The US Military has moved on From Landmines and Cluster Munitions, You Should Too

Memo to the New Administration

During the campaign, Hillary Clinton made reference to the Ottawa Treaty and her support for joining the Treaty as well as the lingering effects of cluster munitions in Laos.  Donald Trump was silent on these subjects and so while representatives of the Heritage Foundation and the Lexington Institute have suggested that a Trump Administration should reverse current US policies on these weapons, please allow me a few moments to make the case for continuation of those current policies.

First, the US military has moved on.  Since the 1991 Gulf War, the United States has not used victim-activated, anti-personnel landmines because after-action reports showed that US laid mines injured more American soldiers than Iraqi soldiers.  In the mid-1990s, the Clinton Administration launched a search for alternatives to anti-personnel landmines that would be detectable using basic metal detectors and self-deactivating.  That effort, combined with the Bush Administration’s 2004 landmine policy, has encouraged the defense industry to develop new munitions that are fully compliant with the Ottawa Treaty and nearly ready for deployment (Defense News).

The US Army has developed the “Spider” munitions system that will be put into use by the US Army in 2018 with improvements to its control mechanisms available in five years.  The Spider replaces anti-personnel mines as an area-denial and defense tool and fits into the Army’s emerging tactics of “terrain shaping” in which the military uses munitions to constrain the movement of opponents into areas more favorable for the US forces.  As part of the modernization process, the US army is also re-furbishing the Volcano system and developing a second landmine alternative, the “Gator.”  With these changes, the Army will possess a “common munition that can be delivered in a variety of methods to meet the ground commander’s intent and provide maximum flexibility as operational requirements evolve” (Defense News).  In other words: the US military has no interest in landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle, which are not compliant with the Ottawa Treaty.

As for cluster munitions, the US government has, since 2008, asserted their military utility, but also recognized the potential civilian harm from indiscriminate use and high failure rates.  The Obama Administration re-affirmed the Bush Administration’s policy, which is available here. To achieve a failure rate of 1% or less, thereby meeting the standard set by Department of Defense in 2008, contractors have developed new cluster munitions that not only adhere to the DoD’s policy but are also compliant with the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  The “alternative” warhead will leave “zero unexploded ordnance on the battlefield” according to its manufacturer, Lockheed.  These new warheads may already be in use by the military, beating the landmine alternatives to the battlefield (National Interest).  Again, long story short: the US military has new tools which are compliant with the Convention on Cluster Munitions and no longer needs non-compliant cluster munitions.

 

Landmines

The United States has not joined the Ottawa Treaty which bans the use of anti-personnel landmines.  The United States was the first country to call for a ban on these weapons in 1994 and was the first country to ban exports of these weapons.  The US has committed to never use persistent landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle; to prohibit the sale or export of non-detectable, non-self-destructing mines; and to increase funding for humanitarian mine clearance.  Those were the policies of the George W. Bush administration from February 2004 (State Department). The current policy, published by the Obama Administration in 2014, does not differ much from the Bush policy, and can be found on the State Department’s website here.

Ted Bromund, a senior researcher at the Heritage Foundation, called the Obama Administration “foolhardy” for restricting the United States use of landmines, leaving only the Korean Peninsula exempt from that restriction.  Mr. Bromund complained that the Ottawa Treaty has not had much impact on the number of landmine casualties each year, stating that landmine casualties are linked to the number of wars and that the number of wars has gone up (Forbes). As Mr. Bromund said, “let’s go to the tape”:

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the number of wars in 2014 was 41 compared to 32 in 2006.

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From SIPRI: Patterns of Armed Conflict Trends, 2006-2015. https://www.sipri.org/yearbook/2016/06

In that same time period, the number of casualties from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) declined from over 6,500 to less than 3,700.

Yes, the number of conflicts increased from 41 in 2014 to 50 in 2015, but the four conflicts that contributed to substantial increase in landmine and ERW casualties – Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen – all began in 2014 or earlier (Washington Post; BBC News). So Bromund’s assertion that landmine casualties are linked to conflicts is false.

Bromund also fails to note that victim-activated improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the ones that the Landmine Monitor counts, are banned by the Ottawa Treaty.  If you only count factory-made landmines, then the number of landmine casualties decreased from 2014 to 2015, which is a success of the Ottawa Treaty as fewer and fewer such mines are available for use.  But the Ottawa Treaty bans all victim-activated anti-personnel landmines, factory-made and home-made.  Victim-activated mines cannot discriminate between civilian and soldier and so however they are made, they violate the laws of war related to the principle of distinction.

