The Month in Mines, November 2017

On November 30th, the US Department of Defense reversed a Bush Administration policy on the use of cluster munitions.  After using cluster munitions in Afghanistan and Iraq and seeing the impact of the weapons in Lebanon after their use by Israel, the Bush Administration, simultaneous to the negotiations on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, had decided the weapons had an inexcusable humanitarian impact due to their high failure rate and their threat to civilian populations after conflicts ended.  The Obama Administration maintained the policy and increased support to Laos to clear the cluster munitions that had been dropped by the United States during the Vietnam War. Since 2008, the Pentagon has sought replacement weapons for cluster munitions and abided by the policy that the US military would not acquire any cluster munitions that have a failure rate greater than 1%.  At the same time, the military would dispose of existing stockpiles of older cluster munitions that did not adhere to the 2008 policy. The new Trump Administration policy reverses the earlier policy and ignores the humanitarian consequences of the cluster munitions.

Citing the ongoing (never-ending) war on terror and unnamed, but “important changes in the global security environment,” the new policy specifically authorizes the use of cluster munitions with failure rates above 1%. The policy requires new cluster munitions to either have a self-destruct feature or a failure rate of 1% of less; however, the policy also allows field commanders to purchase and order cluster munitions that do not adhere to the policy’s requirements for new cluster munitions, thus rendering any such requirements moot.  This change will provide political cover for any regime, including the Syrian government, to use and stockpile cluster munitions, saying that if the weapons are important to the United States, they are also important to us.  This is the same argument that kept the Cuban and Georgian governments from joining the Mine Ban Treaty and means these inhuman weapons will likely continue to threaten civilian populations for years to come.

Now, longtime readers will know I have a cynical streak, but please hear me out.  The 2008 Department of Defense policy had a significant impact on domestic producers of cluster munitions, specifically Textron, Inc.  During the Obama Administration, Textron announced the closure of a cluster munition manufacturing plant in Massachusetts and a round of layoffs, saying that the 2008 policy made the weapons system unsustainable for the company.  This was a good thing.  However, in June 2017, the Trump Administration nominated Textron’s CEO, Ellen Lord, as undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, responsible for all military acquisitions, including cluster munitions under the new policy.  During her confirmation testimony, no mention was made of any recusal of Ms. Lord from decisions related to Textron’s business interests, despite her position as head of acquisitions and Textron’s status as the 18th largest defense contractor in the world. And then, just four months after Lord’s confirmation, the Pentagon announces the change in policy including an option to purchase cluster munitions such as those Textron produces.  Again, I may be cynical on these matters, but something feels a bit off here (Congressional Research Service Report # RS22907; USNI; Defense News).

On to the news from the Continent:

 

Zimbabwe

APOPO, the landmine clearance organization that uses rats to detect mines, is the fourth NGO operator to support the clearance efforts in Zimbabwe.  APOPO has been assigned the minefields in the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.  Clearance of the Park will provide security for the animals and enable greater use of the Park for eco-tourism.  APOPO will start the work using traditional methods of mechanical and manual demining before introducing the rats (Relief Web).

 

Libya

Libya has emerged in the last couple of years as one of the most mine-affected countries with the Islamic State making extensive use of the weapons. Estimates of the total number of newly laid explosives are in the thousands and include extensive use of booby traps in residences (Asharq Al-Awsat).  At least eight civilians were killed and another 11 wounded by landmines in October in the city of Benghazi (Netral News).  Additional casualties were reported in November in Benghazi (Libya Herald; Libya Herald; Libya Herald). The British government donated US $4 million worth of demining equipment to assist with the clearance of Sirte; in addition to the equipment, the United Kingdom is providing training to Libyan military and police engineers (Xinhua). The British ambassador to Libya, Peter Millett, also visited Benghazi and announced a donation of 1.2 million British Pounds to train clearance teams in Benghazi and launch a mine-risk education program (Libya Herald).

 

Mali

Four civilians were killed in northern Mali when the minibus they were riding in struck a landmine near Lellehoye in the Gao region (Anadolu Agency).

 

Tunisia

Tunisian anti-terror units killed an explosives expert and found at least one landmine ready for use (Xinhua).

