Letters to the Editor

10.1 Cover

As an independent journal, we provide topics that stimulate conversations. We give the mine-action community a place to sound off. Every issue brings us rants and raves—happily, usually many more raves than rants. We're sharing some of them here.

I was reading the latest version of the JMA—great stuff. Specifically, I am very impressed by your profiles. Your knowledge and research is superb! Keep up the good work.

~John Zlocki, CEIA USA

I received the current issue [August 2006] in the mail yesterday. Huge congratulations for this work, and in particular for the beautiful layout.

~Robin Collins, World Federalist Movement–Canada

I was disappointed by the article "An Alternative Perspective on Landmines and Vulnerable Populations" in your [August 2006] issue arguing that landmines have positive uses. Several times in the past I argued for JMA adopting a peer-review system, and this article shows why it is needed.

The author has criticized others for misusing evidence, but she has little of her own and has misused some of the evidence she has quoted. While it is a great idea to have a strong and vigorous debate, a peer-review process could have provided criticisms which would help the author to present a more soundly based argument in an amended article. She has not taken into account the difficulties faced by NGOs who had to estimate the magnitude of landmine problems when faced with short deadlines, inadequate resources and uncertain information. I don't think anyone would seriously argue that mine-action programmes have been oversupplied with funding as a result of inflated statistics.

There are better ways to protect vulnerable populations than the methods advocated in the article. A serious study of how populations protect themselves in situations where there is loss of normal state-controlled law and order would reveal many more constructive and effective methods.

~James Trevelyan, Professor, University of Western Australia

We will be sure to ... write an article for the prestigious Journal of Mine Action. Congratulations on your achievements over the many years!

~Heidi Kühn, Founder & CEO, Roots of Peace

Thanks for your Journal of Mine Action. Your journal is good and very important for people all over the world, especially since it can help to give much information about mine action in the affected countries.

~Thor Chetha, Director, Regulation and Monitoring Department, CMAA

I read the article "An Alternative Perspective on Landmines and Vulnerable Populations" with disappointment. The author presents arguments against the use of landmines as some type of logical fallacy, which fail to meet the test of logic and evidence. She then presents unsubstantiated and hypothetical counter-arguments in favour of landmines. These border on the ridiculous and are not based on evidence, experience or demonstrated understanding of the conditions and rules of war and the suffering that these weapons have caused.

The notion expressed by the author that there is a moral defence for the use of victim-activated landmines in defending communities is absurd, when taken with the fact that these weapons are indiscriminate in their effects and cannot distinguish between those being "defended" and the "hostile" party. The thousands of soldiers who have died from landmines laid by their own forces are testimony to this as are the hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties. Additionally, the fact that a few civilians may have used landmines as a weapon of defence is not a reason to believe the weapons are morally defensible or even useful—it is actually more reason to have them banned. There are many weapons systems which might appear to have some utility but have been condemned as being inhumane and morally unjustifiable. Chemical and nuclear weapons are cases in point, as are efforts being made to limit the impact of cluster munitions. We need to remember that the rules of war do not permit the use of indiscriminate weapons and means of warfare which are disproportionate in their effects, and that the international community has come to the determination that victim-activated anti-personnel landmines fail these tests and should be prohibited.

~Reuben Nogueira-McCarthy, Landmines and Small Arms Team, UNICEF

I am currently in eastern Africa visiting our programmes and enjoyed the latest edition. Pass on my regards and thanks to your team for assisting in the publication of my article.

~Nigel Howard, former Operations Manager, Mines Awareness Trust

I just received the new release of the MAIC journal and am enjoying the reading. It has very interesting information.

~Pablo Esteban Parra Gallego, Asesor, Observatorio de Minas Antipersonal

Encouraging diversity of opinion is a fine objective for JMA. There is a need to consider the balance between the "negative" effects of landmines (why demining exists) and the "positive" effects of landmines (why they get used in the first place). This is an age-old debate on ethics: is it better to kill (or risk killing) one person in order to save two? From my limited understanding of ethics, this depends on the value you put on each person's life. The author of the article in question [Dr. Shelby Weitzel] does encourage us to consider how our own values and beliefs cloud our arguments.

