Today is the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness. From Great Britain, we are looking forward to new commitments to the the goal of a landmine-free world by 2025, but in the United States, the proposed budget from the Trump Administration threatens that goal.
The Trump Administration’s FY18 budget includes a nearly US $3 billion cut in State Department funding (Politico). That includes a 10% reduction in the line for Nonproliferation, Anti-terrorism and Demining Programs, from $505 million in FY17 to $451 million in FY18:
According to the Administration, this reduction will have “minimal impact” upon programming. Well, what would “minimal impact” look like? Let me paint one scenario.
According to the State Department’s 2016 report on mine action, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” the State Department invested $154.6 million in landmine clearance and risk education activities across dozens of countries. However, $63.2 million went to just five countries (Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Laos and Syria). If we assume that the commitments for these five countries will remain unchanged (because the Obama Administration made landmine clearance a priority for Colombia and Laos; and the Trump Administration’s rhetoric suggests that Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria will remain priority areas as part of the fight against Islamic State), the 10% cut, or $15.5 million, will be made across the rest of the portfolio. Support for African countries (Angola, Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya, Mozambique, Senegal, Somalia, South Sudan, Zimbabwe) totaled only $13.5 million and any reduction there, especially with emerging needs for mine action support in Mali and Nigeria, could hamper clearance efforts.
Rex Tillerson, the current Secretary of State, spoke of the importance of landmine clearance in Iraq as a means of helping people return to their homes after the ouster of the Islamic State from Mosul (State Department). Mine action has been used as a soft power tool; peacebuilding efforts in Burma, Colombia and Senegal have benefited from US commitments to mine action. The US support for landmine and UXO clearance in Southeast Asia has helped heal some of the wounds from the US involvement in the wars of Vietnam and Cambodia. But the current Administration values “hard power” in the form of the military over soft power efforts like mine action, despite Tillerson’s remarks.
Cutting mine action funding would be short-sighted and leave many thousands of people exposed to the threat of landmines and other explosive remnants of war. At a time when other countries and actors are re-affirming the pledge to a mine-free world by 2025, the US should improve upon its past investments, not reduce them.
Michael P. Moore
April 4, 2017
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
My elder son is three years old and is enamored with construction vehicles. He has a big yellow Tonka truck (probably the same basic design I had when I was his age) that he plays with in the back yard and the playground. He’ll fill the back with rocks, dirt, water, toy bulldozers, water, anything that will fit. And then they will get dumped out. He can do this for as long as he can do anything and it’s a joy to watch. I was thinking about him while I got to see some demining machines at work (or not, more on that momentarily) in Angola.
Landmines can be cleared manually, through the painstaking process of locating mines and digging them out by hand, or they can be cleared through the use of mechanical means. Using what looks like amped up farm equipment, most demining machines fall into one of two types: flails or tillers. Flails use weighted chains to beat the ground, setting off mines upon contact. Tillers use fixed spikes to dig the ground. Both flails and tillers rotate around a horizontal axis and are mounted on the front of the machines.
Mechanical demining is pretty much limited to areas with anti-personnel landmines and small explosives. Anti-vehicle mines and large pieces of unexploded ordnance would damage even these heavily armored machines. Soil and terrain are also important to consider when using mechanical means. Tillers aren’t much use in rocky areas and if an area is subject to flooding, the machines can get caught in the mud (they are not light and nimble).
Most smaller machines are remote controlled drones, enabling the “driver” to operate the machines from a safe distance. Some of the bigger machines, like the one below, will have a cab for the driver, but the size of the machine puts the driver out of harm’s way.
The benefit of using mechanical means, beyond the safety of the operator, is the speed at which the machines can clear land. According to Digger DTR and using data from clearance work in Senegal, mechanical demining can clear land six times faster than manual teams.
In Angola, mechanical demining is used by all the NGO operators – MAG, Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and the HALO Trust – as well as the National Institute for Demining (IND). NPA gave us a demonstration of their MineWolf which kicked up a tremendous amount of dust. Per NPA custom, they had named their machine, Vanessa, after a former program manager.
