Landmines Elimination: The Global Debate

17 Apr, 1998    ·   79

Jolie M. F. Wood reports on IPCS conference on the elimination of anti-personnel landmines held on 4 April 1998

The Institute hosted a discussion on "Landmines Elimination: the Global Debate" on 4th April. General Sir Hugh Beach (Retd.), former Adjutant General of the British Army, Brigadier Patrick Blagden (Retd.), an international expert on demining and Dr Christopher Raj, Director, Centre of American and European Studies of the JNU were the panellists. Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee (Retd.), Co-Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi , chaired the session. About fifty members and guests attended the discussion.



Brig. Blagden argued that the use of anti-personnel landmines have long-term detrimental effects which far outweigh their usefulness as a legitimate weapon of war. Both human beings and the economy of the targeted area continue to suffer decades after the mines are laid, stunting post-war regeneration of society. Moreover, mines are often ineffectively used, thus failing to achieve even their original purpose. Blagden offered some graphic views of different ways landmines have been used in the world and their adverse consequences for society at large.



Gen. Beach described the typical use of landmines by modern militaries as time-consuming, costly, and impractical. Their improper use, by terrorists and insurgent groups, yield far more serious complications and result in debilitating consequences.



Dr. Raj discussed the global debate on landmines elimination and how it became a peoples' movement after the governmental debate failed to achieve the original purpose. He discussed the Indian perspective on their use. He noted that India historically has been sceptical of arms control efforts, and put forward two main reasons why India and Pakistan should sign the convention. First, the ban must be as widespread as possible to sufficiently stigmatise their use. Secondly, a widespread ban would reduce the number of mines available and thus minimise the chances that they fall into the hands of less responsible actors. There was thus every incentive for both countries to join the global ban on anti-personnel landmines.



Gen. Banerjee argued that India's absence from the Ottawa process effectively excluded India's input on the shape the Treaty eventually took, and resulted in India's particular strengths, particularly in demining, being ignored. He concluded by saying that, in the current environment, mines are being used relatively responsibly in South Asia, in that they are laid, marked, and removed so as to minimise civilian casualties. However, he cautioned, today's relatively stable environment could change. Mines could in future be left behind after the war was over. India could not thus afford to be complacent that its use of anti-personnel landmines will not have negative consequences.



The presentation was followed by a lively debate. There was a feeling that anti-personnel landmines were not weapons of major military utility. Their anti-humanitarian consequences were indeed adverse. The majority opinion was that India should have played a leading role in its global elimination. Many felt that India should even now lead in de-mining efforts around the world and help make the world safe for its peoples.