Keep your hands off our land mines

Posted: Nov 04, 2002 12:00 AM
When Heather Mills McCartney, the gorgeous, blond wife of the ex-Beatle, wears a "No More Landmines" T-shirt, people tend to notice. She's been doing it a lot lately. Her publicity campaign for her new book about her relentlessly awful childhood and the amputation of her leg, "A Single Step," blends seamlessly into her anti-land-mine crusade. She wore the T-shirt on "Larry King Live" the other night, and book proceeds go to a program called Adopt-A-Minefield. She convinced hubby Paul to wear the shirt for the encores during his recent U.S. tour, and talked Macy's into stocking it. Too bad. "No More Landmines" is a dreadful idea, one that perfectly captures a fundamentally mistaken way of viewing the world. There is nothing wrong with land mines. In the right hands, they are a force for good, especially when it comes to the U.S. confrontation with the "axis of evil." All the heart-rending pictures of kids missing limbs that anti-land-mine crusaders reproduce in their publicity campaigns are the work of the likes of ragtag African armies, bloodthirsty Cambodian communists and the lumbering, cruel Russian military. If Heather Mills McCartney and her cohorts can succeed in bringing civilized Western norms of warfare to these disgusting forces of backwardness, good for them. But to insist that the United States sign on to a global treaty banning land mines, as the activists do, is to waste time pushing for a worthless and counterproductive gesture. None of the 8,000 to 10,000 children killed or maimed by land mines a year are hurt by U.S. weapons. The United States has always complied with the extensive rules of war surrounding land mines, including that minefields be clearly marked while they are active and removed when they are no longer necessary. The fact, then, that the United States has the third-largest mine arsenal in the world consisting of 11 million mines -- as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines notes ominously -- is an irrelevance. Many of these mines are technological miracles, capable of self-destructing automatically after a set period of time or, if that fails, going inert, so curious children can practically play rugby with them and not be harmed. Mines represent a crucial strategic asset because, very simply, they deny territory to an enemy without having to deploy troops to do it. That is why, for instance, we have so many of them (about 1 million) in the demilitarized zone between North Korea and South Korea. If those mines weren't there, we would have to keep even more than the 37,000 current troops on the peninsula. For some reason, anti-mine activists never follow through on their logic and agitate for a larger U.S. military. Nor, of course, do they applaud U.S. mining that serves to reduce killing and mayhem. If the United States uses land mines to keep in check a nasty North Korean dictatorship that has no respect for life, those mines are boosting human welfare. So too are the smart mines that the United States might use in Iraq to make up for the relatively small size of the U.S. force involved, and to enhance the maneuverability of our troops. Temporary minefields might be laid with mines shot from artillery or dropped from airplanes to protect the flanks of U.S. forces in a given operation, then destroyed in short order. In other words, land mines could help topple a regime that, among its many other sins, seeded the Kurdish north of the country with dumb mines that still endanger the civilian population. Therein is an important lesson for liberal do-gooders, from anti-gun activists to arms controllers: It's not the weapon that is the problem, but the nature of the people who use it. As a last resort, anti-mine crusaders say it is up to the United States to eliminate its mines to "set an example." But we already do -- by deploying our mines responsibly. So, Heather, best of luck on your career as a celebrity wife, but, please, keep your hands off our land mines.