21 December 2006

Singapore's Stand on Antipersonnel Landmines

In the Nobel Exhibition, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), an organisation that won the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, was featured extensively. Two sets of displays in the artefacts section as well as a short film in the Creative Milieus theatre are related to them, making them one of the most highlighted organisation in the entire exhibition.

Founded in 1992, their primary objective is to completely ban the use of antipersonnel mines in the world. Their success was phenomenal. From a coalition of a handful of NGOs, it has grown into a network of more than a thousand groups. One of the major successes was their win of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997, but the greatest achievement of their work was the Ottawa Treaty.

However, many of the powerful countries in the world refused to sign the treaty. They include the United States, China and Russia. Many have their own reasons for not doing so (such as the US, who needs landmines to protect South Korea from North Korea). That was what I found and prepared for my duty as an exhibition guide. However, curiosity nudged me to find out more, especially with regards to Singapore's status.

It turns out that, expectedly, Singapore has not signed the Ottawa Treaty. More than that, Singapore is a producer of landmines (see this ICBL newsletter, third paragraph). This is kept a low profile in Singapore, which is not surprising since this is something not to be proud of. Even Indonesia has recently signed and ratified the treaty. As a matter of fact, most guys who have been through the army would be able to attest that there is at least basic landmine deployment training.

This led me further to ponder on the question: would Singapore ever deploy landmines? My personal opinion is no. The Singapore Army's main purpose is to defend Singapore, and its greatest strength lies in deterrence. Even if we take into consideration the unlikely possibility of Singapore entering a conflict, it is unlikely that we are on the offensive. I doubt Singapore will start planting landmines along Woodlands. However, there is the possibility of pre-emptive strikes, which Singapore occupies a foreign land to act as a buffer against foreign attacks. Would landmines be a possibility then? Probably, but then the chances of this happening is very low.

In that case, why doesn't Singapore sign and ratify the treaty, since we're probably not going to use landmines anyway? My guess is that there are two reasons. First, remember that the army's strength lie in deterrence. And the knowledge that we possess and may deploy landmines contributes to this deterrence. For all we know, we may not even use landmines in times of conflict. The situation is similar to the serial numbers on polling cards.

My second guess is that, it does not benefit Singapore to sign the treaty. Let's face it: Singapore is a pragmatic country. Our government is pragmatic. A larger part of the population is pragmatic. What would signing the treaty give Singapore? Putting it another way, what harm will it cause Singapore if it doesn't sign the treaty? In addition, with countries like the US and China not signing it, Singapore is safe from international ridicule.

Personally, I support ICBL's goals and agrees with their principles. I would be most delighted if Singapore signs and ratifies the Ottawa Treaty. But frankly, I don't expect that to happen soon. That's life. Life sucks. Get used to it.


warhammer said...

Interesting article, my own tendency lies towards a ban of AP mines as well. But for the sake of discussion let me be the devil's advocate.

What's the problem with AP mines in the first place that they need to be banned?

Why should Singapore support a treaty that only restricts use of AP mines when it says absolutely nothing on the use of booby traps, tripwires, Punji sticks, caltrops or an assorted other nasties that serve the same purpose. Compared to punji sticks, AP mines are downright humane.

The Negative Man said...

Two points.

While possession of landmines might well be a deterrent against invasion, I suppose the same can be said of chemical or nuclear weapons. The question, then, becomes one of whether the nation will put the weapon to malicious uses.

Another consideration is the nature of the weapon. Unlike chemical or nuclear weapons, landmines are inherently defensive in nature. (Unless one sends special ops to go around planting mines in foreign terrority. But that's more of terrorism.)

Still, I don't see how landmines have any significant deterrent effect, unless they're deployed (which means war has begun!), which makes it quite a lousy deterrent in any case.

Pandemonium said...


I think the main gripe ICBL has with landmines is that they are used very widely and, more often that not, it is the civilians that get the brunt of them. I suppose they do not condone booby traps as well, but the issue is probably the level of widespread usage, and that's probably because of its relative ease in terms of deployment.

By the way, the prohibition of the use of booby traps and mines are spelt out in the Geneva Convention. (The Ottawa Treaty is stricter but narrower.)

The Negative Man:

From a pragmatic point of view, chemical and nuclear weapons are attracting a lot of negative attention as compared to landmines, so of these choices, possessing landmines are less of a magnet for international trouble than the others. On top of that, we already have landmines for a long time, but if Singapore wants chemical or nuclear weapons, it has to buy/research/stockpile them. This means lots of money have to be put it, along with bearing a bad name.

True, landmines are not a strong deterrence as other weapons, but it is a weapon not meant to be looked lightly upon. It can be used effectively to seal off some routes (if I remember my army training correctly, a landmine area will be demarcated with a sign declaring it so, as per the Geneva Convention). I'm not a military strategist, but I think this can be pretty useful.