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PAX, LUX ET VERITAS SINCE 1965
Post Landmines
Created by Ronald Hilton on 03/16/98 3:03 AM

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Landmines (Ronald Hilton, USA, 03/16/98 3:03 am)

WAIS Fellow General Robert Gard chose landmines as his topic; he is the adviser to the foundation which supports the movement which won the Nobel Peace Prize. Our memo on this bought this immediate response from the Latin American News Syndicate, which is especially interested in revolutionary violence in Latin America:

"This is probably one of the most, if not the most, preposterous issues to have ever been taken up by the feel-good crowd of basically anti-military. I know the difference firsthand between the foot-blowers the Farabundi terrorists would plant on the paths for the campesino kids to stumble over and the perimeter defense which any self respecting military detachment would set up.

I can but hope that my friends the Israelis will pay no attention to this nonsense."

General Gard has had a distinguished military and civilian career. He must have an answer to this. The general consensus is that the maiming of civilians by landmines must be stopped. I personally support the US position that some boundaries, notably that between North and South Korea. must be protected by landmines. I was surprised by the reference to "my friends the Israelis." The question is: how can Israel justify putting landmines outside the perimeters of the boundaries recognized by the international community?

Landmines - Replies

The issue of landmines has elicited a strong response. Ron Bracewell raises the important question of who supplies the landmines. This brings up the broader issue of the arms trade and the merchants of death around the world. The absurd border war between Ecuador and Colombia is being kept going by third parties, notably an Argentine arms company, despite the fact that Argentina is one of the guarantors of the "peace". There is widespread suspicion in the Middle East that the tension there is being kept alive by U.S. arms companies.   

Landmines - Replies

Rodney Beard charges that Tim Brown's aim is to fix the blame on the Sandinistas. Admitted, but it is also true that it is politically correct on our campuses to idealize all the rebel movements in the Chiapas-Central American area and to demonize the governments fighting them. The truth is much more shaded. 

The issue of arms control is dazingly complicated, and it is commonly assumed that all military are akin to the fictional Strangelove. In fact many top military experts are more moderate than some civilians. Among them is General Robert Gard, who has made landmines a special concern of his. He sent two responses to a sharp criticism from a civilian member of WAIS. Here is the first:

"Whoever sent that message must not be aware of the existence of command detonated "Claymore" weapons which are quite effective in perimeter defense. I would not allow my troops in Viet Nam to use anti-personnel mines, which are indiscriminate, for that purpose. It's amusing to me to be regarded as "feel good anti-military!"

General Gard's second, longer response will follow this one.

Here is General Gard's second response to criticism of his position:

"With all the other capability we have, anti-personnel landmines are redundant in preventing the North Koreans from breaking through the defenses south of the DMZ. What is worse, they interfere with the maneuverability of our own troops in conducting active defensive operations that include counter-attacks. There are some two million "dumb" mines in the DMZ, with another million in the six mile wide military control zone south of the DMZ. We have another million in reserve. We could plant those in reserve in advance of signing the treaty banning the weapon, and wouldn't have to remove them until 10 years after the treaty comes into effect; surely by then we could take action to compensate for whatever marginal military utility they may have in assisting in the defense of South Korea."  

The holocaust is history, but landmines are still an explosive issue. We should not be fooled by the declarations and decisions of expensive international conferences. They are subject to ratification and implementation. Bolivia lost its Pacific coast after Chile seized it in the War of the Pacific in 1879. The 1904 treaty recognized Chile's sovereignty, but Bolivia protests against the loss of this terra irredenta.

Every year Bolivia celebrates the Day of the Sea. Chile replied to this fiery oratory by planting landmines along the disputed border. After Chile and Bolivia signed the Treaty of Ottawa, Bolivia demanded that Chile remove them. Chiler replied that it could not afford to. Bolivia pointed to Chile's excessive military budget and says it will take the issue to international arbitration. We will see if the Treaty of Ottawa has any teeth. 

In response to the memo about Bolivia's threat to appeal to the Ottawa treaty following Chile's refusal to withdraw its mines from their boundary, Robert Gard comments:

"The Ottawa treaty has no enforcement provisions, just as in the case of the Geneva Protocol of 1925, which banned the use of poison gas, the Hague convention, which banned the use of "dum-dum" bullets, and the St Petersburg Declaration, which banned the use of exploding bullets. These agreements rely on stigmatizing the weapon in question and generating a consensus that its use violates the principle of proportionality in international humanitarian law.

While certainly not fool-proof, such agreements are far better than ignoring the problem. While there have been some violations (four, I believe) of the Geneva Protocol, it seems to me to have been quite effective." My comment: The implication is that these treaties would not have been approved with sanctions.The failure of the League of Nations to impose sanctions, beginning with Japan, was the cause of its collapse. Moral suasion did not work. Was Bolivia bluffing, or is there a mechanism by which Bolivia could ask for the imposition of sanctions? The military still play an important role in Chile, and Chile would defy sanctions.


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