Opinion: Landmine use is wrong

A move by the United States to allow anti-personnel landmine use will do nothing militarily. What it will do is put civilian lives at risk and weaken the norms of war.


By Richard MacCormac, Head of Danish Demining Group


The recent move by the United States to allow anti-personnel landmine use will put lives at risk, undermine norms in conflict, and tarnish the reputation of the United States in the eyes of nations and civil society organizations around the globe that are committed to avoiding unacceptable harm in warfare.

The move came as a shock to me and many others involved with the difficult, dangerous and often heartbreaking task of ridding the world of landmines.

Antipersonnel landmines kill. Indiscriminately. They make no distinction between military targets and civilians. Landmines kill children, aid workers, farmers and livestock. They blight land, instill fear and hamper development. Because they are cheap, they have been used in vast numbers, especially in poorer countries. And they continue to kill today, in places where wars ceased many years ago.


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Deminers in Eastern Ukraine. Photo by Oleksandr Ratushniak.

The evidence that they have caused unacceptable harm is vast, undeniable, and consistent.

For any modern military force, landmines are irrelevant. The United States’ military can hardly claim to have lost a battle-winning combat capability because it can’t use landmines. It has not used them in operations for decades. The United States military, one of the world’s finest and without doubt the most powerful, has proved itself capable of wielding decisive military power in that time - without resorting to an obsolete, obscene weapon that violates the Law of Armed Conflict. Antipersonnel landmines are indiscriminate. The havoc they cause is disproportionate. And their use is unnecessary.

The message that the United States is returning to landmine use is damaging. It set a course that erodes norms of warfare and core values such as the protection of civilians in conflict, prevention of unacceptable harm and the preservation of life. No: if the price of military capability is the very values it defends, it is too high.

The move will be viewed with dismay by the countless individuals who have worked to expose, stigmatize and stop a filthy form of war. Fortunately, their efforts will continue, and the many states that have shown leadership will do so too, along with civil society and the non-state armed groups that have committed never to use landmines again. They will see this for what it is: the beacon of hope has dimmed. And they will shrug their shoulders, turn away, and get on with the job of ridding the world of antipersonnel landmines.