 

Nigeria

With the recent government settlement to provide funding for the clearance of landmines and unexploded and abandoned ordnance from the 1960s Biafra war, there seems to be a new interest in the extent of contamination.  Casualty figures are unclear, but over 18,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW) have been cleared so far by one demining organization with another thousand items waiting disposal (People’s Daily).

 

Angola

The HALO Trust has cleared and destroyed over 1,000 anti-personnel mines from Menongue and Cuito Cuanavale in the first nine months of 2017 (EIN News). In Bie Province, the National Demining Institute (INAD) cleared over 200 ERW in a similar time period (All Africa).

 

Egypt

British Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczinski called on the British government to hand over any minefield maps from the battle of El Alamein in World War II.  Any maps from the battle would be significantly out of date and the shifting sands of the desert may have moved most of the mines from their original locations making the maps less helpful than might be hoped (Arab News).  In previous reports, the British Ambassador has said that all such maps have been turned over the Egyptian authorities, but the detail of the maps was limited (The Monitor).

 

The Gambia

The Ministry of Defence has submitted a request to the Cabinet of the Gambia to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The Gambia has already signed the Convention, but not yet completed the process of ratification (The Point).

 

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

December 30, 2017

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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.

6-total-number-armed-conflicts-2006-2015

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

 


The Month in Mines, April 2015

Twice a year, upon release of the annual Landmine Monitor report around December 1st and the annual celebration of International Day for Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th, countries and organizations take the opportunity to recommit themselves to mine action.  Several of this month’s stories come from events commemorating Mine Action day, but entirely too many also come from the fact that landmines continue to plague Africa and the world, ten years after the first International day and almost 20 years after the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty.  Landmine use appears to be on the increase, a sad way to increase awareness of the need for mine action.

Libya

Ten landmines were cleared from the road leading to Airport Road in Benghazi and a spokesperson for the army warned of the possibility of additional mines in the area from fighting earlier in the conflict (Al Wasat). In Ajdabiya, one soldier was killed and four others wounded by landmine (Al Wasat).

Despite the insecurity in the country, the United Nations Mission in Libya and the Libyan Mine Action Centre hosted an event for International Mine Action Day (UNSMIL).

LibMAC Director: “Despite the difficult times Libya is still going through it has set forward this event as a signal to the International community of the LibMAC’s respect to the International agreements, treaties and conventions believing in its moral and humanitarian responsibility towards its citizens in ridding areas most affected from mines and ERWs. "

LibMAC Director: “Despite the difficult times Libya is still going through it has set forward this event as a signal to the International community of the LibMAC’s respect to the International agreements, treaties and conventions believing in its moral and humanitarian responsibility towards its citizens in ridding areas most affected from mines and ERWs. “

Democratic Republic of Congo

The head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, called achieving landmine-free Congo “a duty.”  Kobler noted that there were almost 30 landmine casualties in the DRC and over 2,500 survivors.  One-eighth of the mine-affected land in DRC was cleared in 2014 with over 15,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), including landmines, destroyed (MONUSCO). The contamination in DRC is concentrated in a few regions. According to the group, Africa for Mine Action, 40% of Ituri Province is contaminated with landmines and after years of work, only three provinces in the entire country have been declared landmine-free (Radio Okapi).

Three deminers with the South-African firm, Mechem, were kidnapped from near the eastern city of Goma. While some reports erroneously labelled the deminers as United Nations peacekeepers, the three men, two Congolese and one from abroad, were released after about a week.  The kidnappings occurred as tensions between DRC and Rwanda were high with a Congolese soldier injured in an exchange with Rwandan troops and the re-emergence of the Allied Democratic Force, a rebel group committed to overthrowing the Ugandan government and responsible for brutal attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s (World Bulletin; Agence France Presse; News 24). The men were kidnapped while looking into reports of an anti-tank landmine and in total, three such mines were discovered near Goma the same week as the abductions.  The mines appear to be new ones and would represent the first new usage of mines in DRC since 1999 (State Department; Radio Okapi).

Central African Republic

During an April 4th event, the head of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) confirmed that there were “no real threats of landmines” in the country.  MINUSCA teams has recovered landmines from “public places” and displacement camps, but these mines were in stockpiles and not deployed (All Africa).

During the recent conflict in the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels had attacked members of the Ba’aka ethnic group in the belief that Ba’aka members had mythical Red Mercury.  The Ba’aka village is now under the fulltime protection of government soldiers (Mint Press News).

