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
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
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.