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 January 31, 2020 allows for the US to develop, produce, and use landmines as long as they are “non-persistent,” that is, equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation features. This is a rollback of the 2014 policy which limited US use of antipersonnel mines to the Korean Peninsula.
The US does not maintain any minefields globally after removing its mines from around Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba from 1996-1999. The landmines already emplaced in and near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea are the responsibility of South Korean forces, not the US.
While it is not explicitly stated, the 2020 policy rolls back the 2014 policy pledge to “not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention in the future, including to replace such munitions as they expire in the coming years.” According to the DoD FAQs, the 2020 policy “encourages the Military Departments to explore acquiring landmines…that could further reduce the risk of unintended harm to non-combatants.”
Yet, US defense officials commenting on the new policy told media the U.S. has sufficient inventory of so-called smart landmines that there is no need to restart production immediately.
No antipersonnel mines or other victim-activated munitions are being funded in the FY2021 ammunition procurement budgets of the US Armed Services or Defense Department.
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).
U.S. law has prohibited all antipersonnel mine exports since October 23, 1992, through a series of multi-year extensions of the moratorium. The 2020 Trump administration policy states that it "will not seek to transfer landmines except as provided for under US law."
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 2020 Trump administration policy did not include an updated stockpile number and officials have declined to provide further details.
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 existing US stockpile of antipersonnel mines is expected to expire by the early 2030s. The shelf life of existing antipersonnel mines stockpiled by the US decreases over time, through the chemical deterioration of battery components embedded inside mines.
The 2014 policy precluded the US from extending or modifying the life of the batteries inside the existing stockpile. In 2014, a US official said the US would not extend the shelf life of existing systems, for examples, by replacing their batteries, which have a shelf life of 36 years. A Department of Defense official said, “We anticipate that they will start to decline in their ability to be used about – starting in about ten years. And in ten years after that, they’ll be completely unusable."
According to the 2020 policy, the Department of Defense will “maintain a robust stockpile surveillance program to ensure the operational quality and reliability of landmines, particularly the reliability of self-destruction mechanisms and self-deactivation features.” A Department of Defense fact sheet claims that “reliability of safety features of the landmines in the operational inventory is very high.”
The previous 2014 policy committed the US to destroy its antipersonnel mine stockpiles “not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.” In 2015, the Secretary of States said the US “will begin destroying its anti-personnel landmine stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.” It is unclear how many antipersonnel mines were destroyed prior to the 2020 policy change.
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. In January 2020, President Trump reversed this policy, allowing for development, production, and use of “non-persistent” landmines anywhere in the world.
A total of 164 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:
- Department of Defense, “Memorandum: DoD Policy on Landmines,” (Jan. 31, 2020) & “Landmine Policy Frequently Asked Questions” (Jan. 31, 2020)
- Human Rights Watch, “Questions and Answers on the New US Landmine Policy,” (Feb. 2020)
- International Campaign to Ban Landmines website
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