Angola

Making quick and steady progress in Bie Province, Angola and the HALO Trust announced the clearance of three minefields covering 10.5 hectares (All Africa). This clearance and other projects across the country facilitate rapid development such as the National Urbanisation and Housing Programme which seeks to build one million new houses in the country. To date, over 80,000 have been built and the Minister of Urbanisation and Housing called for more landmine clearance to allow more houses to be cleared (All Africa).

Somalia

In the capitol, Mogadishu, three men were caught trying to bury a landmine in Howlwadag district.  The mine was cleared and the road made safe (Warar Media).

Sudan

In commemoration of International Mine Action Day, the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur and its partner The Development Initiative (TDI) hosted an awareness session.  In 2014, TDI completed assessments of 217 villages, cleared 183 dangerous areas and destroyed over 3,000 pieced of unexploded ordnance.  TDI and its local partners have provided mine risk education to over 600,000 people in Darfur, a necessary act in a region which has seen at least 150 ERW incidents which have killed 105 people and injured 215, many of them children (All Africa).

In South Kordofan state where the government is fighting a rebel group, a landmine detonated during the national election day killing three people and injuring another three (Radio Tamazuj).

That conflict in South Kordofan has been associated with many accusations of human rights violations and war crimes. In April, Human Rights Watch reported on confirmed evidence of cluster munitions use by the government, identifying the remnants of six cluster bombs.  This is the second accusation of cluster munition use by Sudan, the first was in 2012, and monitors suspect that Sudan both stockpiles and produces the weapon.  Both times, the targets of the cluster munition use appear to be civilians which would be a war crime (Sudan Tribune).  Of course, the Sudanese government has rejected the reports, calling them “fabricated and baseless” and the fight against the rebels in South Kordofan “does not need such bombs” (Anadolu Agency).

Nigeria

The campaign against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria continued with fighting focused around Borno State and the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram is believed to be based.  Boko Haram appears to have used landmines extensively to prevent any direct assault upon its position.  Seven Nigerians, six soldiers and one “civilian vigilante” were injured by a landmine placed by Boko Haram near the town of Baga (All Africa).  When Nigerian forces launched an attack on Sambisa Forest, one soldier and three vigilantes were killed by a mine and the Nigerian soldiers retreated to a point, just five kilometers from Boko Haram’s main camp in the forest (All Africa).  After these two incidents, the Nigerian army brought out mechanized minesweepers to help clear roads and paths for further attacks against Boko Haram (All Africa). This begs the question, if Nigeria had such equipment already, why did they wait until several soldiers had been killed or injured by mines before using them?  Especially since Boko Haram has long been rumored to be using landmines as part of its defense.

Tunisia

Eleven landmines were cleared by Tunisian forces during a recent operation on Mount Salloum in the Kasserine region on the Algerian border.  A twelfth mine detonated without causing an injuries (All Africa).

Mali

Mali continues to be in the midst of a terrible landmine epidemic as a result of continuing conflict there that has shattered most of the northern region of the country.  Since 2013 more than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA).  Two incidents targeted peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission, MINUSMA.  The first injured two peacekeepers and the second another seven; both incidents occurred as peacekeepers were escorting convoys near Kidal (Global Post; MINUSMA).  Two Malian soldiers were injured by a landmine near the town of Diabaly which is the further south a landmine attack has been recorded in the course of the current conflict (Reuters).  In Aguelhok, MINUSMA peacekeepers arrested three men who were accused of planting landmines (MINUSMA).  Near the town of Gossi, two civilian women were killed by a mine (Defence Web), but that incident was dwarfed by one on the road from Gossi to Gao.  Two men on a motorcycle placed a mine in the road and a bus carrying people to people to the weekly market hit the mine, killing at least three people and injuring another 28 (Agence France Presse; Global Post).

South Sudan

In an April 4th event for International Mine Action Day, the South Sudan Vice President called landmines “one of the biggest obstacles to development in the country.”  At the same event, the head of the South Sudan Demining Commission accused the rebel Sudanese People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) of using landmines in the current conflict (Radio Tamazuj).  In response the SPLM/IO’s Mine Action Program denied using landmines and in turn accused the government of South Sudan of using mines, reporting at least 60 separate incidents of landmine use by the government (Radio Tamazuj).  So the government denied the SPLM/IO’s accusations and reported discovering nine mines placed by the SPLM/IO, two of which destroyed vehicles (Citizen News).

