When it comes to the US joining the Ottawa Treaty banning anti-personnel landmines, President Obama is getting the same nonsense from the Pentagon and State Department that President Clinton did when the treaty was being negotiated. “We need those mines to block a North Korean invasion of South Korea!”
In 2000 I had the privilege of evaluating that claim for the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, Bobby Muller’s group that cares for victims of landmines around the world and started the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. For more, you can read a report I wrote, based on interviews with U.S. Army war planners and South Korean officials.
The bottom line? Ridiculous: As everybody in South Korea knows, any North Korean attack would be regime suicide for Kim Jong Il, with or without anti-personnel landmines. The planned South Korean and U.S. response is to use the anti-tank barriers they have laid along the few narrow invasion routes through the mountainous or watery DMZ (there’s a reason the Korean War was fought to a standstill along this line) and immediately use their complete control of the air to devastate the North Korean capital and then occupy it. As South Korean officials acknowledged to me, the minefields are there not to stop North Korean troops, but to stop the flood of civilian refugees they fear once the North starts imploding! The minefields are a Berlin Wall in reverse.
When it comes to balancing the limited military usefulness of a weapon with its inherent terrible humanitarian costs to civilians, presidents need to adopt a policy of “don’t ask — just tell.” The Pentagon today, as in the 1990s, can easily fight without anti-personnel landmines. All it takes is someone to tell them to do so.