Learn more about the landmine problem and the U.S.'s role
Antipersonnel landmines cannot discriminate between a civilian or soldier. They cause blast injuries, particularly amputations, and severe fragmentation wounds as well as eye and hearing damage. Long after wars are over, landmines prevent land from being used for homes and schools or farmed, preventing people from rebuilding lives torn apart by conflict. Dozens of nations are mine-affected and clearance is required to return land to productive use, while hundreds of thousands of landmine survivors require continued care over their lifetimes.
The United States used antipersonnel landmines extensively in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Antipersonnel mines were last used by the U.S. in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm, causing a third of all U.S. casualties as U.S. troops inadvertently penetrated their own air-dropped minefields. In 2014, the U.S. publicly acknowledged the use of a single antipersonnel mine by the U.S. in Afghanistan in 2002. The extent of U.S. use of landmine use in smaller military operations and interventions since World War II is less well-known.
New policy announced on September 23, 2014 commits the U.S. to ban the use of antipersonnel mines everywhere except on the Korean Peninsula due to its "unique circumstances." The policy is an acknowledgment of the limited military utility now attached to antipersonnel mines as for more than 20 years, the U.S. has fought a wide range of conflicts and has demonstrated that it can employ alternative strategies, tactics, and weaponry without having to resort to landmines.
Yet the Korea exception to the ban on use must be resolved if the U.S. is to fully renounce antipersonnel mines. In Korea, the landmines already emplaced in the Demililtarized Zone (DMZ) are considered to be the property of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and not of the U.S. Thus, those mines will have to be removed when South Korea joins the Mine Ban Treaty, but not when the U.S. does. When the U.S. states that it cannot sign the treaty because of concerns about Korea, it is not referring to removal of existing mines, but rather to two specific concerns:
- The first relates to the arrangement for a joint combined command structure that would put a U.S. general in charge of South Korean military forces in the event of active hostilities, and the potential problems that might cause if the U.S. were party to the Mine Ban Treaty but South Korea were not. However, in October 2014, U.S. and South Korean officials agreed to delay return of wartime control of South Korean forces to its government until those forces are better prepared to deter North Korea.
- The second is the desire for the U.S. to use antipersonnel mines in the event of an invasion by North Korea. U.S. war plans call for the laying of approximately one million new dumb mines in Korea within a few days at the onset of renewed conflict. These mines will be laid not in the existing DMZ, but throughout a 20-mile area between the DMZ and Seoul scattered by air, artillery, and vehicles.
On June 27, 2014 the U.S. announced that the Defense Department will conduct a detailed study into alternatives to antipersonnel mines and the impact of making no further use of the weapons. The U.S. has already spent more than one billion dollars on the development and production of systems that could be considered alternatives to antipersonnel mines.
On June 27, 2014, the U.S. announced policy forswearing future production or acquisition of antipersonnel landmines.
The last U.S. antipersonnel mines were produced in 1997. Before then the U.S. was one of the world’s biggest producers of antipersonnel landmines, producing tens of millions of antipersonnel mines. It produced non-self-destructing mines until the 1970s when the Pentagon decided to develop and procure mines with a self-destruct mechanism to cause the mine to automatically blow up after a pre-set period of time (usually four to forty-eight hours). The mines were designed to be “scattered” or dropped from helicopters or planes, or fired from artillery or other systems rather than hand-emplaced. Billions of dollars were poured into corporate research and development laboratories in the 1970s and early 1980s to develop self-destruct, scatterable landmine systems and a variety of these mines were used during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
In the past the U.S. has manufactured at least six types of non-self destruct mines (M2A1/M2A4, M3, M14, M16/M16A1/M16A2, M18/M18A1 - Claymore, and M26) and six types of self-destruct mines (ADAM M692/M731, Volcano M87/M87A1, GEMSS M74, PDM M86, MOPMS M131, and Gator CBU-89/CBU-78 types).
The US exported antipersonnel landmines in the past, including more than 5.6 million antipersonnel mines to 38 countries between 1969 and 1992.Deminers in at least 28 mine-affected countries have reported the presence of US-manufactured antipersonnel mines, including non-self-destructing and self-destructing/ self-deactivating types.
As part of the 2014 policy announcements, the Department of Defense disclosed that the US has an “active stockpile of just more than 3 million anti-personnel mines in the inventory.” This represents a significant reduction from the previous total reported in 2002 of approximately 10.4 million antipersonnel mines.
The U.S. stockpile consists mostly of remotely-delivered mines that are scattered over wide areas by aircraft, artillery, or rockets, and equipped with self-destruct features designed to blow the mine up after a pre-set period of time, as well as self-deactivating features.
The 2014 policy precludes the US from extending or modifying the life of the batteries inside the existing stockpile. The shelf-life of existing antipersonnel mines stockpiled by the U.S. will decrease over time, including deterioration of batteries embedded inside mines as they age.
The 2014 policy commits the US to destroy its antipersonnel mine stockpiles “not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.” Under the new policy, all U.S. stockpiles of weapons containing antipersonnel mines as well as munitions containing a mix of both antipersonnel and antivehicle mines that are not required for Korea will need be removed from stocks located in the U.S., on supply ships, and in storage facilities overseas, then transported to a destruction facility.
In September 1994, President Bill Clinton called for the “eventual elimination” of antipersonnel mines and the U.S. subsequently participated in the Ottawa Process, including the negotiations in Oslo in September 1997, but did not sign. Since the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, nations can no longer sign, but must accede. In 1998, the Clinton administration set the goal of joining in 2006, but in 2004 the Bush administration announced a new policy that rejected both the treaty and the goal of the US ever joining. The new policy announced by the Obama administration in 2014 came with the comment that they signal the U.S. government's "clear aspiration to eventually accede to the Ottawa Convention” as the U.S. calls the Mine Ban Treaty.
A total of 162 states are party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, including all of the European Union, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America except Cuba.
For more information, see:
- The White House, "Landmine Policy Fact Sheet" (Sep. 23, 2014) & "Landmine Policy Fact Sheet" (Jun. 27, 2014)
- Human Rights Watch, "United States Landmine Policy: Questions and Answers" (Oct. 2014)
- Landmine Monitor, "2014 Country Profile: United States" (Nov. 2014)
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines website
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