U.S. should stop land mine use

While the goal of military action is to incapacitate the enemy, land mines often do so by maiming.

In 1997, 150 countries signed the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction. The United States was the only NATO member not to sign the treaty, refusing at the Pentagon’s insistence. However, former President Bill Clinton decided the United States would comply with the treaty by 2006 of our own volition. Last week, the Bush administration announced its own intentions. This new approach is a mix of good and bad policy.

The policy has laudable aspects. It increases U.S. aid for mine removal, mine awareness and survivor aid by 50 percent to $70 million, significantly more than any other country. More importantly, the administration’s policy will make the United States the first country to reject the use of anti-personnel mines that do not deactivate themselves. Self-deactivating mines, made practicable by U.S. technology, are a huge improvement over so-called “dumb” mines, which kill and maim long after military operations cease. The U.S. will also eliminate “dumb” anti-vehicle mines, which the convention did not address.

The problem is that the United States will soon be the sole civilized nation to use anti-personnel land mines. These are pernicious weapons. It does not matter whether the individual who trips one is a combatant, just that they triggered the explosion. Children are particularly susceptible to the dangers of land mines because they fail to perceive the dangers of land mine-laden areas. While the goal of military action is to incapacitate the enemy, land mines often do so by maiming – blowing off one or more limbs. After a conflict ends, a whole population of crippled military and civilian survivors remains, never to truly recover.

The United States has been a leader in ridding the world of land mines. But the Bush administration needs to recognize what it takes to be a leader in this situation: The United States must discontinue land mine use altogether.