UMAction Briefing Homepage Mark Tooley
Institute on Religion and Democracy



March 13, 2001

Liberal church leaders are launching another offensive in their long crusade to establish the divine kingdom on earth. This time it is a campaign to ban land mines through an international treaty that the United States has refused to sign.

“This treaty has slowed the carnage and begun the long process of healing lands broken by land mines,” proclaimed Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. He was speaking at a recent Capitol Hill rally. His council is launching an effort to persuade every church, mosque, and temple to support the treaty. “Each of us can work to change a small portion of events,” Edgar insisted. “Let us ban land mines forever.”

Edgar’s rally was in conjunction with a meeting of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, held in Washington, D.C. The campaign has been successful in persuading nations with no hostile borders to sign the international accord against land mines. But countries with insecure borders to protect are more reluctant. Besieged Israel will not sign. Neither will Finland, with its long border with much larger Russia. Russia and China will not sign, largely because of their borders with each other. The same is true for India and Pakistan.

South Korea will not sign, because of the million North Korean troops poised within fifty miles of Seoul. And the United States has not signed, because it is also concerned about defending South Korea, among other places. Removing land mines from such insecure borders would not necessarily save lives. Indeed, it might cost many more lives if aggressors and terrorists concluded that the borders could more easily be breached.

The Clinton Administration pledged that the U.S. would sign the treaty by 2006 if alternatives to land mines were developed by then. The anti-land mine lobby judged that compromise to be unacceptable. Now it is pressuring the Bush Administration, which has not yet announced its policy on the topic.

The NCC Capitol Hill rally featured numerous victims of land mines around the world, many of whom had lost arms and legs. Tens of thousands of other victims have not lived to tell their own stories. All these accounts of mutilation and death are wrenching, of course. But it is hard to understand how an international treaty would have saved the victims. Nearly all stepped on land mines planted during vicious civil wars in places such as Mozambique, Angola, Cambodia, and Bosnia. Although those conflicts are now largely concluded, millions of unmarked and crude mines were left in place, where they continue to kill and maim.

Virtually none of the mines that now threaten civilians were produced by the United States. And almost certainly the despotic governments and ruthless guerrillas that placed them would have been indifferent to any international effort against land mines. Land mines that have been placed by responsible governments are found in clearly marked areas, where they threaten only invading troops. Unlike the primitive devices found in many former Third World trouble spots, high-tech mines produced by the United States can now be de-activated from a distance, which means that their potential threat to civilians is almost nil.

Some responsible national security experts believe that land mines are outdated. But most military experts in the U.S., including the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, insist that land mines remain essential for the protection of U.S. troops, especially in South Korea. The U.S. no longer produces or exports land mines but does maintain an extensive stockpile. It also has contributed far more than any other nation to the painstaking task of clearing land mines from former conflict zones, as well as extending medical assistance to the victims.

The late Princess Diana of Wales added glamour to the anti-land mine cause. Queen Noor of Jordan is now the royal leader of anti-land mine campaigners. The international Left has signed on, nostalgically longing for the days of anti-nuclear demonstrations that targeted the United States as the world’s primary threat to peace. The U.S. refusal to sign the land mine treaty is denounced as a new act of imperialist arrogance and militarist callousness.

Liberal church groups cannot resist the temptation to join the parade. They, too, were tireless in their opposition to all U.S. defense efforts during the final decades of the Cold War. They, too, minimized the real security threats that the United States faced during those years. They, too, seemed to excuse the aggressions of the Soviet bloc by alleging that these had been provoked by American strength.

But more deeply, liberal religious groups are highly susceptible to utopian causes that ignore the realities of sin and the complexities of politics. Having set aside any talk of an eternal Kingdom of God, they instead work for an earthly kingdom of perfect justice and peace. They look for salvation no longer in an act of God, but in act of self-transcending humanity. Humankind, they devoutly hope, can rid the earth of warfare by simply banning the instruments of its own destruction. For wooly-minded religious officials, permanent peace is only as far away as the next international treaty.

“It is unconscionable that…the world’s largest stockpilers of mines continued to sit out [of the treaty],” the Rev. Edgar told the anti-mine rally on Capitol Hill. “I hope that President Bush and the U.S. Congress can acknowledge the will of U.S. churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples and speedily push for its ratification.”

Edgar’s church council has been joined by the U.S. Catholic Conference, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and numerous other denominations in demanding U.S. ratification of the treaty. Interestingly, most of these groups also oppose anti-missile defenses for the United States and its allies. Weapons that are largely defensive in nature and that threaten almost only aggressors seem to be the chief targets of liberal church groups.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines will not likely save any lives. It may actually cost lives, as nations search for even more lethal alternatives to land mines. But it will allow the secular and religious Left to feel, once again, morally superior to the U.S. government. That is probably its real intent.

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