MAG inherited their MineWolf machine from DanChurchAid which had used the machine for clearance in the far eastern regions of the country, but due to funding limits, had been forced to close down operations. This is the machine, currently out of commission and waiting for repairs that will cost many thousands of dollars (but still much less than the cost of a new machine). You can see that the tiller attachment on this machine differs from that of NPA’s. The design of the machines are such that the clearance attachments can be swapped out to match the clearance need, or be replaced if they are damaged.
Rarer than flails and tillers are sifters which dig into the ground, scoop up a shovel-full and then shake loose the dirt. MAG uses a sifter attachment on a standard construction excavator (see below) on some of its sites in Angola.
In 2016, the HALO Trust took delivery of a new remote-controlled Digger DTR tiller that will be used in an around Huambo in central Angola.
For a complete list and discussion of the types of mechanical demining machines and their uses, please see the GICHD’s publication here.
Michael P. Moore
March 24, 2017
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Below we will talk about Algeria’s landmine clearance, but I would like to compare it to Mozambique’s achievement of a landmine-free country. Mozambique was greatly aided by the efforts of multiple commercial and humanitarian demining organizations and when Mozambique detonated its last mine, board members were invited and press releases issued. When Algeria cleared its last mined, no announcement was made for a couple of months, despite the fact that Algeria had three times as many mines as Mozambique. Algeria’s deminers, members of police and army engineering units, toiled away for years on what must have seemed like an impossible task, but they did it. Those anonymous souls achieved something special and deserve as much recognition and respect as Mozambique’s deminers.
As we had mentioned in last month’s news round-up, Algeria has completed its demining obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty. With contamination from World War II, the liberation war against France and a civil war in the 1990s, Algeria had over a million mines across 120 million square meters. The densest minefields were to be found along the borders and had been laid by the French as a “cordon sanitaire” in an attempt to prevent supply and support to the liberation fighters in the 1950s and 1960s. Mine clearance took place in two phases, the first in the two and a half decades after liberation and the second after 2004 with the last mine cleared on November 30, 2016. Algeria is the second North African country after Tunisia to complete demining with the rest of North Africa, Morocco, Libya and Egypt choosing to remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty. The formal announcement of Algeria’s clearance was made at the annual meeting of Mine Action Program Managers in Geneva and recognized by the President of the Convention (Defence Web).
A Cameroonian soldier was killed while on duty in Nigeria’s Borno state by a suspected landmine attributed to Boko Haram. The soldier was riding in a vehicle which struck the mine (Cameroon Concord). A few days later, another Cameroonian military vehicle struck a mine in northeastern Cameroon killing four soldiers and injuring others. The second mine was also attributed to Boko Haram which has been accused of laying mines throughout the Lake Chad region to thwart attempts by the joint forces of five countries – Nigeria, Niger, Char, Cameroon and Benin – to combat the group (Anadolu Agency).
2017 will see the 75th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein and while some will celebrate this turning point in the second World War, for many Egyptians in the Northwest Desert, it will be a grim reminder of the continuing threat of landmines laid during that battle. To date some 8,000 people have been killed or injured by World War II landmines and the demining process has been slow (ITV).
In 2015 the HALO Trust expanded its activities in Somalia beyond the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland with some initial survey work. Now operating in southern Somalia, the HALO Trust is active along the Ethiopian-Somali border which was the site of battles in the Ogaden wars of the 1980s. This month, the Trust’s clearance teams found their first landmine in southern Somalia near a former military camp which had been the source of multiple accidents in the 2000s (Relief Web).
Despite the liberation of the western city of Sirte from Islamic State forces, civilians continue to be threatened by landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW). Three children were injured by a piece of ammunition that was thrown onto a fire and father and two of his children were injured by a landmine outside of their house which had reportedly been used as an operations room by Islamic State (Libya Herald). In partial response, the Presidential Council, which is recognized by the United Nations as the formal governing body, has been called upon by the Libyan army to provide metal detectors and other demining gear to find and clear the mines left by IS (Libya Observer). Demining is a core element in the army’s six-point plan for ensuring the safe return of Sirte residents who had been displaced by the fighting. The city has been divided into neighborhoods and the army is sweeping them in turn before allowing residents back to their homes (Libya Observer).
