Post-war land mines still a danger



    In many 20th-century wars, the killing continues long after the war ends. Many killed after the conflict are victims of weapons left behind, said Stan A. Taylor, a professor in the political science department.

    Taylor addressed this issue in his speech entitled “Never-ending Wars: The Story of Unexploded Ordnance” at an international forum held Wednesday in 238 HRCB.

    The term “ordnance” is a contraction of the word “ordinance,” and is taken to mean bombs and shells.

    For wars up to the 20th century, the killing generally stopped upon the ending of the war and those killed were usually the intended targets. However, new inventions and more advanced technology have caused the number killed after the war to exceed the number killed during the war. One such invention is land mines.

    “Although land mines were used in very limited ways during the American Civil War, it was not until World War I that they became a factor in battle and not until World War II that they became a common weapon in the arsenals of war,” Taylor said.

    There are both similarities and differences between the land mine and unexploded ordnance problems, Taylor said.

    The similarity is that each mine that remains from a war is a potential killer of someone against whom its use was not intended.

    There are three differences.

    Approximately 15 percent of all bombs and shells used in World War I, and about 6 percent of all used in World War II, did not detonate. They remained because they malfunctioned and failed to explode as intended.

    Land mines, however, were designed to explode on contact and the danger they pose even after the war ends is that they will function as intended, Taylor said.

    Secondly, the land mine problem is much more extensive than the unexploded ordnance. Land mines remain as present dangers to civilians in at least 62 nations of the world.

    At 14 million, Angola has the most remaining land mines. Other countries that face this problem include Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iraq, Kuwait, Mozambique, Bosnia and Sudan, in decreasing order of the number of remaining land mines.

    Thirdly, unexploded ordnance were made of metal casings which can be fairly easily detected by metal detectors. On the other hand, land mines have been deliberately concealed near the surface of the ground, and many modern mines are constructed out of materials meant to be undetectable.

    Lastly, unexploded ordnance, once it becomes visible on the surface, is never mistaken as a toy or used as a plaything by children as is the case with many varieties of land mines.

    The top three countries with the most land mines — Angola, Afghanistan and Cambodia — account for an estimated 32 million land mines still in place and collectively report 22,000 casualties each year from those mines. Former U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher stated in his speech that there are “500 victims every week” around the world.

    Efforts to rid the world of land mines fall into two categories: first, clearing mines that have been laid in wars, and second, limiting and banning their production, distribution, or use, Taylor said.

    At the opening of the Geneva Conference on Disarmament on Jan. 18, the American delegate announced that the United States would unilaterally observe a permanent ban on the export of anti-personnel mines.

    Taylor said that unless faster and firmer progress is made in the land mine control process, this will undoubtedly continue into the 21st century.

    Taylor joined the Department of Political Science in 1968. He was the first director of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU.

    Taylor has also worked as an administrative assistant to Utah Congressman Gunn McKay and as a senior staff member for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. He is also a member of the American Political Science Association, the International Studies Association and the Consortium for the Study of Intelligence. His most recent book is “America the Vincible: U.S. Foreign Policy for the Twenty-first Century,” with Earl Fry and Robert Wood.

    Print Friendly, PDF & Email