Experts: Anti-personnel landmines not strategically beneficial for Estonia

A minefield warning sign in the Falkland Islands
A minefield warning sign in the Falkland Islands Source: SCANPIX / AFP

Estonia does not use anti-personnel landmines as part of its military defense because it is a party to the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which prohibits their use, stockpiling production and transfer. According to military experts, the use of such landmines would not provide significant benefits for Estonia in repelling enemy forces.

According to Lt. Col. Ainar Afanasjev, head of the Engineering Battalion of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), although anti-personnel mines would deter infantry, in the big picture their use would not provide Estonia with a significant advantage. Therefore, the EDF will use other weapon systems and tactics instead.

"Flanking maneuvers and defensive mines are very effective against infantry, but the principle (of using them) is that we must not leave them behind (afterwards). We must not leave behind a charge or wire because a person, an animal or whatever can run into it. If we have controlled it, or if there is a soldier holding the trigger, then that's okay," Afanasjev said.

Martin Hurt, research fellow at the International Center for Defense and Security (ICDS) in Tallinn, explained that anti-personnel mines are designed to injure those who come into contact with them only to prevent them continuing to perform their tasks on the battlefield, and that this means they are not necessarily always lethal. "The aim is often to inflict the kind of injuries that mean a wounded person has to be carried to safety by the combat medic and the rest of their team," Hurt said.

In practice, this means anti-personnel mines often result in victims sustaining injuries to their arms or legs including the kind requiring amputations.

Due to the difficulties in recovering small mines, which are often spread in large numbers over wide areas, their impact on civilians frequently continues for years after the conclusion of the military conflicts in which they were originally deployed. This is one of the major reasons why most countries, including Estonia, have abandoned their use.

Afanasajev also played down the benefits of anti-personnel mines as an effective form of defense.

"A lot of minefields are just a distraction, a temporary fix, for when a tank comes in and then takes off. There's an infantry soldier with an anti-tank weapon next to it and he does his job. They are usually- under observation, because if you don't keep your eyes on them, it's very easy for the enemy to demine them," Afanasjev said.

When a minefield is set up, the unit commander draws up a map showing the exact location of the mines. The idea behind this is to ensure the field can be made safe in future, if and when it becomes necessary to do so.

"Various directives also require minefields to be marked," explained Afanasjev. "This is also done for safety reasons. There is nothing wrong with the enemy seeing these markings - the minefield is already doing its jo, because (it means) the enemy will not go there," he added.

However, it is also allowed to leave your opponent's side unmarked," Afanasjev continued, adding that this is done in order that the mines only affect the enemy. In the case of anti-personnel mines, however, it is much more difficult to ensure this, and so may not be worth the hassle. Hurt also pointed out that, when it comes to defense spending, there may be other areas which ought to be prioritized ahead of mines.

"We have key capability gaps in our military defense that should be filled as soon as possible. These are more important at the moment than not being able to use anti-personnel mines," he said.

Former head of the Defense Forces Ants Laaneots (Reform), along with 19 EKRE MPs had previously  made a statement in the Riigikogu denouncing the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (otherwise known as the Ottawa Treaty)

However, Thomas Mell, head of the Ministry of Defense's Strategic Communications Department, told ERR last week, that there is no evidence to suggest that Estonia needs to use anti-personnel mines as part of its defense. "At the moment, the need for passive anti-personnel mines has not emerged, either from recent capability development plans, analyses or the lessons learned (so far) from the war in Ukraine," he said.


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Editor: Michael Cole

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