In Derna, one child was killed and two others injured by a landmine attributed to IS and left near the GECOL building (Libya Observer).
An estimated 5 to 10 million landmines pollute the Western Sahara region. Laid by the Polisario Movement and the government of Morocco the mine have killed or injured more than 300 people and thousands of camels since the 1991 ceasefire. Polisario has handed over its minefield maps to the United Nations to assist with clearance while the Moroccan government maintains active minefields along the berm that divides the region (Mail and Guardian).
The United States ambassador to Angola, Helen La Lime, confirmed the US’s continuing support for a mine-free Angola during the first visit of a US ambassador to the eastern provinces of Lunda Sul and Lunda Norte (Relief Web).
Eighty children in the United Nations Protection of Civilian (PoC) site in Bentiu received mine-risk education from the Mission staff. The lessons are part of a broader program to inform school children about the dangers from landmines and other ERW, especially after three children were injured while playing with unspent ammunition (Relief Web).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
March 7, 2017
At this year’s Academy Awards, the Danish film, “Land of Mine,” was one of the nominees for Best Foreign Language Picture. “Land of Mine” (Under Sandet in Danish) lost to the Iranian film, “The Salesman,” but garnered quite a bit of attention for its subject: in the days after World War II, the Danish government forced German prisoners of war to clear the landmines placed on Danish soil during the Nazi occupation of Denmark. I haven’t seen it yet, but as a fact-based account, I am looking forward to this film. Other the flip side and made of pure hokum, is “Mine” starring Armie Hammer as a US military sniper who steps on a landmine and hears the fateful, “click,” as the mine arms itself. Hammer then has to survive for 52 hours on the same mine as he waits for rescue. We’ve covered this before, but landmines don’t go “click,” they just explode. Having them go click may be a good trick for heightening narrative tension, but it is also supremely lazy writing.
Check out “Kilo Two Bravo.” Like “Land of Mine,” “Kilo Two Bravo” is based upon real events, specifically the experiences of a British army unit in Afghanistan which, during a routine patrol of a dry riverbed near the Kajaki dam, wanders into a minefield. The mines don’t go click. They wait like silent predators, unseen and unmarked, until they are disturbed. The filmmakers treat the landmines like monsters in a horror movie which is what “Kilo Two Bravo” is: a modern monster movie with tragic, terrible and real outcomes. The soldiers try desperately to save one another and incur additional injuries in the process, but steadfastly refuse to withdraw until they are all rescued. The audience knows the mines are there but it is still a shock when they detonate because landmine explosions are inherently shocking. Writing gimmicks are not needed to heighten the tension, the facts of the situation facing the characters creates its own tension. A very good, if tough movie, which shows the true horror of these weapons.
A woman living on the border with Zimbabwe was gardening in her yard when she detonated a landmine that had been left behind when the area was a military base in the Apartheid era. The woman was injured in the arm and face. This incident followed one a year earlier when a person was killed salvaging scrap metal in the same area (All Africa).
A suspected landmine from the Lord’s Resistance Army severely injured six children in Pader District who found the explosive and were striking it with sticks (All Africa).
A Biafran War-era landmine was discovered in Ebonyi state, sparking panic that it might be an improvised explosive device (IED), until the item’s actual provenance was confirmed by local police. The police also searched the nearby area but found no other explosive remnants of war (ERW) (All Africa).
In further news of relics from long ago wars, herders in Kenya’s Samburu county found two bombs in an area that had been a British army training post during the colonial period. The bombs were reported to the police who collected them for destruction. There have been many such discoveries of abandoned munitions in the area, some made by children tending herds (All Africa).
Five Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine in the central Mopti region of the country (Agence France Press). Three other Malian soldiers were killed and fourth injured by a landmine as the soldiers traveled to the northern city of Gao (The News).
