X <- Land mine

Some precocious Emily Carr art student-cum-meme guerilla has made up a stencil of the above and has covertly spraypainted it on sidewalks all over Granville Island. The bright orange paint urges you to look down, watch your step and momentarily experience a wave of relief that you're not in Cambodia.

Land mines are a particularly stupid weapon to use for several reasons, which I will outline below:

  • They are indiscriminate killers (though some have been designed to tell the difference between cattle and human beings, so as not to waste the mine on an animal, and some are designed to activate for groups of people as opposed to individuals).
  • When the war has ended and the troops have gone home, the land mines are STILL THERE (because the majority of the people who plant them can't be bothered to de-mine, or they WANT innocent civilians to be blown up years after a conflict has ended)

  • "Ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses." -unknown Khmer Rouge general on why a land-mine is a perfect soldier
  • Primarily civilians are affected by land mines Especially young boys who act as shepherds, because they take the cattle out to pasture and inadvertantly trigger these mines which are often brightly coloured, attracting the attention and curiousity of young children.
One of the most infamous is the 'butterfly' mine, designed to float to the ground from helicopters without exploding, but with a shape and colour that also make it a deadly toy.

There are 2 main types of land mines: Anti-Personnel and Anti-Tank mines, with the Anti-Personnel mines more dangerous for children, as it usually takes more weight to activate the anti-tank mines. Of course, the bombs dropped by the United States called 'cluster bombs' are roughly equivalent to anti-personnel bombs as a number of them land unexploded, waiting to be stepped on or picked up (or landed on by a box containing American airplane food).

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines and on Their Destruction - The Mine Ban Treaty - entered into force on March 1, 1999. Over 137 countries have signed the Treaty including all of the European NATO allies. The United States, Russia, and China have not signed.

30%-40% of all mine victims are children under the age of 15
It is estimated that Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world
The United States has the fourth largest anti-personnel landmine arsenal in the world,
with a stockpile of approximately 11.2 million AP mines

For more info, see these websites:

With all due respect, land mines are not a "stupid" weapon at all 1. Used properly, they are a very effective, very cheap and very safe method of defense -- unless you're the enemy, that is.

Consider the real-life example of Finland, a sparsely-populated country with a very long land border with Russia. Finland and Russia have had more than their fair share of tussles over the centuries, so most Finnish military doctrine is concerned with the (highly non-trivial) problem of keeping the Russkies at bay.

Now, guarding a thousand-kilometer-long border against an invasion is not an easy task. Having learned the hard way that nobody else really gives a rat's ass about the place, Finland cannot rely on and hence does not belong to any military alliances. Finland does not have the luxury of a nuclear deterrent or superior armed forces. Posting guards at 100-meter intervals for the entire length of the border would tie up the entire Finnish army, not that a single guard could even do very much when that column of T-72 MBTs comes rumbling down. Finland's air force is no match for the Russian one, so destroying the tanks from the air (as the US did during the Gulf War) is not an option. There is precisely one effective solution: land mines.

A mine large enough to disable a tank doesn't cost much and it will (notoriously) stay primed and ready for decades. It's not necessary to mine the entire border, as the enemy (hopefully?) does not know which places have been mined and thus crossing the border at any point becomes more risky. Clearing a path is a slow and painstaking job, slow enough to allow reinforcements to be brought in. In all, mines increase the cost of an invasion and make its success less likely, reducing the likelihood of war. To put it another way, mines save lives.

But what about all those poor innocent children stepping on mines by accident and getting their limbs blown off, I hear you ask? Sure, this happens in places like Cambodia, where mines are used indiscriminately or on purpose as a tactic of terror. It does not, and will not, happen in places like Finland. Consider:

  1. The Finnish army is not afraid of Russian guerrillas on foot, it's afraid of tanks and for them it needs anti-tank mines. These requires hundreds of kilograms of pressure to detonate, and a person could safely dance the balalaika on one.
  2. Mines are dangerous only if you don't know where they are. This is why the Finnish army, like all modern militaries, maintains careful maps indicating exactly where every single mine is. Most anti-tank mines can even be detonated by remote control, making the task of mine clearance effortless.
  3. And the biggest reason civilians will not be killed by Finnish mines is that, as far as I know, there are no Finnish mines deployed anywhere at the moment. It is enough that the army has sufficient stockpiles and detailed plans for laying them in, say, 24 hours if things start to heat up.
There are plenty of countries that use mines extensively and responsibly, e.g. Israel, the United States (post-Vietnam), China, even Russia (although some Chechens might disagree with me on that). The problem is the countries that use them irresponsibly, and do you think the Khmer Rouge, the Taliban or the Lord's Resistance Army give a fig about some high-falutin' UN treaty? Mines are trivially easy to assemble on your own, and the types with the highest civilian body counts are usually domestically produced. Wishy-washy feel-good "mines are bhaaaaaaaad" campaigns will do nothing to stop the slaughter, and the same effort would be much better expended in either investing in mine cleanup efforts or, better yet, attempting to convince the guilty parties directly of the error of their ways.

1) Except in the sense of not being so-called "smart weapons", the latest buzzword for horrendously expensive guided weaponry aimed at specific targets. But I think both blubelle and I are referring to an overall strategic perspective here.

Professionals in the field of security sometimes use the term landmine to refer to a trojan horse that is deliberately installed on a system as a countermeasure to hackers who successfully penetrate their system.

Here's an example of a landmine:

A hacker successfully roots your Linux system. He types in a standard command like "ps ax". Unknown to the hacker, you have installed a landmine named "ps" that will perform the standard "ps" function plus the added step of paging all administrators as well as running a script that will turn off all network services. The hacker believes he only checked the currently running processes, but what he really did was trip over a trojan horse that you the administrator installed.

Landmines complement a system complete with honeypots, intrusion detection systems, other forms of trickery, and your standard security precautions.

A fundamental point about anti-personnelle land mines which does not get made is that they are economic weapons: Their primary function is to destroy the rural economy of a country or region by making farming difficult or impossible - this makes them of enormous geo-political importance. They are small and very, very cheap and can be broadcast over huge areas from planes. A variation is the Israeli use of "dud" bomb-lets from cluster bombs to destroy the rural economy of the Lebanon when they last invaded; forty percent of the bomb-lets from the cluster munitions were "dud" - a quote from the BBC: an incompetent weapons designer indeed!

This is the reason we are served up with the bare faced lie that it is impossible to limit their lifespan, say to 6 months. There are a hundred ways to do this.

(Incidentally, the "They only blow peoples' feet off because that way you remove 3 people from the battlefield" - the victim and the stretcher bearers - is clever and characteristic propaganda. The real purpose is it makes them smaller and lighter and therefore easier to broadcast over large areas.)

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