been used to implement a modern version of a scorched earth policy. A retreating army sows mines that will continue to inflict casualties on its enemy and tie him down in costly land time consuming mine clearing operations.



In the age of satellites, reconnaissance aircraft, UAVs and electronic warfare, it is increasingly easy to monitor the movements of a large military formation. Minefields which deny access to an area are no longer of great significance. But where AP minefields would continue to matter is in the type of low intensity conflicts all around the developing world.



AP land mines are also favourite weapons of irregular forces like Bosnian Serbs and Somali warlords. American led coalition forces intervening in areas where order has broken down, could face heavy casualties if AP land mines are used on a large scale. Casualties would shape opinion in the intervening state against any external action and discredit foreign policy decisions. The land mine issue is therefore a multi-dimensional one and powers intervening in other countries are keen to see these cheap deadly and uncontrollable weapons banned.



The ban itself is a positive development but with 100 million AP land mines sown all around the world, results will take a long time to show. From a humanitarian point of view the ban on AP land mines should be supported even though it is backed by sections who have different agendas.