One child was killed and seven others wounded by an ERW. The children found the item in the woods near their home which is southwest of Algiers and was thought to be a stronghold for Islamist rebels during Algeria’s civil war in the 1990s (Maghreb Emergent).
In much better news for Algeria, the nation declared that all known border minefields and anti-personnel landmines have been cleared, fulfilling the Mine Ban Treaty obligations under Article 5. During the course of the work, almost 9 million mines were destroyed and 62,000 hectares of land were cleared. Algeria joins Tunisia as the second North African state to achieve this milestone (Africa Times).
A military messenger was killed by a landmine in the western part of the city of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Landmine and ERW clearance in Benghazi has been extremely dangerous and several deminers from military engineering units have been killed and injured by explosives laid by Islamic State members as booby traps (Arab 24). An explosive booby trap claimed the life of a special forces volunteer when he was searching and clearing a house in Benghazi (Al Wasat). As Libyan forces made progress towards liberating Benghazi, a brigade commander was killed in the Ganfouda neighborhood (Libya Herald). A second unit commander was killed by a landmine just as the army declared Ganfouda liberated, leaving only “mopping up” operations to fully secure the city of Benghazi (Libya Herald)
Twenty years ago this month, a divorced mother of two boys took a walk through a field. Photos show her walking alone, although there were large contingents of deminers and reporters close by. This brief walk, maybe a couple hundred meters and just a minutes, showed that humanitarian demining worked and could be trusted to make land safe for even the most famous woman in the world, Princess Diana. The government of Angola, the HALO Trust (Diana’s host for that walk), and diplomats from the United States, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, gathered to recognize the anniversary of Diana’s minefield walk and re-commit to a mine-free Angola. The United States committed an additional US $4 million to landmine clearance as the participants in the event recognized that landmines still pose a danger to Angolans, as evidenced by the death of a child from an anti-tank mine a couple months earlier in a town just a few kilometers away (HALO Trust, Relief Web)
Elsewhere in Angola, a mine-risk education campaign in southern Cunene province targeted school children and shoppers at local markets to reduce the likelihood of accidents (ANGOP).
In the World War II battle of El Alamein, the tank battalions of Great Britain and Germany famously faced off, but they were not alone. On the German side could be found many Italian soldiers, and the legacy of that Italian involvement is still being recognized. A decade ago, an Italian Air Force officer found minefield maps that were shared with the Egyptian government and some amateur and professional Italian historians are scouring wartime diaries and journals to uncover more information that may be of help to the Egyptian government in its demining efforts. Now, satellite images are being used to further refine the information in those maps as battlefield locations are pinpointed (The Daily Beast).
Egypt’s Minister of International Cooperation announced the establishment of a national center for mine action that will clear 150,000 acres of landmines from the northern coast. The center will also provide mine risk education and support survivor assistance with the creation of a prosthetics facility (Daily News).
A man was killed by a landmine when his car struck the mine near the village of Jreyfiya (Sahara Confidential).
Since the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013, the contamination from ERW has increased, especially in Bentiu and Upper Nile States. Equatoria State remains heavily contaminated from ERW from the civil wars when South Sudan was still a part of Sudan (Eye Radio).
Michael P. Moore
February 28, 2017
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Many apologies for this one being so late. Will try to do better for the rest of the year…
2016’s news that the number of landmine casualties had gone up severely is tempered only slightly by the fact that this news seems to have spurred some action in the international community. At a meeting of the African Union in December, the countries that had joined the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions re-committed themselves to the goal of a mine-free world by 2025 and setting up mechanisms to create cross-border cooperation to help achieve that end (African Union).
In the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, security forces fought militants aligned with the Islamic State for the first time in that region of the country. The firefight began when Puntland troops were stopped by landmines placed in the road. When the troops started to clear the mines, Islamic State fighters attacked. No casualties were reported from the mines (All Africa).
In Hirshabelle, one of Somalia’s key agricultural regions, the United Nations Support Office in Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) collaborated to rehabilitate major roadways to enable access and transport. During the operation, the teams rebuilt a bridge near Jowhar town that had been destroyed by a landmine (UN Support Office in Somalia).
