Obama Is Playing Politics With Landmines

In 2012, Dr. Lamont Colucci was approached by U.S. News and World Report to write a weekly column on foreign policy and national security. This is under the aegis of World Report – Insights, perspectives, and commentary on foreign affairs. View the article on

Most people involved in politics refer to it as a “minefield” due to its tendency to attract men and women with aggressive, capricious and childish behavior. Recently, however, the real issue of actual landmines has haunted American national security policy.

The explosive landmine can trace its origin back to Renaissance Europe, but this horrible device would not come into its own until the First World War. It is a horrible device, just as bullets, bombs, grenades and nuclear warheads are horrible devices. A landmine, like the aforementioned, is designed to violently stop the enemy. But all of these devices also have the ability to deter a would be aggressor from conquest, pillage, destruction and genocide.

The Obama administration is edging closer to signing the Ottawa Convention that would ban landmines. The administration announced that the U.S. would no longer produce antipersonnel landmines or acquire new ones, including replacing expiring munitions in its stockpile. Like most current political issues, the debate has been overtaken by emotion, embellishment and a distortion of the truth.

The contemporary campaign against landmines began in 1991 with pressure brought to bear by nongovernmental organizations and later the famous Princess Diana. The treaty to “ban landmines,” known as the Ottawa Convention, was adopted in 1997 and stress was put on the administration of President Bill Clinton to accede to the treaty. In a decision that shocked many, the administration refused to sign.

The media at that time portrayed the United States as monstrous, and supporting the maiming and deaths of children who were victims of past wars and conflicts that had employed landmines. The administration failed to make the case that it was willing to sign the treaty, but only with specific reservations, primarily due to the political and military realities on the Korean peninsula. The media not only failed to report this critical issue, but failed to characterize the supporters of the treaty as being unwilling to make such a miniscule concession. The United States, in typical fashion, was demonized as a warmongering bully against the peace loving countries that supported the treaty.

In November 2009, the Obama administration, bowing to the continuous pressure, ordered a review of American landmine policy, and is seemingly joining the chorus that has ignored the initial reason the United States opposed parts of the treaty in the first place.

The core reason for American opposition has been to safeguard life. Let us take a pause here while the reader wonders if that is what was intended. Landmines save lives; they save civilian lives and the lives of our soldiers. How does such a horrible weapon accomplish this? The United States has no interest in the indiscriminate use of landmines or the use of landmines that could adversely affect any civilian population. We are primarily concerned with two areas of the world. The first is the Korean peninsula, where the North Korean army numbers more than 1 million men and more than 6,000 tanks. South Korea is protected by half that number of men and one-third of the tanks, augmented by the presence of 28,500 American troops.

Notwithstanding the immense gap in our favor in technology, training, tactics and strategy, the North Korean threat is real and landmines serve as an initial deterrent to an attempt by North Korea to use a first strike blitzkrieg, which, although it would ultimately fail, would bring about an immense loss of life. The landmines assist in deterring and blunting an attack from the communist north. The alternative could only be a larger American presence. The other area of the world that the United States needs to reserve the ability to utilize landmines is in Europe, where a potential attack, by a larger numerical force, such as Russia, would also be deterred and blunted.

The George W. Bush administration moved America out of the “dumb” landmine and into land mines that self-detonate and self-destruct. A NATO study concluded that there is currently no substitute for landmines in five key military areas: protecting key points, such as base camps and command and control installations, defending against mass infantry assaults, defending against infiltration by dismounted infantry, providing a tactical obstacle on the battlefield to delay and pin down the enemy, and protecting anti-tank minefields from being easily breached by enemy forces.

Not only is the United States the largest donor to helping victims of landmines, donating more than $2 billion dollars in aid since 1993, but the list of nations that have refused to sign the treaty should give anyone interested in geopolitics pause. The list includes China, Russia, India and Pakistan to name a few critical nations. Our key ally, South Korea, insists on keeping these landmines as a deterrent against the aggression of the north. The only reason for being distressed with the United States over its specific reservations is political.

It is convenient to characterize the United States as monstrous and to overlook the specific reasons for the American position. Instead of basing its foreign policy on the strategic interests of our allies, the civilian populations we protect and our own soldiers, the Obama administration is jumping on a partisan bandwagon of emotion and self-righteous campaigning.