Why Ted Bromund and the Heritage Foundation are wrong about landmines

Ted Bromund is the Margaret Thatcher senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation and dropped this little piece of coal in my stocking just before Christmas. This is not the first article critical of the Mine Ban Treaty published by Mr. Bromund and the Heritage Foundation.  They also published this piece in December 2010, this one in September 2014 and this article in December 2014.  Mr. Bromund’s colleague at the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, Daniel Kochis, published this piece in June 2014 in response to the Obama Administration’s change in landmine policy announced at the Mine Ban Treaty Review Conference in Maputo, Mozambique. There are a few major fallacies in the most recent piece which was a response to the release of this year’s Landmine Monitor report, a report I had a hand in writing so I feel a bit more sensitive to this critique than previous ones.

First, the picture accompanying the article shows a truckload of anti-tank mines which are not regulated by the Mine Ban Treaty.  The photo below would have been a far more appropriate picture which shows several South African-made R2M2 anti-personnel mines.  Mr. Bromund is welcome to use this photo with proper attribution.

15, Collected

Second, Mr. Bromund points out that “U.S. land mines are not responsible for any of these casualties.”  He goes on to say that “a ban on U.S. land mines won’t help, for the simple reason that U.S. mines aren’t killing anyone.” And technically he may be right: US-made landmines probably didn’t kill anyone in 2014, but US-bought landmines almost certainly did. As a small example consider Angola which reported 11 landmine casualties in 2014 (a number which almost certainly does not reflect the true number of casualties).  Those casualties were the result of landmines laid by government forces and UNITA rebels during the course of the three-decades long civil war in Angola.  During the war, the government was supported by the Soviet Union and Cuba and the Soviet Union sent many landmines to the government as part of military aid packages.  These mines would have been made by the Soviet Union or its allies including East Germany, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.  UNITA was supported by the United States government and received military and logistical support, but not through direct channels.  Much like other clients of the US during the Cold War, UNITA received arms and weapons made not by the US, but by NATO allies like Italy and Belgium or geographically closer allies like South Africa and Zaire.  This allowed the US to retain “plausible deniability” for supporting rebel groups against internationally-recognized governments.  Now, can I prove that any of the 40 landmine victims in Angola were injured by a US-made landmine?  No, but the possibility is very strong and Mr. Bromund knows this.

Third, Mr. Bromund says “a U.S. ban offer any kind of moral lesson to others.”  Wrong again.  Only two countries in the Western Hemisphere maintain stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines, the US and Cuba.  And Cuba has explicitly said it will continue to retain landmines as long as the US does. Also, the former Soviet republic of Georgia has said that if the United States feels anti-personnel landmines are a necessary part of its arsenal, then Georgia would view them the same way.  Therefore, if the US were to ban landmines, at least two countries would lose their justification for not doing the same.

Fourth, Mr. Bromund claims “Repeated studies have found that no other weapon can protect U.S. forces and civilians as reliably as land mines.”  The studies Mr. Bromund cites are from 1999, but a 2002 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, GAO—2-1003, “U.S. Use of Land Mines in the Persian Gulf War,” which specifically looked at US military landmine use in the first Persian Gulf War (Mr. Bromund’s studies looked at models and theories of landmine use, not actual use). According to the GAO, the US military only used 118,000 “self-deactivating” mines in the Gulf War despite having access to millions of persistent mines.  Of those 118,000 mines, there is no evidence that any of them “actually caused or contributed to enemy losses.”  Also, Iraqi forces were not “aware of or have actually encountered” landmines used to protect defensive positions.  So, US mines were completely ineffective and 81 US soldiers were confirmed killed or injured by Iraqi or “unknown” landmines.  And while no evidence was found that US landmines caused US casualties, the Department of Defense confirmed that US-made and used cluster munitions caused 80 casualties among US service members; other unexploded US ordnance caused 16 more US casualties.  So, as the GAO report points out: more US casualties were caused by US cluster munitions and UXO than Iraqi landmines.  The GAO report goes on to highlight significant reliability issues with self-destructing mines which had a dud rate in the Gulf War of 100 times that reported by the Department of Defense.  So while Mr. Bromund suggests that US landmines protect soldiers and civilians reliably, the actual evidence is otherwise.

Lastly, Mr. Bromund in his December 2010 commentary trotted out the tired chestnut that eliminating landmines from the US arsenal “would seriously degrade the ability of the U.S. to defend itself and its allies, particularly in Korea.” The Korean Peninsula remains the one place where the US will continue to allow use of anti-personnel landmines even though, get this: the US does not have a single landmine in Korea.  All of the landmines on the Korean Peninsula belong to North Korea or South Korea.  The US maintains this exception because, in the case of an attack on South Korea by North Korea, the US would assume military control of South Korean forces and therefore South Korea’s landmines.  The US commander in Korea has said that the one million South Korean landmines prevent a North Korean invasion, but that claim represents a serious failure to comprehend the dynamics of the conflict.

Landmines are not what prevent the North Korean army from marching across the Demilitarized Zone; the threat of a US nuclear strike does.  North Korea’s government allowed as much as a tenth of its population to starve to death in the 1990s.  A government so callous would think nothing of sending a division of troops to act as human mine-clearers in advance of a mechanism invasion.  And what was North Korea doing while its people starved? Developing atomic weapons to use as a deterrent in case they did make an assault on South Korea.  Pyongyang’s pursues nuclear capability (and the means to reliably deliver warheads) to counter the perceived US threat that exists as long as South Korea remains under US protection.  The Korean conflict is a nuclear one, not a conventional one and any general, US or otherwise, who doesn’t realize that and relies on landmines to sleep well at night is mistaken.

I don’t know why the Mine Ban Treaty and efforts to eliminate landmines bother Mr. Bromund so.  Any military usefulness for these weapons is dwarfed by their humanitarian impact which extends way beyond just the immediate casualties of landmines.  More than 12 million people live in areas affected by landmines, limiting their access to water, agricultural land and markets.  Most of these people are not in active conflict zones are suffering the after effects of wars that ended a generation or more ago. Mr. Bromund and the Heritage Foundation should be applauding the US’s leadership on this cause, as the US is the single-largest donor to mine clearance around the world, not trying to undermine it with flawed and specious arguments.

Or perhaps there’s a simpler explanation.  South Korea’s Hanwha Group was, in 2014, one of ten donors to give at least US $1 million to the Heritage Foundation (2014 Annual Report).  Hanwha Corporation was founded as an explosives company in the 1950s and remains one of the world’s largest producers of defense munitions (Hanwha Profile).  Those munitions include cluster munitions and landmines (The Monitor; Plunkett Research; IDEX). Just saying.

Michael P. Moore

December 29, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org