The Zimbabwe Mine Action Center (ZIMAC) hosted a national mine action strategic planning workshop to develop the 2017 workplan and set up a long-term plan for clearing all remaining landmines in the country. This plan will help to inform the expected extension request from Zimbabwe to the States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty (All Africa).
An India company, JMC Projects India, is building a hundred kilometer road between Kenya and Ethiopia and has pledged to provide prosthetics to members of the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association. An estimate 100,000 people in Tigray Regional State have been disabled by landmines or the wars in Ethiopia (All Africa).
Last year Nigerian military engineers discovered multiple caches of cluster munitions in northeastern Adamawa state and a suicide attack in Maiduguri carried out by a female bomber is thought to have used similar munitions (The Daily Beast).
In December, a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian army died when his vehicle struck a landmine buried in the road in Borno state; the mine was attributed to Boko Haram. The lieutenant colonel is the fourth officer killed by Boko Haram in just two months (Naij.com).
To combat Boko Haram and the landmines, IEDs and booby-traps left by them, the Nigerian army acquired a Slovak-made mine-sweeper to clear the roads in Borno state (Naij.com).
The spokesman for the Libyan National Army’s engineering division was killed by a landmine in the Banfouda area of Benghazi (Libya Herald). As the army liberates more of the city, civilians are attempting to return to their homes and many have been killed or wounded by landmines and booby traps left by the fleeing Islamic State forces. A Chadian national was injured by a mine on a farm just east of Benghazi (Al Wasat). Bobby traps have been found not only in the streets and fields but also in Benghazi’s main hospital where two mines exploded. Fortunately no one was seriously injured (Libya Herald). As IS forces expand their asymmetrical warfare to include suicide car bombs and the use of weaponized drones, a brigade commander was killed by a landmine (Libya Herald) and a special forces soldier was killed and two other soldiers injured by a mine (Arab Today).
In the western city of Sirte, recently liberated from the Islamic State, residents and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) have called for assistance to clear the landmines left by IS. UNHCR and Mercy Corps are conducting a rapid needs assessment and have identified landmine clearance as the more pressing need (UNHCR). In partial response, army engineering teams from Misrata, Zliten and Tripoli are clearing the mines in Sirte and as they clear neighborhoods, alerting the residents so they can return. The engineering teams are also asking residents not to return to areas before those areas have been declared clear of mines to avoid further casualties. (Libya Observer). This message has been reinforced by the UN Secretary General’s special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, in remarks aimed at fostering national reconciliation (Press TV).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) reported on its 2016 achievements in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In addition to clearing almost 175,000 square meters of ground and destroying over 26,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), 8,000 Congolese have been sensitized about the dangers of landmines and ERW. The sensitization campaign included a pop song by a local artist and is available on YouTube. The current pace of clearance would allow DRC to meet its Mine Ban Treaty requirement of clearance of all known minefields by January 1, 2021 (UNMAS).
A shepherd lost his left leg to a landmine on Mount Semmama in the Kasserine region. The right leg was also severely damaged and may also require amputation (Webdo). Two Tunisian soldiers were also injured in the Kasserine region in a separate incident (Direct Info).
In the northern Malanje province, Angola’s National Demining Institute handed over to the local government, a 2,500 square meter field that had been cleared of mines. The local authorities plan to use the land for an electrical substation (ANGOP).
In Huila province, fears of a previously undocumented minefield were heightened when a farmer was injured by an anti-tank mined as he was plowing a field for a newly launched agricultural program. This was the second such blast in the area in the last two years and the earlier explosion killed two people (ANGOP).
In its annual review of progress, the National Inter-ministerial Commission on Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) reported 1.4 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines by Angolan military engineers. CNIDAH also announced its intention to secure another extension for its Article 5 clearance obligations under the Mine Ban Treaty with the extension period lasting until 2025. CNIDAH calculates that US $275.2 million will be required to clear all known landmines and minefields (Prensa Latina).
