In the early 1950s the US military and the armed forces of the Republic of Korea erected a barrier system separating North and South Korea. The barrier includes an estimated two million antipersonnel landmines in the 2.5 mile wide Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and an estimated one million landmines in the six mile wide Military Control Zone. The landmines in this barrier would not be affected by the United States joining the Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, and if South Korea joined the treaty the landmines could remain in the ground for up to twenty years. This is the only such static emplacement of landmines used in defense of US forces in the case of a military conflict. We dug up and destroyed the landmines in the barrier system protecting the US base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba in 1998.
Korea is cited by proponents of landmine use as a “special case” where landmines are necessary for the defense of US armed forces. This suggests images of hordes of North Korean soldiers poised to pour across the border in an attack on outnumbered US soldiers. This argument rests on a number of myths and mistaken assumptions that this paper addresses.
Landmine Myths in Korea
Myth: The 37,000 US troops stationed on the DMZ are the first line of defense for South Korea.
- Official U.S Army briefers in Korea have stated that the US has no responsibility for the frontline defense of South Korea;
- Instead, US forces will form a mobile reserve behind the front lines when an attack is imminent.
- The armed forces of the Republic of Korea are better equipped with modern US weaponry and better trained than the North Korean military.
Myth: The US landmine barrier system is a principal deterrent of an invasion by North Korea.
- Landmines in the barrier system do not belong to the US; they are the property of the South Koreans and are under their control.
- Landmines are being removed from the landmine barrier to allow for the reconnection of the inter-Korean railway.
- Landmines in the existing barrier are old, and many are non-functional. This fact is well known to the North Koreans.
Myth: Landmines are an integral part of our battle plans in Korea.
- If the US or the ROK were to employ the designated 1.2 million antipersonnel landmines south of the DMZ it would require 1172 5-ton trucks to move them and over 4,600 platoon hours to emplace them.
- US military officers concede that the existing barrier will be an impediment to our counter-attack;
- Of the 1.2 million landmines stockpiled for use in Korea, nearly half are not even in that country, and plans call for turning all but 5% of the remaining half over to the South Koreans.
- Use of landmines in the US battle plan for Korea will be deferred because of the logistical difficulty in getting them to the front - and because of the hazards they pose to our own forces.
Myth: Landmines in Korea are not a hazard to civilians.
- Seventy-five civilians have died from mine accidents in Korea since 1990, and the number of injuries is much higher;
- It is estimated that there have been over 1,000 civilian mine victims since the end of the Korean War.
- Many landmines stockpiled for use in Korea are non-self destructing or “dumb” antipersonnel landmines that can remain active for decades.