 

Cluster Munitions

Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute called the United States’s policy on cluster munitions, “’bat poop’ crazy,” saying the Obama Administration had bared the US’s “throat to the enemy’s knife” (National Interest). Mr. Goure acknowledges that Obama Administration has publicly stated the utility of cluster munitions, a continuation of the George W. Bush Administration’s policy.  The Bush Administration’s policy also clearly stated that the US recognizes the need to minimize civilian casualties (Congressional Research Service), which is the part that Mr. Goure gets very wrong.

In 2008, the US government declared that it would not export cluster munitions which had a failure rate greater than 1% and the US has long had a policy not to export weapons to countries which the US fears will use them in contradiction to international humanitarian law.  When the Obama Administration cancelled transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia, that decision reflected Saudi Arabia’s indiscriminate use of cluster munitions civilian locations.  The burden of evidence of Saudi Arabia’s bad behavior simply became overwhelming and the US had to cancel the shipments.  Recently, Saudi Arabia admitted to using British-made cluster munitions, but claimed only to have used them on legitimate military targets (The Guardian).

Mr. Goure understands the concern about cluster munitions, saying “The argument against cluster munitions is that those that do not explode on contact with a target or the ground can lie around posing a threat to civilians. Even when they are designed to become inert after a period of time, some small number can fail to go dud.” Note that Mr. Goure does not say what that “small number” might be and seems to accept the risk to civilians posed by unexploded cluster munitions. And the problem is worse than “some small number;” cluster munitions fail at rates of 20 – 40% leaving thousands of submunitions which become de facto landmines.  In Laos, Lebanon, Kosovo, Afghanistan and now Yemen, hundreds if not thousands of civilians are killed or injured every year by cluster munitions dropped by the US or its allies. That is unacceptable.

Lastly, Mr. Goure’s statement that the Obama Administration has disarmed the military is patently false.  The US military has received ample support to develop new weapons that would replace indiscriminate landmines and cluster munitions with high failure rates (in fact, the National Interest, which published Mr. Goure’s opinion piece, also published the article on alternatives to the cluster munitions which he advocated for).  The military has newer, better, more reliable weapons at its disposal, making the older munitions obsolete.  Like Mr. Bromund’s and Mr. Goure’s arguments.

 

The anti-personnel landmine and cluster munitions trains left the station a long time ago, Ted and Dan.  Stop trying to get the Trump Administration to acquire weapons the US military doesn’t want.

 

Michael P. Moore

December 28, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 

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The Month in Mines, November 2016

The release of the annual Landmine Monitor report included the shocking fact that landmine casualties had increased substantially in 2015 from recent years.  Whereas 10 people were killed or injured by landmines each day in 2014, 18 people were killed or injured daily in 2015. On the African continent, Libya had the most casualties, with more casualties than all other African countries put together.  I am hopeful that 2015 was an anomaly.

 

Nigeria

Five Nigerian soldiers were injured by a landmine during a patrol near Maiduguri, capitol of Borno state. Army official believe Boko Haram members planted the mine the previous night in expectation of the patrol (News 24).

Near the Chibok area of Borno state, a local militia patrol vehicle struck a landmine killing two militia members and wounding two others. Boko Haram members followed up on the blast with gunfire (Naij).

 

South Sudan

Despite the violence in South Sudan that erupted when the President, Salva Kiir, ousted his Vice President, Riek Machar, no evidence has been found of new landmine use in the country according to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS).  In this blog we have documented multiple accusations of new use, but cannot confirm those accusations.

The violence has not prevented UNMAS and its partners from continuing to map and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW). So far, 750 hazardous areas have been identified and UNMAS prioritizes clearance and assessment of schools and humanitarian access points.  Much of the country remains to be surveyed – the violence has made Jonglei and Upper Nile states inaccessible.

UNMAS maintains the South Sudan Mine Action hotline (+211 92 000 1055) and encourages all South Sudanese to use the hotline to report suspicious items (All Africa).

 

Sudan

The United Nations Security Council, in its re-authorization of the peacekeeping force in the disputed territory of Abyei, expressed concern about the continuing presence and threat from landmines and ERW which prevent the return of displaced persons (All Africa).

