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The Pentagon’s Love Affair with Land Mines

“A landmine is the most excellent of soldiers, for it is ever courageous, never sleeps, never misses.”

Khmer Rouge General

The United States is 1 of 45 countries that refuses to sign the 1997 Ottawa Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines (APM’s) and on their Destruction. 137 countries have bound themselves to the rigorous provisions of that treaty. But the Pentagon, never seeing a weapon system it didn’t like, and the Bush Administration, never having seen a treaty it liked, remain unmoved by the suffering caused by APM’s. Article 1 of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty demands that “each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances to use anti-personnel mines.” Article 4 of the Mine Ban Treaty requires that all States Parties destroy their stockpiles of APM’s. The Pentagon is skittish about signing the Treaty as it fears such a precedent will trigger similar campaigns against other US weapons systems most notably those dependent on depleted uranium.

Even though the US is the largest contributor to demining and mine awareness programs ($80 million in FY 2002), it has reduced funding by close to $24 million less over the last two year period. But that’s not a great surprise given that private industry is stepping into what is a lucrative and eternal mine-clearing business. With an estimated 40-50 million APM’s below ground around the globe, for-profit demining companies stand to make a killing.

Terrified Pentagon

The Pentagon, and its allies in the US Congress, has traditionally been averse to signing any piece of international legislation that, in their view, limits the use of military capability and that may place American commanders under the spotlight of an International Tribunal. Indeed, APM’s remain an active part of US military doctrine as the US retains a stockpile of 10.4 million APM’s. US military forces in Afghanistan are making use of minefields sown by the former Soviet military for perimeter defense, refusing to de-mine them. And the US military pre-positioned, but did apparently did not use, 90,000 APM’s in and around the 2003 Iraq theater of operations. That, even though al least 31 US military personnel have been killed or injured by APM’s in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of 2003.

More significantly, according to 1997 Nobel Laureate Jody Williams of the International Committee to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and driving force behind the Mine Ban Treaty, “The military is terrified to give into society’s wishes.” Williams is one of only three American women to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She indicated that the Pentagon understands that the Mine Ban Treaty “has been one of the few examples of successful multilateralism in today’s world”. According to Williams, the Pentagon under Bush has recommended abandoning the US policy goal of joining the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006 as it has virtually all other international agreements.

The ICBL is composed of 1,400 citizen groups in over 90 countries that brought pressure to bear on their governments through grass-roots campaigning ultimately bringing world attention to APM’s. Remarkably, just 8 full-time staff members oversee the ICBL. According to Williams, The Pentagon recognizes that other favored weapons systems may find themselves subjected to citizen-based campaigns similar to the ICBL which shattered accepted arms control negotiations standards by working around governmental institutions in the United States and the rest of the world. “If you ban US landmines, then maybe other weapons may be the subject of further campaigns.”

“The United States has not renounced APM production and they are keeping their options open,” said Stephen Goose of Human Rights Watch at a recent press conference publicizing the 2003 edition of the Landmine Monitor Report: Toward a Mine Free World. The United States is not alone. “Lack of adherence is notable among major antipersonnel mine stockpilers particularly China, Russia, the United States, Ukraine, India and Pakistan. These six are estimated to hold more than 185 million stockpiled antipersonnel landmines, roughly 90 percent of the world’s total.”

The Pentagon has deflected domestic and international pressure to sign the Mine Ban Treaty first and foremost because it views APM’s as an “essential capability” that must be maintained and be readily available for use in military operations. To deploy or not to deploy depends on the best judgment of US battlefield commanders. “Should an operational commander determine that the use of APM’s are required to support operations or to protect U.S. men and women in uniform, he can request authority to use them in accordance with pre-established rules,” said a DOD Official.

