Tag Archives: Convention on the Prohibition of the Use StockpilingProduction and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction

Ethical Killing: Landmines

During the Gulf war of 1991, no fewer than 117,000 landmines were showered over Kuwait and Iraq by American planes. This barely dented the Pentagon’s vast stockpile of 19m. Just under a quarter of the devices scattered in the path of Saddam Hussein’s army were anti-personnel landmines (APLs), the sort that would soon be banned by the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention of 1997, widely known as the Ottawa treaty. The Ottawa treaty has 164 parties, all of which ban the production and use of APL (anti-vehicle mines, among others, are still allowed). America is not among them. When the treaty was finalised, America declined to join (other holdouts include China, Cuba, Iran, Russia and Syria).

Landmines have a number of military uses. They are typically used to channel opposing armies away from particular areas and into others. A minefield can force an enemy to turn, which exposes their flank and makes them especially vulnerable, says Vincent Brooks, a retired general who commanded American forces in South Korea in 2016-18. They can also be used to “canalise” the enemy, channelling attackers into unfavourable terrain, where they may be more exposed to concentrated artillery fire. …But landmines are reviled weapons, and not without good reason. “They’re indiscriminate,”… Landmine casualties have fallen sharply over the years, but at least 2,000 people were killed or wounded by manufactured or improvised APLS in 2018, according to data collected by the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, a research group. Laying a mine can cost a few dollars; clearing one can require $1,000.

The Pentagon has an answer to this. It says that it only possesses, would only produce and would only use “non-persistent” landmines with the capacity to self-destruct or, failing that, to self-deactivate, with a battery losing its charge, within 30 days (some models can blow themselves up in as little as a few hours). It claims that such features are remarkably reliable. …“When the technology is brought into the battlefield, we see that the actual data doesn’t match with the promises,” says Erik Tollefsen, head of Weapons Contamination for the International Committee of the Red Cross. He says that impressive reliability rates are usually derived from tests in sterile conditions, and prove wildly exaggerated in practice. In 2002 a report by the Government Accountability Office, an agency that audits the federal government, noted that during the Gulf war one in 10,000 mines were expected to remain active, which would have produced 12 duds. The actual figure was almost 2,000.

Others argue that there are perfectly viable alternatives to APLs….In particular, remotely activated mines (rather than victim-activated ones) are allowed under the treaty if the person triggering the device has the would-be victim in sight, although this makes them harder to use at range and hostage to a breakdown of communications. In 2018 Finland—a late and reluctant signatory to Ottawa, given its long border with Russia—said it was developing a new, remote-controlled variety of anti-personnel “bounding” mine that leaps into the air and fires metal bullets downward.

Excerpts from Ethical Landmines: Watch Your Step, Economist, Feb. 15, 2020

10 Million Land Mines

In June 2014, the American ambassador to Mozambique, Douglas M. Griffiths, speaking on behalf of an American observer delegation at the conference of The Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction announced that the United States would no longer produce or acquire antipersonnel land mines or replace old ones that expire, which will have the practical effect of reducing the estimated 10 million mines in the American stockpile. Mr. Griffiths also said the United States was “diligently pursuing solutions that would be compliant with the convention and that would ultimately allow us to accede to the convention.”
While he gave no date, the language was still the first explicit commitment that the United States intended to sign the treaty.

“With this announcement, the U.S. has changed its mine ban stance and has laid the foundation for accession to the treaty,” said Stephen Goose, the executive director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch…. “No target date has been set for accession by the U.S., and no final decision has been made on whether to join the treaty,” he said. “The U.S. is reserving the right to use its 10 million antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world until the mines expire.”....Other disarmament advocates were equally pointed in their criticism. Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington, expressed concern about the absence of a timetable to destroy the stockpile. Without that, the announcement would have little practical effect “for many, many years to come.”…

The United States is researching ways to replicate the strategic value of antipersonnel land mines without their collateral damage…American defense officials have argued that these weapons have an important purpose — in deterring ground invasions, for example — and that the United States would put itself at a disadvantage by renouncing them. A number of potential American adversaries — notably Russia, China and Iran — have not signed the treaty….

The Pentagon’s main objection to the treaty focuses on American difficulties defending South Korea from North Korea. The Demilitarized Zone between them is filled with land mines — periodically they detonate, as animals step on them — and they are considered a central element of South Korea’s first-line defense against a North Korean invasion.  But to destroy Seoul, the South Korean capital, the North does not need a land invasion: Its artillery could wreak great damage. So advocates of signing the treaty have argued that the mines along the zone are an outdated Cold War relic.

Excerpts, RICK GLADSTONE, U.S. Lays Groundwork to Reduce Land Mines and Join Global Treaty, NY Times, June 27, 2014