This has been the pattern of the conflict in South Sudan since violence broke out in December 2013.  The two sides have traded accusations of war crimes and treaty violations when in fact, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body of governments of East Africa, has documented violations by both sides in roughly equal numbers.  The government of South Sudan, the SPLM/IO and the many, many militias associated with each are all complicit in the continuation and escalation of the conflict.  In the end, it is the people of South Sudan who are made to suffer by their leaders’ callous indifference.

Algeria

The Algerian People’s National Army has cleared over 720,000 landmines from seven provinces.  72 municipalities had been contaminated by mines and 46 have been cleared so far with demining crews active in four (Ennahar).

Zimbabwe

The United States government has been increasing its investment in demining of Zimbabwe.  In FY2013, the US provided $500,000, in FY 2014 $750,000 and this year, $1 million.  The landmine contamination in Zimbabwe prevents agricultural development and has injured more than two thousand people since the war ended in 1980 (US Embassy in Harare).  With US government support, the HALO Trust has already cleared 5,000 mines, but with an estimate 1.5 million to go, a lot of work remains (HALO Trust).

Chad

Handicap International recently sent a team to the Moyen-Chari region of Chad to conduct some initial surveys and do some community liaison activities including mine risk education. During the trip, the team found multiple areas where munitions were abandoned after the wars in the 1980s.  The mines in this part of the country have impeded road works and agricultural development and injured dozens of people (Handicap International).

Zambia

And last, one of the countries at the forefront of the fight against landmines and cluster munitions continues to support those affected by landmines, even after the last mine has been cleared.  The government of Zambia re-affirmed its commitment to support landmine survivors.  According to the Foreign Minister, Zambia will conduct a needs assessment and then come up with a suitable and sustainable victim assistance program (Daily Mail Zambia).

Michael P. Moore

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

May 20, 2015


Interview with Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Walter Givhan

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the privilege to engage in an extended email question and answer session with the US State Department’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Plans, Programs and Operations, Maj. General Walter D. Givhan (Biography from State Department).  General Givhan oversees the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM / WRA), among other assignments, within the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM).   As such, General Givhan is responsible for the US Humanitarian Mine Action Program and the Conventional Weapons Destruction Program and implements the current US Landmine Policy (State Department).

General Givhan took the opportunity to bring up the work done by PM / WRA on protecting civilians from the dangers of aging ammunition depots and combatting the proliferation of man-portable air-defense systems.  He also offered some insight into the State Department’s perspectives on the Mine Ban Treaty (referred to below as “the Ottawa Treaty”) and negotiations surrounding anti-vehicle mines and cluster munitions within the context of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW).

I was interested to hear how political events in Guinea-Bissau (a coup in April of this year) and Sudan (expulsion of humanitarian deminers) had affected the State Department’s priorities and on the demining work being done in those countries.  I was also pleased to hear that General Givhan and PM are active to protect the funding made available for humanitarian demining from the budget fights on Capitol Hill.

I do worry that the consolidation of humanitarian mine action into the broader Conventional Weapons Destruction program could lead to reduced support for mine action in the future.  I absolutely support the elimination of ammunition depots from populated areas because of the tremendous risk they pose, risks made evident from recent explosions in Brazzaville (BBC News), Lagos (Guardian) and Maputo  (Metro).  However, in Libya, the US government prioritized securing MANPADS over landmines and while some of the funds made available for MANPADS destruction also covered landmine destruction and removal, the intent was to eliminate the MANPADS.  This is understandable from a national security and national interests perspective: the United States is not going to be threatened by landmines in the ground in Libya, but US airplanes flying in Libyan airspace could be targeted by MANPADS in Libya.  However, the humanitarian impact of MANPADS is dwarfed by that of landmines and this blog is based on the idea that the humanitarian impact should trump the national security argument.  Compare if you will the following: since 1975, MANPADS have been responsible for more than 800 civilian deaths (State Department); in 2012 alone landmines were responsible for more.

My thanks go to David I. McKeeby in PM’s Office of Congressional & Public Affairs for his help facilitating these exchanges.

Landmines in Africa: In 2011, the US funded mine clearance programs in Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mozambique, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan; how does the State Department choose which countries to support humanitarian mine action programs?

