Mines and Booby Traps
Landmines and boobytraps have been used by mankind for hundreds, if not thousands of years. With the advent of modern explosives and mechanical trigger systems, landmines reached widespread use in World War One. The use of landmines probably reached its peak during the Cold War but the use of landmines by western nations had declined due to social and political pressure from human rights groups and the late Princess Diana of England.
The primary reason for human rights criticism of landmines and booby traps is that they kill indiscriminately, often after military hostilities have ended. In theory, landmines are used by armies to cause enemy forces to detour around the mines, slow an advance, and or destroy enemy personnel and equipment. Military landmines generally fit into two categories, anti-tank, and anti-personnel. Anti-tank landmines will generally destroy or disable most military and civilian vehicles. Anti-personnel landmines are usually engineered to kill, but some smaller models are engineered to wound or maim people.
The use of landmines and boobytraps is not only usually against civilian laws in most countries, it is often considered a war crime when and if the landmines produce civilian or unintended casualties. US military doctrine continues the option of using landmines, but with extensive precautions geared toward eliminating the likelihood of civilian casualties. This shift in doctrine has met with considerable resistance from leaders influenced by the US military experience in Vietnam where the use of mines was pivotal in many battles. It is generally understood that the US doctrine of "safe" minefields would be abandoned if US forces were to find themselves in the position of losing a war. This is one significant reason much of the mine warfare training given to US troops remains unchanged since the implementation of the new policies.
Mines were also a pivotal part of war fighting doctrine under the old Soviet system, and therefore became common strategies used by guerilla and insurgent groups trained by Soviet and Cuban advisors in the various African civil wars. Once the communist insurgents won control of their various countries, they continued the use of landmines in manners consistent with Communist doctrine. This included the concept of "area denial" to their enemies and perceived enemies. In this doctrine, areas that were deemed important to an enemy or potential enemy economy would be secretly mined in order to kill enough people to terrorize the civilian population from growing crops, harvesting resources, or traveling in "restricted" areas. This doctrine was also employed by all parties in the Balkans conflicts. While it was considered legitimate force doctrine years ago, it is now largely considered to be terrorism.
One of the most shameful legacies of the Cold War has been the millions of landmines left in developing countries which still pose a danger to people today. Not only are these landmines a danger to the people who live and work in those places, they can claim the lives of travelers, tourists and missionaries in such places. The UN has undertaken numerous efforts at demining places like Angola and Cambodia and one organization that has been involved with this effort is Norwegian People's Aid which is involved in demining efforts in Angola. Their website has a wealth of information about landmines and landmine awareness. Click here to go to the NPA website.
The NPA database on landmines is probably the best that I have seen published in any unrestricted press. Click here for a direct link to the NPA landmine database.
Some notes to consider on landmines. Landmines are mass produced mechanical devices with explosives, and as such can suffer from manufacturing and handling related defects which can alter the necessary neutralization process. It is this reason why the most desired removal method of landmines is to "blow them in place". This usually will involve placing a small explosive near the landmine and either using a time fuse or triggering the explosive from a safe distance. Even trained technicians commonly die in mine and bomb disarming mishaps. Your first option should always be to have a professional destroy the mine in place unless such action would constitute an unreasonable risk to life limb or valuable property. Examples would be mines placed on or near important bridges, near large fuel storage tanks, and heavily populated areas.
Links to more information on landmines.