Dear Fellow Human Security Classmates —

I recently took advantaged of my Hong Kong address to jump on a plane and visit the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea.  Our fellow Human Security student David Cafferty calls it -and not without reason- “the Disneyland of IR”. Indeed, I bought more souvenirs there than I’ve ever bought anywhere else and I found it to be a fascinating place. I have studied the DMZ in different classes, but the chance to visit really opened my eyes, especially with regard to the AP-Landmine treaty.

Being in South Korea is actually an amazing opportunity to talk to people. What struck me as intriguing was that everyone assumed that reunification will happen. It does not even seem to be an issue there. They consider themselves as one nation that ‘should’ be one country.  Of course, no South Korean I’ve met wanted the regime of Pyongyang to be in charge. Seoul is about 60 Km from the DMZ and every South Korean must spend two years in the army after high school, though they can postpone it until they finish college (which is a nice incentive to study!).  You can see a lot of soldiers around in the city. This increases one’s awareness of what the country goes through.

One of the many ironic parts about the DMZ is that South Koreans are not allowed to enter without a month-long background check. When talking to Mr L, among many other South Koreans, he gave me the standard answer to my question about visiting the DMZ — “I don’t want to go. There is nothing there for me. It’s an attraction for tourists.”   Maybe so, but even though they have every gift shop I can think of and even a roller coaster (no kidding!), it sure as hell doesn’t feel like a tourist attraction.

The Joint Security Area is where the UN building is located right on top of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL) which is the centre line of the DMZ, 2 Km from each side of the border. When you enter the DMZ you are escorted by two soldiers in a UN bus. This is after having signed an agreement stating that it is the ‘entry into a hostile area and possibility of injury or death as a direct result of enemy action’ is possible. Besides the legal mumbo jumbo that scares tourists in order to legally cover the UN’s back, it remains a serious threat and the 2 South Korean elite guards inside the joint conference room standing in a “relaxed” Taekwondo position are not there to amuse tourists. When talking to an American soldier, he explained that North Koreans don’t kid around and that some abuse often goes on when US or South Korean military hold a meeting in the room. Since the signing of the Armistice on the 17th of November 1954 over 50 Americans and over 500 South Koreans have died due to hostile North Korean action.

One of the main parts of the visit was going to what is called the 3rd tunnel. As it turns out, North Korea has tried to dig over 20 tunnels under the DMZ in order to enter South Korea. Sadly enough South Korea has only found 4 of them and mainly through the tips given by North Korean dissidents. It is suspected that this is how 31 elite soldiers from NK managed to get as far as the blue house [residence of the head of government] in the 90s in order to try to assassinate the president. [correction: even though I was told the tunnel was how these elite forces got in it appears a submarine might have been their way of entry].

When we talk about AP-landmines, we all think of some poor African kid who’s lost his leg. This is indeed a serious problem and no civilian should live under that fear. However, the DMZ is a 4 Km wide and is spread with 2 million landmines.  As it turns out the demilitarized zone is ironically the most militarized place on Earth and wisely so.  When one considers that North Korea has killed a couple of soldiers in the DMZ in the 1976 –the Panmunjom Axe Murder- and has tried to dig so many tunnels,  one is quite happy to know there are a couple million landmines between the two. The landmines have a function in this part of the world, they are not reminiscent from the Cold War left there by mistake.

It may not be surprising that countries like Canada and Sweden, that don’t need landmines, are quick to ban landmines from the face of the earth. However, when those landmines form a key barrier keeping at bay a totalitarian regime where each man spends about 10 years in the army and every women about 4, one is not so keen on wanting to ban them. Whether we like it or not those landmines have a role to play in that part of the world and they are not there out of a whim. If one thing has been made clear, it is that Kim Jong-il is not one for nuclear dissuasion and one can only wonder what he would have done if it were not for these landmines. For my part, I was quite happy to have them between me and them. Other parts of the world aside, on the Korean Peninsula, Landmines serve to protect real people from a real threat.

Paul-François Polidori

Advertisements

Anti-personal landmines were first invented as a low-cost security barrier. With their compact size, low cost and efficiency, they were spread across borders to protect countries during major conflicts worldwide.  However when conflicts end, mines have not been disarmed causing harm to individuals in these countries, often their own citizens, and preventing communities from rebuilding.  This situation led to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which culminated in the 1997 Ottawa Treaty.

Despite the destruction caused by these mines on post-conflict poor communities, some states have been slow to  remove these landmines, as they believed they still formed as essential tool in their national security arsenal.  As of February 2009, only 156 countries have ratified the treaty and superpowers like China, USA, India and Russia have yet accept this treaty. What are the reasons for these countries not accepting the treaty? What use are AP landmines today, other than causing harm to innocent civilians?

In the case of the US, President Obama has called for the withdrawal of US military presence from Iraq and a new national security agenda.  This new national security agenda should include a review of the US policy towards anti-personal landmines.   The US should sign the treaty, reinforcing its intent to withdrawal from foreign conflicts, like Iraq, where its presence harms more than benefits.   The US could implement the ban of landmines on the Korean peninsula, allowing the Koreans to solve their own problems.  After all, how do landmines located in Korea protect US territory from any kind of attack?   What is the real concern?  Who is really being protected?  What does the US gain by preserving landmines outside its national territory?

by Simran Savlani & Luis Benito Zenil

Reference:

– International Campaign to Ban Landmines, “latest campaign news”. Retrieved February the 23rd from: http://www.icbl.org/

– Global ban on landmines, “Convention on cluster munitions and mine ban treaty: mutually reinforcing for a safer world”, retrieved February 23rd from: http://www.icbl.org/news/oslo_icbl

In 2008, Augusta Ulrica was crowned the world’s first Miss Landmine. The pageant took place in Luanda, Angola, a country struggling after 27-years of civil war. Landmines were commonly used in battles after the country’s independence from Portugal. It is estimated that between 1 and 6 million mines remain in the ground, but numbers as high as 15 million have been suggested. With 800.000 mine survivors and 1.6 million people being affected by landmine casualties, it remains a severe problem in Angola. When the Norwegian artist Morten Traavik visited the country in 2003, less than a year after the end of the civil war, he saw how the ‘physical reconstruction and social integration’ was hampered by the leftover landmines. This experience initiated the Miss Landmine pageant, which is an art project with the objective of increasing awareness of the Angolan situation. The political and humanitarian impact of the contest will hopefully foster ‘victim assistance’ for landmine survivors.

Victim assistance is one of the unfulfilled promises made by the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. According to the treaty, ‘each State Party in a position to do so shall provide assistance for the care and rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration, of mine victims…’. At the same time, it holds that the VA25 states, including Angola, have ‘the greatest responsibility to act, but also the greatest needs and expectation for assistance’. However, the Angolan government does little to provide assistance to victims  as most of its funding is used on demining. Furthermore, victim assistance in Angola lacks coordination and information about the needs and the number of mine survivors, not to mention the delay in formulating policies and operational plans.

The Miss Landmine pageant helps mine survivors live as survivors instead of victims through empowerment and a focus on disability pride. It encourages survivors to take part in society and gives them a chance to dream of a better future. In a human security context, ‘freedom from want’ advocates would argue that more focus should be on the mine survivors as they are part of the reconstruction of a country and wish to be involved in this process. On the other hand,  ‘freedom from fear’ advocates would hold that the attention should remain on eliminating the direct threats by focusing on the demining process. Would efficiency in landmine relief  improve by involving mine survivors?

Pix and Marianne