The Victory Over Landmines: Tech, not Timing — Evelyn Lumish

The victory over landmines, in my opinion, was not a product of the time but of the technology being fought against. There were two main factors that made landmines an easy technology to fight against, especially when being compared to technology such as nuclear weapons, for which the fight has been longer and far less successful. Though this does not differ from nuclear weapons, as stated in Mekata’s article, the use of landmines was in some cases falling out of favor. Belgium, for example, hadn’t used them in over 40 years when they ratified a ban, so landmines clearly had no strategic use to them.

The second, more important difference, is that landmines are indiscriminate. Unlike virtually every other type of weaponry that exists, landmines are entirely indiscriminate; traditional landmines especially last until they are cleared or stepped on, so they don’t discriminate chronologically between wartime and peacetime. Few if any other weapons can claim that distinction. In the same regard, land does not remain a warzone forever. Especially in rural areas, what is a warzone one year may be an agricultural field the next, and at that point the target—whether intentional or not—shifts from a soldier to a farmer or a child.

This makes landmines essentially distinct from all other weapons. Bombs are time-dependent; generally they are dropped from a plane and the bomb is detonated either in the air or once it is on the ground. The blast only lasts a few second, and though the heat and concussive blast radiates out, the effects do not last years. Nuclear weapons are closer to being indiscriminate, given the wide blast radius and long-term effects, but the effects still dissipate in a relatively short period of time. It is safe to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki today without concern for experiencing effects from the nuclear bombings of 1945, while areas with remaining landmines cannot be visited without concern.

While the idea of the ability of weapons to discriminate between targets may seem minor, it appears to me to be one of the primary factors in leading to—or not—a ban. If a similar argument today was used to try to lead to the banning of drones, with the large number of civilian casualties being used as what seems to be a fairly strong argument against drones, it would likely not work. This is because the United States—the primary user of drones—can argue that, though there are civilian casualties now, as targeting technology becomes better, the number of civilian casualties will decrease while the number or at least percentage of militant casualties will increase. This is a statement that could never be said about landmines. No matter how sophisticated landmines became, if somebody stepped on them while they were active, they would go off. A drone pilot can choose not to fire; a landmine cannot.

This is not to advocate for—or against—drones or nuclear weapons, but instead to say that this type of argument could not work to try to ban them. If an organization wants to stigmatize and eventually lead to the banning of either of them, they will need to take a different approach.


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