Just a little a year after declaring the country free of anti-personnel landmines, Mozambique has declared itself free of cluster munitions. In 2015 Norwegian Peoples Aid, with support from UNDP, conducted a comprehensive survey of cluster munitions remnants and identified 4 provinces affected by cluster munitions. After the survey, NPA cleared 144 Rhodesia-made submunitions from multiple campaigns along the border leaving Mozambique cluster munition-free (Norwegian Peoples Aid).
In the North Darfur region, two boys were killed and a third injured by an ERW that the boys found and played with (Radio Dabanga).
According to the Sudanese Defense Minister, 14 civilians were killed or injured by landmines in Sudan in 2016. In response, almost 99 million square meters of land has been cleared of mines and other ERW (Sudan Vision).
Three French soldiers were killed and three others wounded when their vehicle struck a landmine. The vehicle was in the lead of a convoy traveling to Tessalit from Gao (Africa News).
In December, the Algerian National Police cleared over 81,000 landmines from the border with Morocco (DZ Breaking).
A man was injured by a landmine when he drove his Land Rover over it. The injuries were not thought to be life threatening, but there is concern that recent floods in Western Sahara may have moved some mines causing areas that had previously been safe to now be dangerous (Dales Vozalas Victimas).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
February 27, 2017
This month marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit to Angola. During that visit she donned protective gear and walked through a recently cleared minefield and met with landmine victims at the Red Cross’s prosthetic clinic. At this time, negotiations on the Mine Ban Treaty were ongoing and Diana’s visit to the minefield and her subsequent advocacy helped galvanize public opinion against anti-personnel landmines.
In February 1997, BBC1 aired a special on Diana’s trip which is available in three parts on YouTube:
Diana’s visit was coordinated by the British Red Cross and the minefield aspects were last minute additions to the program. I have been told that the HALO Trust team received a call from the trip organizers one afternoon asking if Diana could visit a minefield the next day. Recognizing the opportunity, the Trust made the necessary arrangements. Looking at the photos and the video, I am struck by how terrifying the experience must have been for Diana. The civil war in Angola had only ended a couple of years before (and would re-ignite soon enough) and despite wearing protective gear, you will notice that no one is walking with her in the recently cleared minefield and humanitarian demining was still in its infancy. Every step she took she could see the warning signs and the white stakes you see mark where a landmine had been laid and removed.
And yet, she managed a smile for the cameras.
Since Diana’s death in August 1997, other members of royalty have stepped forward. Jordan’s Prince Mired bin Raad serves as the special envoy for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and has traveled to multiple countries including China, the United States, Tonga and Peru to encourage accession to the Treaty. Princess Astrid of Belgium serves in a similar role, promoting the Mine Ban Treaty and advocating for the rights of landmine survivors. Prince Harry, Diana’s younger son, has also carried on her mantle serving as the patron of the HALO Trust’s 25th anniversary appeal and traveling to Mozambique and Angola to personally witness the mine clearance work. The presence and interest of royalty in landmines helps keep the focus on the subject and ensures that public attention and support continues.
The 20th anniversary of Diana’s visit affords an opportunity to review what has been done over the last two decades. The results are astonishing. The below picture shows the comparison of what the minefield looked like during Diana’s visit and what it is now: a city street with no signs of its past as a minefield.
In addition to the progress on landmine clearance in Angola, the victim assistance situation in Angola and Bosnia which was a large focus of Diana’s advocacy can also be reviewed.
When the movie, Diana, came out a couple of years ago, the Daily Mail tracked down the survivor in the below photo and gave an update on her life since meeting Diana. The 20th anniversary is another opportunity to check in on Sandra and the other survivors Diana met.
In August of 1997, Diana made her last formal trip, visiting landmine survivors in Bosnia with the founders of Landmine Survivors Network. In the years following that trip, an annual sitting volleyball tournament was held in Diana’s honor, emphasizing her role in bringing attention to the issues in Bosnia. If the anniversary of Diana’s visit leads to a 20-year review of the progress in Bosnia, that would be a positive.
Michael P. Moore
January 4, 2017
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
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.
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.
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.
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