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Walter Givhan: The purpose of humanitarian mine action is to protect victims of conflict and to restore access to land and infrastructure for internally displaced persons and for returning refugees in post-conflict situations.  Humanitarian Mine Action is a necessary precursor for economic development activities and for humanitarian relief.  With this purpose, the Department of State chooses to support requests for Conventional Weapons Destruction assistance, including humanitarian mine action, in countries where these efforts will have the greatest humanitarian impact.

For example in FY 12, the Department of State began providing assistance for clearance activities in Zimbabwe.  There is heavy mine contamination in Zimbabwe and there have been over 1,500 human casualties and over 120,000 accidents with livestock.  Humanitarian demining activities will reduce the likelihood of such accidents.

Specific factors used to determine whether to provide assistance to a country include:  the amount and location of the landmines/unexploded ordnance (UXO); the capacity of the host nation; and whether the security and political situation is favorable to carrying out demining and UXO removal.

LIA: As a follow-up, what criteria does the Department use to determine whether or not to continue funding programs in countries where support has been given?

DAS Givhan: The Department of State uses the same criteria to determine whether or not to continue funding a program as it does on whether or not to establish a program.

LIA. Are there any countries the Department wanted to support humanitarian mine action programs in, but did not and why?

DAS Givhan: Yes, in FY 2012 there were two:

  • The Department had planned to provide Humanitarian Mine Action assistance to Guinea-Bissau.  However, given the April 12, 2012 coup, the United States was obliged to terminate foreign assistance to the Government of Guinea-Bissau consistent with the requirements of section 7008 of the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Act for 2012.
  • The Department also suspended its support for programs in Sudan when the government of Sudan asked all of the humanitarian demining NGOs to leave the country and seized their equipment.  In addition, political unrest has led to significant personnel reductions at U.S. Embassy Khartoum, which compromises our ability to monitor demining programs in country.

LIA: The Bureau of Political-Military [PM] Affairs primarily funds mine clearance and mine risk education programs and victim assistance programming and funding is mostly left to USAID’s Leahy War Victims’ Fund; do you believe there is a role for PM to support victim assistance and how would PM fulfill that role?

DAS Givhan: The State Department does fund survivor assistance programs when they are complementary to our mine action programs and are not duplicative of work being undertaken by USAID.  In these cases, we coordinate with our colleagues at USAID to ensure the best use of funding.   Any assistance programs managed by USAID and the Department of State do not differentiate victims by the munition that caused their injury.

Although we did not provide survivor assistance in Africa in FY 2011, we did provide funding for survivor assistance in Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Colombia, Iraq, Laos, Lebanon, Peru, Vietnam, and Yemen.  PM/WRA funding for survivor assistance generally includes rehabilitation and vocational services.

LIA: With the budget fights on Capitol Hill, how will PM preserve the funding for humanitarian mine action?

DAS Givhan: The Department of State’s Conventional Weapons Destruction programs receive widespread bipartisan support from Congress.  We appreciate this support and will continue to make the case to Congress that these programs are effective and in the nation’s interest.

LIA: The Convention on Conventional Weapons framework has recently considered Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (meaning anti-vehicle mines) and cluster munitions; where do you think these negotiations will go?

DAS Givhan: The United States has been a leader in the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) efforts on Mines other than Anti-Personnel Mines (MOTAPM).  The United States was among the original co-sponsors of a proposed additional protocol to address the indiscriminate use of MOTAPM in the years leading up to the Third Review Conference of the CCW in 2006.  We were frustrated that the CCW was forced to suspend this work because of the inability of states to reach consensus at that Conference.

We have been supportive of the decision to resume work with an expert-level meeting and actively participated in the discussion at this meeting in April.  We fully recognize the humanitarian threat associated with the indiscriminate and irresponsible use of MOTAPM and believe that there is room for specific restrictions on the use of MOTAPM in addition to the relevant provisions of CCW Amended Protocol II (Mines, Booby Traps, and other Explosive Devices).  We look forward to further discussing this issue at the CCW Meeting of High Contracting Parties in November.

The United States was deeply disappointed by the failure of the Fourth Review Conference of the CCW to conclude a protocol on cluster munitions.  The protocol would have prohibited a greater number of cluster munitions for the United States alone than the Oslo Convention has prohibited for all of its member states combined. There are no further negotiations scheduled at this time.  The CCW States Parties could decide to restart negotiations in the future, but that seems unlikely anytime soon.  