In Sudan’s South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Eastern States, the Japanese NGO, Association for Aid and Relief, Japan (AAR Japan), is conducting mine risk education work.  These states are some of the most mine-affected in the country and the Japanese ambassador to Sudan led a delegation that included the State Minister of Defense, the Ambassadors from Italy and Sweden, and the US Embassy’s Charge d’Affaires (All Africa).

Sudan’s Foreign Minister repeated the government’s denial of possession or use of cluster munitions, claiming that international NGOs are making accusations for fundraising purposes. The minister also claimed that there was peace in Darfur (Morocco World News).

 

Libya

Conflict Armament Research published a report on weapons smuggling and trade in North Africa and the Sahel.  The report says that despite efforts by the United States and Europe to prevent the proliferation of small arms from Libya after Gaddhafi’s fall, many factions in the region possess anti-tank landmines looted from Libyan stockpiles (All Africa).

In Germany, an eleven year-old girl from the Libyan town of Sirte continues her recovery from a landmine blast that also killed most of her family.  Yaqeen Al-Hajali endured 17 hours of surgery in Libya, a medical evacuation to Tunisia and then onward evacuation to Germany. No word on Yaqeen’s brother and sister who also survived the blast (Libya Observer).

In Sirte, two members of the engineering brigade were killed and two more injured by a landmine attributed to the Islamic State (Al Wasat).

In Benghazi’s Al-Gawarsha neighborhood, a soldier in Khalifa Haftar’s army was killed by a landmine as Haftar’s army closed in on an Islamic State stronghold near the European Hospital (Libya Observer). A second soldier was killed by another landmine in the same area a few days later (Al Wasat). A few days later, Haftar’s army announced the liberation of the Al-Gawarsha district.  Once the army had captured the European Hospital, the Islamic State forces fled the neighborhood.  During the final approaches, a field commander was killed by a mine (Libya Herald).

 

Rwanda

Five young men were killed when they discovered a suspected landmine on former battlefield dating to the period before the 1994 genocide. The men were grazing cattle and, upon discovery of the explosive, began to play with it causing the blast (New Times).

 

Mali

A 60 vehicle convoy of the French army struck a landmine claimed by a rebel group affiliated with Al Qaeda.  One soldier was killed and another wounded (The Local).

 

Egypt

During a visit of the International Cooperation Minister, a new prosthetic center was opened in the town of Masra Matrouh.  The center will support landmine survivors injured in the minefields of the World War II battlefield of El Alamein, which is nearby.  In addition to the prosthetic center, the Minister delivered a variety of economic and social supports to survivors and their families including water access, small business kits, agricultural inputs and sewing machines.  During the ceremonies, the British ambassador to Egypt also announced the handover of maps of the minefields laid by British and Allied forces during World War II (Because).

The interventions were critiqued by several in Egypt who hold the position that because Germany and Britain laid the landmines, they hold all of the responsibility for their clearance.  According the head of the military engineering department, the British minefield maps handed over by the ambassador are “sketch maps” and most of the mines were buried randomly.  The prosthetic center was also critiqued as many of the survivors suffered loss of vision and / or hearing and will not benefit from prosthetic limbs.  Among the survivors, almost half (48%) suffered upper limb injuries which suggest that they might have been digging or farming at the time of their injury, not just walking through the mine-affected areas (Middle East Observer)

The International Cooperation Minister also met with the Swiss ambassador to Egypt to discuss support for landmine clearance (Daily News Egypt).

 

Angola

The Japanese ambassador to Angola confirmed his commitment to support landmine clearance projects in Angola during a visit to Japanese-funded development projects in Uige province (Relief Web).

 

Western Sahara

Recent flooding in the Western Sahara region of Saguia El-Hamra have displaced many landmines laid by Moroccan forces.  The displacement of mines by flooding can lead to additional injuries as areas that had previously been free of mines may be contaminated (Facebook).

 

Somalia

A child was killed and two others injured by a landmine in Galkayo in the Puntland region (Puntland Mirror).

In central Somalia, police forces located and cleared several landmines from busy roadways.  The mines were attributed to Al Shabaab and found on a road used for transport convoys (Goobjoog).