~Dr. Chris Couldrick, Lecturer, Cranfield University

I too would like to suggest a peer review system for the Journal of Mine Action. While I have found it a useful tool in my research, many articles are written from an uncritical perspective and are often simply public-relations pieces for the agencies who write them.

While some of the news articles would not necessarily need to be peer reviewed, I think every feature piece really ought to go through a rigorous review by technical people, social scientists and mine-action management experts. After all, we are dealing with a topic that is literally life and death—we owe it to our beneficiaries to have a mine-action journal that is truly professional, critical and hard-hitting.

I hope it doesn't sound like I am harping from the sidelines—I don't intend to tell you how to do your job. I do think the JMA has improved greatly since [Editor Lois Carter Fay came] on board, but I also think it has even greater potential. The Journal of Mine Action has served the mine-action community well. It is now time to take it to the new and more sophisticated level it deserves.

~Matthew Bolton, PhD Researcher, Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science

When reading and looking at the JMU Journal of Mine Action, I think that the JMU staff has done quite an achievement! Congratulations! I still remember the start of it and now see the photos of all the staff on the last edition.

I just would like to add that you have managed to produce a journal of quality. I thought that the mine action issues would quickly run out after a while. However you are managing to always find new topics and keep up with the mine action momentum, the R&D, the part people play in it and the field activities, etc. It is really great to have this kind of information when you are still in the mine-action sector and even better for people like me who have gotten out of it but still keep an interest in it and want to follow what is going on.

~Laurence Desvignes, International Committee of the Red Cross

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines was dismayed by the publication of "An Alternative Perspective on Landmines and Vulnerable Populations" in the August 2006 issue of the Journal of Mine Action. We found it irresponsible for a magazine seeking to educate the public about the challenges of removing anti-personnel landmines from the ground and their impact on civilian populations to simultaneously publish an editorial article that advocates their use. How on the one hand can you display a poignant message of mine risk to children in Africa on the cover and at the same time allow an author to rationalize planting new mines that could put such a child's life in danger?

In addition, the article was poorly reasoned and factually inaccurate, which is a further disservice to your readers. The portrayal of the ICBL as obfuscating facts and manipulating survivors' images to serve our purposes is not only insulting, but it has no basis in reality—the ICBL's annual Landmine Monitor publication (www.icbl.org/lm) is testament to the thorough and serious work we do to collect accurate data. Landmine survivors speak out against mine use on their own accord because they are committed to reducing the risk to others from these vile weapons. Further, the heart of the author's argument is that AP mines have been and would be used by civilian populations to defend themselves, whereas in fact it is almost always soldiers (government or non-state armed groups) that lay the mines, and their goal is not to protect civilians. History has shown that these inherently indiscriminate weapons only lead to lost lives, limbs and economic opportunities for decades to come. It is hard to imagine any community choosing such a future for itself.

~Sylvie Brigot, Executive Director, ICBL

Thanks for keeping me informed. I've found the Journal very important to my current career as a Director of Socio-Economic Planning and Database Management.

~Chan Rotha, Director of Socio-Economic Planning and Database Management, Secretariat General of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority

In [Dr. Weitzel's] article, the author uses a photo that is the property of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In the article, the terms "courtesy of the ICRC" appear with the photo. In the ICRC's database, the original caption accompanying this photo reads "Champ de mines"—meaning "minefield" in English. However, in the article, the original caption was modified without the ICRC's consent to read "Minefields can be used to create barriers to defend vulnerable populations." Our copyright policy clearly states that the caption of a photo may be altered as long as the meaning remains unchanged.

In the present case, the modified caption says the exact opposite of what the ICRC has observed from decades of work in mine-affected communities, namely that anti-personnel mines have had devastating effects on civilians in virtually all of the conflicts in which they have been used, and that their high human cost, particularly for vulnerable populations, far outweighs any limited military value they may have. In particular, the ICRC is aware of no instance where mines "defend vulnerable populations." For the last 12 years, the ICRC has been calling for the global elimination of anti-personnel mines, and, since 1997, promoting the treaty banning these weapons. We are therefore concerned that the reader will erroneously attribute the modified caption to the ICRC, thereby misleading the reader as to the ICRC's position on anti-personnel mines.