LIA: The Administration initiated a review of the 2004 US Landmine Policy; what is the status of that review and do you foresee any significant changes on the horizon?

DAS Givhan: We have not made a decision on U.S. accession to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Production, Stockpiling and Transfer of Anti-Personnel landmines (Ottawa Convention).

The operational issues raised by accession require careful consideration, and this work is ongoing.

The United States shares the humanitarian concern of parties to the Ottawa Convention and sent an observer delegation to the 11th Meeting of States Parties to the Ottawa Convention, November 28-December 2, 2011, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

We continue to demonstrate our commitment to addressing the potential humanitarian consequences caused by landmines:

  • The United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action, and since 1993 (through October 2012) has provided over $2 billion in aid in over 90 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs, including clearance of landmines and unexploded munitions.
  • The United States has ended use of all non-detectable mines, both anti-personnel, as well as anti-vehicle mines, which are not covered by the Ottawa Convention.
  • The United States ended all use of persistent mines, both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, at the end of 2010.  These are the mines that can remain active years or even decades after a conflict ends.

In addition, the United States has ratified the Amended Mines Protocol to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), a separate international treaty that establishes transparent and verifiable standards for the use of landmines to minimize risks to civilians.

LIA: Mine clearance activities funded by the State Department rely on tried and true techniques such as manual clearance, mechanical clearance and mine detection dogs; are there any new or emerging techniques, e.g., rats, acoustics, chemical films, that you find intriguing and why?

DAS Givhan: The State Department is generally not involved in Research and Development for humanitarian mine clearance techniques.  We refer you to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development (HD R&D) Program which focuses on developing technologies to improve the efficiency and safety of removing post-conflict landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO).  HD R&D designs, builds, demonstrates, and evaluates prototype mine-and UXO-clearing technologies for indigenous, host-nation-conducted demining operations supported by the U.S. Department of Defense.

LIA: Will the US be represented at December’s Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty and if so, what will your goals for attendance be; if not, will the US participate in the next Review Conference?

DAS Givhan: The United States has attended the Ottawa Convention annual meetings since the 2009 Cartagena Review Conference.  This has been a useful opportunity to meet with representatives from other states and non-governmental organizations to discuss and coordinate our common humanitarian mine action efforts.

No formal decision has been made regarding attendance this year.  (As of 11/15/12, no decision had been made).

LIA: [Regarding] question 5, I did not specifically ask about the Ottawa Treaty.  I am glad to hear that the US Government is reviewing what the consequences of accession to the Ottawa Treaty would be and is committed to addressing the potential humanitarian consequences of anti-personnel landmines, but I would also like to know more about the review of the US Government’s 2004 Landmine Policy.  Does your response mean that the central question of the review was whether or not the US Government should accede to the Ottawa Treaty?  Or did the review have another central question at its core?  Also, do you know when a decision on accession to the Ottawa Treaty might be made, since consideration on that question is ongoing?

[Question truncated by the State Department to: “Regarding the 2004 Landmine Policy Review, was the central question of the review whether or not the United States should accede to the Ottawa Treaty, or did the review have another central question at its core?  What is the timeline for the current Landmine Policy Review?”]

DAS Givhan: While I’m obviously not in a position to speak to the internal deliberations of previous administrations, this statement from Lincoln Bloomfield, the Assistant Secretary of Political-Military Affairs at the time of the 2004 Landmine Policy announcement summarizes their vision.

We are mindful of the humanitarian consequences of indiscriminate landmine use.  Indeed, the United States remains the world’s largest donor to humanitarian mine action.

The operational issues raised by the review require careful consideration, and this work is ongoing.

LIA: What will success look like for the US’s Convention Weapons Destruction Program?

DAS Givhan: Substantial assistance from the United States and other donors over the last 20 years has significantly reduced casualties from landmine and unexploded munitions.  While our vision of success is to continue this trend, explosions from munitions depots are of growing concern.  Our experience has shown us that overlap often exists between explosive remnants of war (ERW), at-risk small arms and light weapons, including man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), and excess, unsecured or unstable conventional munitions.

To more effectively confront these overlapping threats to human and national security, our programs and funding have merged under an umbrella known as Conventional Weapons Destruction.  Our consolidated CWD budget increases flexibility by allowing program implementers the ability to address multiple threats simultaneously for greater efficiency and impact.

