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.

Ottawa Treaty

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.

Continued Use

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.

Treaty Holdouts

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 real priorities.

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 mixed-use systems.

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.

Next Steps

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 landmines create.

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