Landmines: Deadly Hidden Killers
Where We Are Today
Center for Defense Information
Defense Monitor, Number 5, 1999
When the Ottawa Landmines Treaty was signed in December 1997,
many thought the global scourge of landmines would be controlled.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Many countries, especially
the poorest, are affected by these hidden killers. The U.S. State
Department believes there are still 60-70 million landmines buried
in 68 countries.
The trauma that landmines inflict is unimaginable and indiscriminate.
Landmines were responsible for one-third of all U.S. casualties
in Vietnam and for 20% of U.S. casualties in the Gulf War. In
Bosnia, landmines have maimed or killed 50 NATO personnel and
are hampering the peace mission in Kosovo.
The Ottawa Treaty Banning the Use, Production, Stockpiling,
and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Landmines was opened for signature
in December 1997. It entered into force March 1, 1999. In May
1999, the States that are parties to the Treaty met in Mozambique
to discuss progress on the global ban on landmines. At this gathering,
the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) issued the
Landmine Monitor, a country-by-country report on treaty compliance,
current national policies, and actions taken to clear mine fields.
The report represents the first time nongovernmental organizations
have played the role of treaty verifiers.
Although stressing that there had been no significant transfers
of landmines since the Treaty signing, the report noted that landmines
continue to be planted. Evidence was presented of continued use
of landmines in at least 13 conflicts. Three Treaty signatories
- Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and Angola-were accused of violating
the Treaty. The Monitor also detailed evidence that landmines
are still being used in many countries in Africa and Asia.
A high priority of the ICBL is to get Treaty holdouts to sign,
particularly Russia, China, and the U.S. All three recently have
made positive statements about signing. At the G-8 meeting in
Bonn this past June, Boris Yeltsin said that Russia would sign
the Ottawa Treaty although he set no deadline. China has expressed
support for the concept of the Treaty, and the U. S. said
it will sign by 2006 "if suitable alternatives are found."
Other regionally significant nations have not signed. The
volatile Middle East could quickly become a "landmine wasteland"
since only Jordan has signed and ratified the Treaty. In Asia,
nations such as India, Pakistan, and North and South Korea have
yet to sign.
Africa remains the continent most affected by landmines. Most
nations signed the Treaty, but the eight that haven't - the Central
African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Egypt,
Eritrea, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, and Morocco - are high risk
areas for landmine use.
The danger of new use is fueled by the existence of large
landmine stockpiles that can be moved all to easily between countries.
Destroying stockpiled landmines costs only a few dollars per device
whereas removing them from the ground can cost up to a thousand
dollars each. Considering that at least 108 countries have stockpiled
more than 250 million landmines - a number more than three times
larger than the number buried - destroying stockpiles is a cost-effective
way to control this problem. In fact, 30 countries have already
destroyed over 12 million landmines.
The U.S. stockpile is stored in ten other nations: Germany,
Greece, Italy, Japan, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Spain, South Korea,
Turkey, and the United Kingdom. In seven of these ten nations
that have signed the Ottawa Treaty, the U.S. is under pressure
to destroy or remove its landmines because storage violates the
spirit of the Treaty.
The U.S. Policy Flip-Flop
At one time the U.S. led the effort to eliminate landmines.
It was the first to take significant unilateral action to curb
exports by enacting a one-year moratorium on such transactions
in 1992. In 1994 President Clinton was the first to call for the
eventual elimination of landmines. Further legislation imposed
a one-year moratorium on using anti-personnel landmines except
along international borders and demilitarized zones.
But in the last eighteen months, apparently at the Pentagon's
insistence, not only has the U.S. withdrawn from the fight but
it is now resisting controls on landmines.
A still largely confidential Presidential Decision Directive
(PDD) governs current U.S. policy. From what is known, the PDD
says that the U.S. will not use anti-personnel mines (except "mixed-use"
or combined anti-personnel-anti-tank systems) anywhere except
in Korea after 2003. The PDD also pledges that the U.S. will sign
the Ottawa Treaty by 2006 if suitable alternatives to anti-personnel
and mixed-use mines are developed by then.
The PDD incorporates the two U.S. objections to the Ottawa
Treaty. The Pentagon argued that landmines are "crucial to
stopping any human wave attacks' of North Koreans into South Korea."
Therefore the option to use landmines in Korea cannot be ruled
out. The Treaty also bans the "mixed-use system" on
which U.S. forces rely extensively.
The Pentagon claims that finding alternatives to mixed-use
systems is their first priority. In fact, following Mr. Clinton's
May 1998 statement that the U.S. would sign the Ottawa Treaty
by 2006 "if alternatives were found," the Pentagon pledged
that development of alternatives would be completed by 2006. But
looking at what the Pentagon is doing raises questions about their
The Pentagon's Fiscal Year 2000 budget requests $48.3 million
for developing an artillery fired mixed-use system called RADAM.
The presence of anti-personnel mines in RADAM undercuts the language
in the PDD which pledges that anti-personnel landmines will not
be used after 2003. Any use of RADAM, whose estimated procurement
cost is $200 million, would violate the Ottawa Treaty which bans
On the positive side, the U.S. has budgeted $100 million for
demining, an increase from the 1998 budget of $82 million. To
its credit, the United States also provides millions of dollars
for survivor assistance programs.
In spite of diplomatic achievements and increased public awareness,
landmines continue to wreak havoc on increasing numbers of people.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) puts the mine
injury rate in Kosovo at 10 per 100,000 people, a rate comparable
to Afghanistan and higher than that of Mozambique. Deaths and
injuries will continue to mount as people return to bobby-trapped
homes and to fields and woods strewn with mines. With hours of
tedious work, the threat from landmines will diminish in Kosovo,
but the consequences - physical, psychological, and social - are
a legacy that will linger for decades.
The Ottawa Treaty was a great international achievement. However,
it is not the end of the fight against landmines. The Treaty can
fulfill its promise only with the full support of the major powers.
That is why U.S. ratification and a formal NATO "no use"
declaration are so important. Combining enlightened policies with
continued funding for demining efforts and victim assistance just
might produce a permanent reduction in the human devastation that