A press release that crossed my inbox this week again repeated what was put as an United Nations claim that millions of landmines abound around the world.
The statement said the UN claimed there are 110 million active mines scattered across the world, of which about 44 million have been planted on the African continent. Those are staggering numbers. It may be true the UN said them, but are the numbers true? Or even reasonable?
A quick check showed the Russians, in their main effort for 1943, the planned defeat of German forces at Kursk, planted about half-a-million anti-tank landmines and around the same number of anti-personnel devices. This was a deliberate and massive effort involving thousands of men and women over several months. One can also be sure it involved the bulk of Soviet mine production (including cruder devices – such as wooden box mines containing demolition munitions manufactured by engineers behind the frontline) for a considerable period before the battle broke in July.
In the Western Desert – in Egyptian Africa – Rommel lay about 500 000 mines in planned fields in his “devil’s gardens” to protect his troops ahead of the Second Battle of Alamein. Again a massive and deliberate effort. One can further quote German mining efforts in Normandy and Italy and other efforts elsewhere. But the point is, if the preparations for two major World War Two battles saw only some 1.5 million mines planted, how could insurgents plant 44 million (minus the WW2 mines still left over) in Africa, even in 40 years? Or 110 million worldwide? Insurgents do not generally plant planned fields or engage in massive deliberate efforts. Government forces might, for example to protect towns they hold – one example being Xangongo in Angola during the Bush War/Civil War there.
Was there even the manufacturing capability to build that many? The political will to export and use them? The logistic capability to move them from factory to “front”?
These figures cry out for a proper audit.
But how did they become currency? Author James F Dunnigan says it is a case of successful information warfare: "What was unique about the campaign to ban land mines [the anti-personnel mine treaty or Ottawa Convention of 1997] was the skillful use of misinformation, lies, and rewriting of history to get the treaty signed.” He points out that the basic premise used by campaigners was that APM have no military usefulness and are used primarily against innocent civilians. “Mines were used in volume during World War Two not because generals were sadists but because they saved lives. After that conflict, however, mines often became a political weapon.” Most mines used against civilians are intended to terrorise them into supporting the guerillas or not supporting the government. "This was not brought out during the anti-mine crusade because it did not fit the mind-set of the crusaders, who sought to pin the blame on the nations providing most of the mines," he writes. Most of the countries that afterwards signed were nations that either had no mines or were not keen to use what they had. "But on the negative side, the nations that did sign the treaty will, when they send their soldiers into some future war, lose more of those troops for the want of mines." He predicts mines will be back, perhaps under another name, very quickly when reports citing their need come from the front. "But many of their citizens in uniform will die needlessly in the meantime."
A final point he makes is that the anti-mine enthusiasts made up many of the statistics they quoted, such as that more than 100 million mines were in use and that 25 000 people were being injured each year. The figures were invented because most of those making and laying the mines were – and remain – disinclined to release accurate figures. Campaigners claimed there were up to 35 million mines in Afghanistan alone. Deminers on the spot in 2003 estimated the number at 600,000. So if you have to estimate, and you are an issue-driven NGO, guestimate in your own favour.
Says Dunnigan: The anti-mine activists knowingly used information warfare to achieve their goals… If you have a cause that is generally considered worthy and are willing to lie, cheat and deceive to achieve your goal, information warfare is the way to go.