More generally, the ICRC is concerned that its photo appears in an article that puts forward views with which the ICRC disagrees based on its long-standing experience on the issue of anti-personnel mines. Without wanting to engage here in a point-by-point review of the article, we would only highlight here that we are deeply troubled by the phrase, "[w]hether or not one believes a line between combatants and noncombatants can and should be maintained," which appears to question the universally accepted rule of distinction between combatants and civilians. This rule is a cornerstone of international humanitarian law and underlies all major humanitarian treaties, notably the 1949 Geneva Conventions to which all states are parties, as well as the 1997 Convention banning anti-personnel mines. It also binds armed non-state actors.

~Peter Herby, ICRC, Head, Mines-Arms Unit, Legal Division

Editor's Note: The JMA had permission to use the photo, but it did not have permission to change the caption, which read 'Champs de mines,' and means 'minefields' in English.

Author Shelby Weitzel's Response: Setting aside incendiary language and false accusations (e.g., that I believe demining programs are overfunded and that I "promote" the use of landmines by suggesting that the arguments for a total ban are at best incomplete, at worst unsound), much in the letters merit response. For instance, I would like to examine more closely what one means by "victim-activated" and "indiscriminate." An aggressor who steps on a mine is not necessarily a victim, and the ways in which landmines are indiscriminate may be more akin to bullets than to nukes. Space considerations limit what can be addressed; this is for the best because my intention was to initiate a dialogue in which some re-evaluation can take place, not to replace the absolutism of the ICBL with my own.

The question that drove my inquiry in the first place is, "What are the alternatives?"

Surely there are other viable positions one can take that are responsible, critical of current military and guerrilla tactics, and constructive, but I find the lack of publicly available considerations perplexing. If and to the extent that such opinions are out there, they should be encouraged because the ICBL, ICRC and UNICEF, while certainly important voices for social justice, do not have a monopoly on human compassion, expertise, or seriousness of purpose. Their responses to my editorial speak for themselves; they would have it that people who ask questions be shut down rather than welcome the opportunity to reinvigorate their message in a manner that is not merely preaching to the converted.

Prof. Trevelyan's comments about the alternatives to landmines struck me as a promising avenue for further inquiry. If what Prof. Trevelyan meant is that the ways in which vulnerable populations protect themselves is available and that I should study them more closely, then I would be genuinely grateful to know where to find this information. If he meant that such studies should be conducted, then I could not agree more.

In short, we are told that landmines are hideous, but we are not told what the available alternatives are or why they are better. In the future, if my critics would explain where the mistakes are rather than merely assert that they exist, we can make progress. In the meantime, many people will continue to believe that they need (or might one day need) landmines, and we should acknowledge this and consider why this is so.

~Shelby Weitzel, Brake-Smith Assistant Professor in Social Philosophy and Ethics, College of the Holy Cross

Response from MAIC Director Dennis Barlow: We at the MAIC stand squarely behind the publication of the article, "An Alternative Perspective on Landmines and Vulnerable Populations" as we do all the articles we publish. This is not as an advocate of any particular position taken, but in the spirit of freedom of expression and competition of ideas. We believe Dr. Weitzel's article, while open to criticism and debate (as all articles are), to be a respectful and thoughtful opinion. Yet we also welcome the responses of Dr. Trevelyan and the Director of the ICBL in rebuttal; we have been publishing for eight years and this is the first input we have received from ICBL, so perhaps we have Dr. Weitzel to thank for that.

We recognize the key contributions of Dr. Trevelyan and Ms. Brigot to mine action, and we are indeed prone to agree with James Trevelyan that "there are better ways to protect vulnerable populations" than landmines. However, we disagree that such articles have no place in the JMA. We believe that aspects of mine action can (and should) withstand criticism, and we also believe that no position should be "off limits" to honest and well-meaning debate.

~Dennis Barlow, Mine Action Information Center

If something we print just begs for your comment, submit your own Letter to the Editor! Please keep your response short and to the point—200 words or so. Send your letters to cisreditor@gmail.com.