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Soldiers sweeping for mines

On Jan. 31, the White House announced the Department of Defense’s new landmine policy, which lifts existing U.S. prohibitions against the use of landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula. The new policy will allow the Department of Defense to use, develop, produce, or otherwise acquire landmines anywhere in the world. Here’s what you need to know about landmines and this new policy.

What are landmines? | What’s in the new policy? | What is the impact of landmines? | Where are they deployed? | Who else uses them? | What is the Mine Ban Treaty?

What are landmines?

Landmines, also known as anti-personnel mines, are defined as mines “designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.”

They cannot distinguish between civilian or combatant. Landmines do not follow ceasefires or peace processes – they lie dormant for decades and continue to inflict suffering on civilians long after a conflict ends.

Claims by the U.S. military that some landmines are “smart” or “non-persistent” are false. Efforts to create “smart mines” through self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms have failed to function as advertised. The Government Accountability Office found that “smart mines” deployed in the Gulf War failed at a rate 150x higher than the Department of Defense had reported. Additionally, while so-called “non-persistent” landmines contain mechanisms that shorten the lifespan of the trigger, the explosive materials remain—and with it their lethality, indiscriminate nature, and ability to harm civilians.

What’s in the new landmine policy?

The new landmine policy cancels President Obama’s 2016 Presidential Policy Directive 37, which had prohibited the U.S. military from employing anti-personnel landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula.

The Trump administration’s new policy allows the Department of Defense to use and acquire landmines globally. In justifying this dramatic policy shift, the Department of Defense makes the dangerously misleading distinction between “persistent” and “non-persistent” landmines, despite the documented failures of self-destruct and self-deactivation features.

The new policy includes several key points:

  • The U.S. military can employ, develop, produce, or otherwise acquire landmines.
  • The U.S. military will not have any geographic limitations for the deployment of landmines.
  • Military Combatant Commanders, not the President or Secretary of Defense, will have the authority to use landmines, moving the decision out of the hands of the U.S. military’s civilian leadership.

What is the impact of landmines?

Landmines are indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately impact civilians, and especially children. From 1999 through 2018, there have been 130,755 reported casualties as a result of landmines, though the true number is likely much higher as accurate data is difficult to gather.

According to the Landmine Monitor, in 2018 alone:

  • Landmines caused nearly 20 casualties per day, double the rate in 2014.
  • Civilians accounted for 71 percent of landmine casualties.
  • Children accounted for at least 54 percent of all civilian casualties, an increase of 7 percent from 2017.

Antipersonnel landmines come in three major types: blast, directed fragmentation, and bounding fragmentation.

  • A blast landmine is designed to injure the lower extremities of the victim, often leading to amputations.
  • A directed fragmentation landmine propels hundreds of pieces of metal shrapnel into the victims.
  • A bounding fragmentation landmine first springs three feet off the ground before exploding at the height of an adult’s waist or a child’s head. These fragmentation mines cause deep wounds, infections, destroyed limbs, burns, loss of sight and hearing, severe blood loss, and decapitation.

So-called “smart” landmines are rarely hand-planted, carefully mapped, and marked. Instead, they are often scattered by aircraft and artillery over unmarked terrain, creating further danger for civilians and aid workers who have no way of knowing whether they are in or entering a minefield.

Where are they deployed?

As of September 2019, landmines have contaminated over 59 countries, with hundreds of thousands of people living under threat. These include countries like Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, which collectively have hundreds of thousands of acres of land contaminated by American-dropped unexploded ordnance.

Between 1969 and 1973, the U.S. carpet bombed Cambodia with 2.7 million tons of ordnance, including 80,000 cluster bombs containing 26 million submunitions—more than the Allies dropped on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. The unexploded bombs left behind from the U.S. carpet bombing campaigns and the Cambodian civil war has led to over 64,000 casualties between 1979 and 2017. Additionally, Cambodia has 232,000 acres of contaminated land – land that cannot be inhabited, farmed or otherwise developed.

The U.S. currently has no active minefield under its control. The minefields the U.S. once implanted on the Korean Peninsula are now the responsibility of South Korean forces. The last large scale confirmed use by the U.S. was in 1991 in Iraq and Kuwait, when U.S. forces deployed 117,634 antipersonnel mines. However, it is reported that U.S. forces in Afghanistan deployed Claymore directional fragmentation mines in 2009 and 2010.

Who else uses them?

Of the more than 50 countries that once produced landmines, 41 have ceased production by February 2020, including four that are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. Under this new landmine policy, the U.S. will join a small handful of one-time mine-producing countries that have not disavowed restarting production, including China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore and Vietnam.

Between October 2015 and 2019, only the government forces of Syria, Myanmar, and North Korea, as well as non-state actors in conflict areas, have used landmines.

What is the Mine Ban Treaty?

The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, also referred to as the Ottawa Convention or the Mine Ban Treaty, was adopted in 1997.

The 164 countries that are party to the Mine Ban Treaty as of February 2020, representing over 80 percent of the world’s states, are required to:

  • Not develop, produce, acquire, use, retain, stockpile, or transfer anti-personnel landmines, or assist or encourage others in such actions.
  • Destroy all current stockpiles of anti-personnel landmines.
  • Identify and clear all mined areas under their jurisdiction or control within 10 years.
  • Assist other states in clearing and destroying mines if able, and provide assistance to landmine victims.
  • Report annually to the U.N. the numbers, types, and locations of any landmines under their control, and the status of efforts to destroy any landmines under their control.

The Mine Ban Treaty, aided by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions, has made a massive contribution towards global peace and security through the destruction of over 53 million antipersonnel mines.

However, so long as 32 nations—including the U.S., Russia, China, India and Pakistan—are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty, the world continues to live under threat.

FCNL urges the White House and Department of Defense (DOD) to reverse this policy change and sign the Mine Ban Treaty. FCNL calls on Congress to pass legislation that bans the use, development, and production of landmines, and to prohibit their funding.