Landmines (was Re: US/Foreign AID)

From: James Rogers (
Date: Sat Dec 22 2001 - 23:41:31 MST

On 12/20/01 6:50 PM, "Samantha Atkins" <> wrote:
> It is also very much
> needed, as Amara mentioned, to clean up the outrageous amount
> of landminds and other unexploded ordinance in Afghanistan. The
> US has consistently refused to sign landmine treaties and
> produces much of the landmines in the world. Laos and Cambodia
> are also to this day suffering from landmines and various
> unexploded ordinance from the Vietnam war. The US still refuses
> to share much of its data about how specific devices from that
> era work with those attempting to find and defuse the landmines.

As the closest thing to an expert on landmine warfare on this list (in all
likelihood at least), the above paragraph is so full of invalid assumptions
that it can effectively be discarded. Very few people who have opinions on
this topic know anything about the doctrine, technology, and deployment of
landmines in warfare. To try to paint the US as a bad guy on the topic of
landmines suggests great ignorance of some fundamental history and facts on
this subject.

First of all, landmines have very legitimate and essentially irreplaceable
uses in conventional land warfare. Furthermore, they are almost purely
defensive weapons. Almost all the arguments against landmine warfare do not
apply to the US military, though most people assume this is the case. The
primary purpose of landmines is to impede an offensive action, giving time
to the defenders to launch a defense and/or counterassault. This is
particularly useful when the defenders expect to be badly outnumbered.
Because the US military has a history of setting up holding positions
against a numerically superior force, landmines have been an essential tool
for preventing a blitzkrieg style overrunning of our positions in those
environs. In regions where the US forces do not face a credible threat of
overwhelming numbers, landmines are not deployed. The reason so many
countries have no problem banning landmines is that most countries do not
have troops currently in positions where landmines could legitimately be
used. The US *does* have troops in places where landmines are an essential
part of the defensive strategy and therefore have no interest in increasing
the vulnerability of their soldiers. The wholesale banning of landmines is
not in the interest of the US and arguably not in the interest of others
insofar as it applies to the US.

Second, unlike a great many third-world and other militaries, the US
military documents, with great detail and precision (in triplicate), the
location of every single mine it places. For every mine laid in the field,
there is a massive paper trail. Every minefield is precisely mapped and
archived for posterity. Many (if not most) militaries in the world do not
do this, and many of the problems of undocumented minefields and random
landmines are a direct result of this. The US military has people whose job
is to clear the minefields that the US has laid, one of the many reasons
they spend so much time on minefield documentation. Absent an ongoing
conflict, the locations of US laid minefields is not considered a secret and
the US will typically make great efforts to recover the mines it has laid.
Obviously, the US cannot be reasonably held responsible for mines that it
has not laid, though I've seen many people attempt to do this.

Third, don't confuse the primitive first generation mine technology that is
frequently deployed in the third world with state-of-the-art third
generation technology that the US typically deploys. US military mines,
depending on their deployment method and mission, typically contain active
electronics that can 1) use a range of sensors to accurately identify
probable military targets as a condition of detonation, and 2) are designed
to become inert under a wide range of conditions, both explicitly triggered
and automatic (such as the basic timeout where a mine becomes inert a
certain amount of time after it has been laid). The US military has
expended an extraordinary amount of effort and expense to make their
landmines as "friendly" as possible.

In conclusion, the vast majority of landmine problems in the world are a
result of the irresponsible use of first and second generation landmine
technologies, landmines which are still being produced in vast quantities by
the Chinese and to a lesser extent the Russians and some European countries.
To blame the US for problems caused by the irresponsible use by other
militaries and other regimes that are using landmines that are
technologically inferior with respect to civilian safety is disingenuous.
Your brush is *way* too broad. The US has expended vast quantities of money
in an effort to make landmine warfare safe; to condemn them for the sins of
others is exactly like condemning a private citizen who has defended their
life with a firearm merely because thugs use firearms to commit crimes also.
As with all things, landmines are merely a tool and the character of their
usage reflects the character of the user.

-James Rogers

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