The Pentagon maintains that the Mine Ban Treaty does not adequately consider legitimate US national security requirements, nor does it fully address humanitarian concerns raised by the use of APM’s and anti-tank mines. The Pentagon endorses the Amended Mines Protocol II–enacted in May 1996–which it believes will establish reasonable standards on the use of landmines in order to minimize risks to noncombatants. The Protocol is part of the larger United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons, to which the United States has acceded and has been a state party since 1980. “Unlike the Mine Ban Treaty, the Protocol includes restrictions on anti-tank mines as well as anti-personnel landmines. It also restricts the use of booby-traps and other devices that the Ottawa Convention [Mine Ban Treaty] does not address. In addition to many states that are parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, state parties to the Protocol include key landmine producers and users, such as China, South Korea, India and Pakistan that are not parties to the Mine Ban Treaty,” said a DOD Official.

The Pentagon supports the United States’ effort to press for other international measures to reduce further the risks to civilians worldwide. “We are working with other state parties to the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons to adopt tighter restrictions on the use of anti-tank landmines, similar to those applicable to anti-personnel landmines. The Ottawa Convention does not address anti-tank mines. We are also working with state parties on an instrument to deal with explosive remnants of war. This instrument would deal with the humanitarian problems posed by all types of munitions,” said a DOD Official.

But according to Goose of the ICBL, the value of the Protocol is limited almost exclusively to curbing the use of anti-tank mines. In his view, the Mine Ban Treaty has far more extensive obligations while the Protocol is full of loopholes. “The reality is that at the end of the negotiations, state’s parties to that Protocol realized that the agreement being finalized was wholly insufficient to meet the need to ban APM’s. In other words, the parties recognized before the ink was dry that the Protocol was not the answer. And in some ways, the Protocol contains justifications for producing more APM’s. India, Pakistan and Russia increased production in 2001 and 2002. The US just hasn’t learned.”

Bad Company

The United States keeps the company of Cuba, Libya, Iran and Syria, among others (, who want to retain the right to use APM’s. The US has ignored the entreaties of NGO’s like the ICBL and trusted allies such as the United Kingdom (State Party since 1998) and Spain (State Party since 1999). It has also deflected the views of its own military commanders. On March 19, 2001, Lieutenant General Hal Moore, USA (Ret.), and seven other senior US military officers sent a letter to President Bush urging his administration to sign on to the Mine Ban Treaty.

“We feel strongly that it is in the best interests of the American soldier and our country that you “fast-track” US accession to the Mine Ban Treaty. APM are outmoded weapons that have, time and again, proved to be a liability to our own troops. We believe that the military, diplomatic, and humanitarian advantages of speedy US accession far outweigh the minimal military utility of these weapons.” They went on to rebut the oft-cited Korea Argument which states that APM’s are critical to the defense of Korea. “Several of us are former commanders of elements of I-Corps (USA/ROK group), and believe that APM are not in any way critical or decisive in maintaining the peninsula’s security. In fact, freshly scattered mixed systems would slow a US and ROK counter-invasion by inhibiting the operational tempo of friendly armor and dismounted infantry units.”

According to Goose, “The United States has been in compliance with some provisions of the Mine Ban Treaty for years. They are doing the right thing but can’t seem to make the leap to sign the treaty. That’s interesting because if they did they could bring China, Russia and other non-signatories on board. The United States could exercise some real leadership if they did,” said Goose, “We wait with baited breath”

No Loopholes

The Bush Administration was scheduled to release new directives on APM’s in the latter part of 2003 that would halt any effort to develop alternatives to APM’s. “I’ve heard some discouraging things from the Pentagon and it may be that the US will roll back its current policies,” Goose.

The current APM policy is outlined in Presidential Decision Directive 64 issued by Former President Bill Clinton in 1998. In that Directive, the United States committed itself to signing the Mine Ban Treaty by 2006 if suitable alternatives could be found. But in May of 2002, the Pentagon stated that it could not meet the 2006 deadline since it has been unable to design and field a satisfactory self-destructing alternative to the “dumb” APM’s currently in stock. Additionally, the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty States Parties have taken a skeptical view of next-generation APM’s promoted by the United States and there’s little wiggle room for its negotiators. On a positive note, the United States extended the legislative moratorium on the export of landmines until October 2008 although it is sullied with the brand producer and stockpiler of APM’s.