 

Senegal

The US Embassy in Senegal reminded citizens of the presence of landmines in the Ziguinchor and Sedhiou areas of Senegal’s Casamance region.  The notice said that landmine clearance efforts are reducing the threat, but caution must continue to be taken (Overseas Security Advisory Council).

 

Michael P. Moore

December 22, 2016

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

 

 

 


Letting the Lamb into the Lion’s Den

Back in October, Washington, DC hosted the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).  One of the major elements of the annual meeting is the exhibition by defense and security contractors: it is essentially the largest arms show in North America and features a range of products.  I was there to meet with and learn about the state of the art in explosives detection and removal and will write about that in a few days.  In the meantime, I would like to share with you some of what I saw.

 

Things I expected to see at the Arms Show:

Tanks.

 

 

Rockets.

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Bullets and explosive ordnance.

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Guns. Lots of guns. (notice the man on the left staring at me, cocking a pistol…)

 

Things I did not expect to see at the Arms Show:

Sunglasses.

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A bag full of weed and money. They’re fake, but still…

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Wells Fargo Bank.  Predator drones: yes; predatory loans: no.

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Re-enactors in period costume. Well, maybe dudes (and I did see Abraham Lincoln), but not a Southern Belle.

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A six-foot tall mouse.  Vermin: yes; children’s literary characters: no.

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Things I didn’t expect to see, but really should have:

Blatant sexism and women looking very uncomfortable because of it.

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Michael P. Moore

December 15, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


The Silver Lining in the Really Awful 2015 Landmine Casualty Statistics

According to the Landmine Monitor, the de facto monitoring regime of the Mine Ban Treaty, casualties from landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) increased in by 75% in 2015; from 3,695 person killed and injured in 2014 to 6,461 in 2015.  This dramatic increase reversed a decade of progress in which landmine casualties declined thanks to clearance programs, increased awareness and the stigma on use of new mines.

Make no mistake: This is really awful news.  I had an inkling that landmine casualties were likely to increase in 2015 from compiling the monthly news round-ups for the blog, but I had no considered the possibility the increase was so severe.

In Africa the situation is even worse: there were 1,678 landmine and ERW casualties in 2015, an increase of 230% over the 731 casualties reported in 2014.

 

The “Silver Lining”

The increase in casualties was due to active conflicts in four countries: Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, where governments and rebel forces were actively using landmines and cluster munitions in 2015. [The Monitor also notes that Afghanistan, which again had the largest number of casualties in 2015, 1,310 persons killed and injured, is a major contributor to the 2015 casualty totals, but with 1,296 casualties in 2014, there was basically no increase in casualties in 2015]. If you take out the casualties from those four countries – Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen – the number of landmine and ERW casualties reduced by about 10%; from 3,339 in 2014 to 3,016 in 2015.

In Africa, if you exclude the Libyan casualties, landmine and ERW casualties declined by 6%, from 721 in 2014 to 674 in 2015.

 

What this Means

The dramatic increase in landmine casualties can be directly tied to new use of landmines and cluster munitions in the ongoing wars in Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.  As long as combatants continue to use these weapons, we can expect to see new casualties and when there is new use of mines and cluster munitions we will see increases in casualties.

The armies and rebel groups using mines and cluster bombs in these conflicts are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty, the Convention on Cluster Munitions or Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment.  If they were, then they would be pledged to not use such weapons.  All countries and combatants should disavow these and other inhumane weapons and parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions need to condemn any use.  As we can see from recent developments in the defense industries, the stigma against cluster munition use has prompted several arms manufacturers to discontinue production of these weapons and only a very few countries still produce landmines.  As long as these weapon remain in national stockpiles, they will be used.

 

Every Silver Lining has a Touch of Gray

Several countries in Africa witnessed an increase in landmine and ERW casualties in 2015.  In Egypt, Mali, South Sudan and Sudan, these increases were due to ongoing conflicts (Egypt, Mali and Sudan) and movements of displaced people through mine-affected areas (South Sudan).  Morocco and Namibia also witnessed increases in landmine casualties even though both countries have long been at peace.  Other countries also free from conflict – such as Angola and Zimbabwe – saw reduced numbers of casualties, but still people are dying and being disabled from wars that ended decades ago.  And in Mozambique, which declared itself landmine-free in September 2015, saw three casualties from anti-personnel landmines.  Fortunately, these will be the last landmine casualties in Mozambique, but that is probably little solace to the victims and their families.

 

Michael P. Moore

December 5, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org