In the canon of weaponry often involved in crimes against humanity, what comes to mind for most people is a realm of technology including biological weapons, chemical gas, and drones. However, in recent decades, land mines have risen to prominence as a grave security threat for civilian populations in war-torn countries and disputed territories. This is because landmines are an indiscriminate weapon; because they are triggered by the victim instead of the attacker, there is no assurance that a buried mine will not take the life of a child, civilian, medic, or aid worker. Some land mines will stay active for decades after the conflict for which the mine was laid has come to a close and can be triggered in unrelated circumstances. Land mines also make mine-contaminated land unusable and prevent development and farming even in times of peace. While the changing utility of military technology and concerted efforts from global activists have curtailed land mine usage since the turn of the century, land mines remain buried all over the globe and demand greater attention from world leaders.
This story begins with a notable bright side: Land mines are certainly not the mass killer that they used to be. The global transition away from land mine usage began in 1992 when a group of prominent global health organizations launched the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, leading to massive international coverage through the 1990s, a Nobel Peace Prize, and finally, the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty — also known as the Ottawa Treaty.
As far as international weapon regulation treaties go, the Ottawa Treaty is commonly hailed as one of the most successful multinational weapon-regulation treaties in history. With 133 signatory states, this treaty bans the production, laying, and sale of anti-personnel land mines with meticulous regulation and surveillance. The treaty’s adoption was aided by changing developments in international methods of warfare; armies are becoming more mobile, and as such land mines are less necessary because they can be easily bypassed using modern detection technology. The treaty has since resulted in a massive decline in global land mine usage. By the time the treaty went into its third review in 2014, reports by the ICBL claimed that 87 signatory states had no stockpiled land mines, including 34 states which destroyed their stockpiles after the treaty went into effect.
However, as is pointed out by Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a prominent international land mine watchdog, 56 states and four other areas still carry a threat of land mine contamination. This is primarily because dozens of states remain non-signatories of the treaty, and unfortunately, most of the states which have yet to sign refuse to do so because they have active security threats which they combat through the usage of anti-personnel mines. For example, South Korea has not signed the treaty because it deploys mines throughout the demilitarized zone along the border with North Korea. Other major non-signatories such as China, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, and the United States demonstrate that countries engaging actively in global combat are less likely to sign the treaty or comply with its directives. Thus, while 133 countries have signed on, critics argue that the treaty is ineffective if it mostly remains exclusive to the countries that use mines.
Land mines also remain a tricky and persistent problem because most planted anti-personnel explosives simply never deactivate and can only be removed through active demining efforts, which is an expensive and dangerous process. For example, tracts of land in Southern Lebanon remain unusable due to mines placed by the Israeli Defense Force during Israel’s occupation from 1985–2000. Likewise, decades of conflict with a variety of internal and external actors have left Iraq one of the world’s most mine-ridden countries, with thousands of Iraqi communities now cut off from their land and countless displaced people prevented from returning home safely.
The world must remember that ending the threat of land mines is an active process which requires significant resources and long-term dedication. While the Ottawa Treaty has done excellent work in preventing the production and laying of new mines, more work must be done to encourage demining in active zones of conflict and in areas which suffer from long-term mine contamination. Governments around the world must resist the temptation to consider the issue resolved and encourage wider compliance with the Ottawa Treaty, including lobbying non-signatories to commit to the treaty’s provisions. Simply put, land mines will remain a problem until every single one has been pulled up from the ground and safely destroyed. The fates of thousands of children and civilians will certainly depend on it for decades to come.