Increasingly, our efforts have focused on destroying unstable munitions before they explode and helping states to improve management of their stockpiles to prevent such tragic humanitarian disasters, as well as cleaning up depot explosions when they do occur.  Unfortunately, due to the enormous challenge before us, efforts to mitigate ERW and munitions depot explosions will continue to be a long-term effort.

Michael P. Moore, November 19, 2012


Unnecessary Risks

One of the main goals of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) was to stigmatize the use of these weapons so that even states that are not parties to the treaties would be reluctant to use them.  In Libya, when forces loyal to Gaddhafi used cluster munitions, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton referred to that use as “inhumanity” despite the fact that the United States has refused to sign the CCM (Arms Control Association).  So when Human Rights Watch published a report documenting the use of cluster munitions by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, it was international news (Huffington Post).  I heard the report about Syria’s use of cluster munitions during a news blurb on NPR during rush hour, and the reason it was news because of the strength of the stigma.

Part of the reason I started this blog was the birth of my daughter and the realization that many, many fathers in the world would have fears for their daughters that I would never have, including a fear of landmines.  It is to one of those fathers I wish to speak to now.  Specifically to the father of this little girl, who is almost the same age as my own:

You did not need to take this photo.  We know that Assad has attacked his own people, that he has used indiscriminate weapons, that he has put children in extreme danger.

But Assad did not put that bomb in your daughter’s hands.  You did.  You have put your own child in greater danger than the dictator you wish to defame had done, and you did it deliberately.  By trying to shame Assad, you have brought greater shame upon yourself.  These photos are not necessary and expose your children to horrific harm.   You have failed in your most basic duty as a father, to protect your daughter from harm.  Do not make this mistake again.  And to every other father, learn from this.  Your responsibility is to your children.  Protect them and do not endanger them like this.

Michael P. Moore, October 20, 2012


August 2011: The Month in Mines by Landmines in Africa

August started and ended with an anniversary.  August 1st marked the one-year anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Cluster Munition Coalition).  The day had a sports theme and was marked in Sierra Leone by an amputee football match hosted by teams from the Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Sport Club (August 1) among other events.  August 31st marked the 14th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana (MSNBC), one of highest profile supporters of campaign to ban landmines in the 1990s.  The anniversary recalled her visit to Angola in early 1997 and Bosnia later that year to raise awareness of the plight of landmine victims (YouTube, part 1 of 3).

In Sudan, four United Nations peacekeepers were killed and several others wounded when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the disputed region of Abyei (BBC News).  Only one of the peacekeepers died immediately, the other three died from their injuries whilst waiting for evacuation, an evacuation delayed by threats from the Sudanese army to shoot down the medevac helicopter (US State Department). 

In South Sudan’s Unity state, an oil-rich region on the border of Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan, landmines continue to kill and injure as rebel groups seek to disrupt communication and travel (Sudan Tribune).

In Somalia, the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab rebels withdrew from Mogadishu allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered into the famine-struck city (All Africa).  With the withdrawal, Mogadishu residents are now seeking assistance to clear the landmines and explosive remnants of war left in the city from decades of fighting (All Africa).

The rebellion in Libya reached a critical phase (off-topic: at what point do we stop referring to the rebels in Libya as “rebels”?) as NATO-backed rebels seized control of much of Tripoli (BBC News).  After numerous reports of the use of new landmines by both sides – but the vast majority of landmines were laid by forces loyal to Gaddhafi, volunteers from the rebel forces conducted demining activities to clear roads at great personal risk (CNTV).

In southern Africa, the Kavango-Zambezi Peace Park was confirmed during the SADC meeting in Luanda, Angola (National Geographic).  The park, the size of California and encompassing parts of five countries – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – contains mine-affected areas in the Okavango River basin in Angola, the demining of which was declared a priority at Angola’s Third National Meeting in Luanda in early August (All Africa).

Lastly, Angelina Jolie, actress and UN High Commission for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador, visited the headquarters of the HALO Trust in Scotland (HALO Trust). The HALO Trust has ongoing demining activities in Angola, Mozambique and Somaliland, but Jolie’s interests were reported as focusing more on Asia than Africa. 

Michael P. Moore

September 2, 2011