According to Human Rights Watch, Mine Ban Treaty participants rejected U.S. demands that “smart” APM’s like the CBU-89 Gator Mine System– a 1,000-pound cluster munition containing 22 antipersonnel mines and 72 antitank mines-be exempted from the Mine Ban Treaty. The use of self-destructing and self-neutralizing APM’s, said Human Rights Watch officials, will not prevent new mine victims and the clearance task will be just as time-consuming and costly, perhaps even more so. Their rationale follows.

· Self-destruct mechanisms are not 100 percent reliable. The Landmine Protocol of the 1980 Convention on Conventional Weapons (to which the United States is a State Party) allows a 10 percent failure rate.

· The mines are scattered (or remotely-delivered) from the air with little precision, there is no way to accurately mark or map or fence the mined areas to keep civilians out.

· Civilians in the mined areas face the danger not only of accidentally detonating mines that have failed to self-destruct, but of coming upon hundreds of those mines randomly self-destructing at unknown times.

· The mines still deny land to civilians. Because they are remotely delivered, they are found on the surface of the ground, not buried. If they are aware the area is mined, civilians will not enter it, knowing that the visible mines may still be dangerous and fearing the presence, in many places, of mines that have been overgrown or otherwise obscured.

· Mines that have failed to self-destruct but have self-deactivated will have to be treated by deminers as live mines that may potentially explode. Thus, an area that has unexploded mines in it will have to be cleared with the same care as any other minefield. The time and cost will be similar.

· The clearance job may be made more difficult by the large numbers of mines present (given the propensity to use thousands at a time in remote-delivery systems). U.S. Gator mines were still being cleared from Kuwait several years after Operation Desert Storm.

Alternative APM’s

The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA)–along with team leaders SAIC, Alliant-Technologies and Sandia National Labs-continue to push forward with the Self Healing Minefield System (SHMS). It consists of surface scattered and networked antitank mines that can detect an enemy attack of the minefield and respond autonomously, by having a fraction of the mines airlift themselves-through the use of microrockets-into the breach. SHMS uses a man-in-the-loop concept allowing remote control detonation of the ordnance. DARPA claims that after 30 days, the SHMS will self-destruct and not pose any danger to US troops or civilians. Such a system may meet the provisions of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty but it is far from being field-ready.

Novel technologies such as the Taser Anti-Personnel Munition (TAPM) are being developed jointly by industry participants General Dynamics, Ordnance and Tactical Systems and TASER International. Rick Smith, CEO of TASER indicated that TAPM is a hand emplaced remote control activated device that fires two tethered darts up to 21 feet. Military personnel place the devices in an array and remotely activate them. When infrared sensors located within the devices are self-activated, they release darts with up to 50,000 volts of electricity. “It’s like shooting a pair of jumper cables at a person.” Temporary and painful paralysis ensues, evidently with no loss of life. Smith mentioned that US Marines he spoke with returning from the war in Iraq indicated that they lost a lot of sleep patrolling perimeters. “While TAPM would not obviate the need for personnel to do that, it may let them make better use of their time. Further, TAPM meets the political requirements of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty will providing area of denial capabilities that the US military needs.”

Technology Overwhelmed

Eradication of APM’s in the field is a painstaking process from both a cost and time perspective. A United Nations report titled The Impact of Armed Conflict on Children indicated that it costs as little as $3 each to manufacture an APM but can cost up to $1,000 to remove just one. APM’s can be spread at rates of over 1,000 per minute, but it may take a skilled expert an entire day just to clear by hand 20-50 square meters of mine-contaminated land. A RAND report titled Alternatives for Landmine Detection (, indicated there are approximately 40-50 million APM’s still lying in wait for new victims. A mere 100,000 per year are removed from minefields the world over. According to the RAND study, “at that rate clearing 45-50 million APM’s will require 450-500 years assuming no new APM’s are laid.”

Unfortunately, there is no reliable or suitable replacement for bomb sniffing canines and their human handlers, or those brave souls on bended knees probing underground with 15th Century tools for 21st Century weapons. And there is no substitute for the Mine Ban Treaty of 1997 which attempts to rid the world of APM’s.

The US continues to give the middle finger to the rest of the world.

JOHN STANTON is a Virginia basd writer specializing in political and military matters. Reach him at


More articles by:

John Stanton is a Virginia based writer. Reach him at

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