Big Winner in the Trump Budget? ISIS.

At an event hosted by the United States Institute of Peace and the HALO Trust earlier this month, a State Department official, Jerry Guilbert, told the audience that the Trump Administration’s foreign policy priority is defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) and that the focus of US support for mine action would be clearance of land liberated from ISIS.  Guilbert mentioned increase support for clearance in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen and repeated that mine action funding would advance national security and foreign policy interests.  The release of the Trump Administration’s budget confirms this shift in resources.

On the surface, the allocation for mine action under the Trump Administration is increased by 6% over the last confirmed Obama budget, from $185 million to $196.9 million.  But the distribution of the budget is very different and reflects the “America First” mandate as described by the State Department.

Region  FY16 Actual
(in thousands)
 FY18 Request
(in thousands)
% Change
Africa  $                 12,600  $                 13,000 3%
East Asia & Pacific  $                 41,085  $                 23,000 -44%
Europe & Eurasia  $                   8,530  $                 10,000 17%
Near East  $                 30,900  $                 88,900 188%
South & Central Asia  $                 25,090  $                 24,000 -4%
Western Hemisphere  $                   3,500  $                 20,000 471%
Discretionary  $                 45,874 $                           0 -100%
Management  $                 17,421  $                18,000 3%
Totals  $              185,000  $              196,900 6%

Whereas the Obama administration focused on Cold War legacies and matching resources to the needs, the Trump Administration is focused on ISIS-affected countries and current threats.  The US Ambassador to Cambodia had given a hint of this change in focus in an interview in Phnom Penh a couple of weeks ago and the proof is here.  Mine action support in Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) is basically halved, dramatically reducing Obama’s recent commitment to clearance in Laos.  At the same time, support for mine action in Iraq and Syria increases 350% from $23 million to $81.5 million.  Guilbert had mentioned additional support for Libya and Yemen, but funding for Yemen is flat (well, the Trump Administration did just promise $100 billion in new Saudi armaments to continue the war there, so it’s probably a net negative) and funds for Libya are reduced from $2.5 million to $1 million.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the funding appears to be flat ($12.6 million to $13 million), but again the allocation changes greatly.  Support for mine action in Angola is cut by more than half and Senegal would receive no support because neither country figures into conversations of national security or fighting Islamist terror groups.  Those funds are re-allocated to other countries. A positive is to see Chad get a $1 million allocation as is the quadrupling of funds for the Democratic Republic of Congo (form $500K to $2 million).  Countries of the Sahel affected by Al Qaeda also had flat (Somalia) or increased funds (Mali, Mauritania, Niger).  Nigeria, despite the presence of Boko Haram, receives nothing, so clearly all Islamists are no equal in how they figure into the Trump Administration’s prioritization scheme.

Also, spare a thought for the Vulnerable Populations Funds, like the Leahy War Victims Fund which was one of the first sources of landmine victim assistance support.  In the Trump Administration budget, the Special Populations Funds are eliminated and replaced with this:

DISABILITY PROGRAMS SEC. 7047. (a) ASSISTANCE.—Funds appropriated by this Act under the heading “Economic Support and Development Fund” may be made available for programs and activities administered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to address the needs and protect and promote the rights of people with disabilities in developing countries.

The Trump Administration’s budget for mine action reflects its singular foreign policy priority: ISIS.  For Syria and Iraq, this is good news (or at least the parts of Iraq liberated from ISIS; the rest of Iraq may not benefit.  And it is unclear how mine clearance will be handled in Syria since the US does not have the ability to operate there in any significant manner), for the rest of the world not so much.  By allocating the budget according to foreign policy priorities and not humanitarian needs, the Trump Administration has dealt as serious blow to the vision of a landmine free world in 2025.

Michael P. Moore

May 24, 2017

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Why Mine Action Matters: Landmines, Casamance and the End of a Thirty-Year War

In the last few months, some very positive news has emerged from Senegal suggesting that the thirty-year long conflict between separatist rebels in the southern Casamance region and the central government in Dakar may be near an end.  The Casamance region separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia which rests along the southern and northern banks of the Gambia River.  This physical separation is part of the reason for the conflict, but there are other issues at play including political and economic isolation (which probably weren’t helped by the geography).  Since his election in 2012, Senegalese President Macky Sall has emphasized efforts to bring peace to the region with the assistance of international and national mediators between his government and the separatist factions known collectively as the Movement of the Democratic Forces of the Casamance.

The heightened prospects of peace have brought a new focus on mine action in the Casamance region, from demining to risk education to victim assistance.  But in addition to the immediate benefits of mine action activities, work around landmines has aided in the cause of peace and provided indirect benefits that may secure a permanent peace in this troubled region.

Map of Senegal showing Casamance Region

Map of Senegal showing Casamance Region


Direct Benefits of Mine Action in the Casamance

Mine action provides direct benefits in terms of increasing physical security of persons living in mine-affected regions, increased economic activity in mine-affected areas and provision of rehabilitation and reintegration services to victims.  Over the three decades of conflict, roughly 1,000 people have been killed or injured by landmines, but this number has been declining since 1997 when over 200 landmine accidents were reported.  In 2008, only one accident was reported, but in 2011 32 people were killed or injured by mines and in in 2013, 3 people have been killed in two separate incidents (IRIN News; The Monitor).  But the general trend has been positive due to heightened awareness through mine risk education and extensive clearance efforts.

Those clearance efforts were started by Handicap International (HI) which surveyed the portions of the Casamance under the control of the Senegalese government.  HI also engaged in clearance activities, but in recent months, demining activities have been led by Denel Mechem, a private South African firm, and Norwegian People’s Aid, an international non-governmental organization.  Between the three groups, over 600,000 square meters of land have been cleared representing half of the known contamination.  This has led some to suggest that Senegal will definitely meet its Mine Ban Treaty deadline of March 1, 2016 for clearance of all anti-personnel mines (IRIN News).

In addition to reducing the number of landmine injuries, the clearance of former minefields is allowing refugees who fled the Casamance for safety and peace in the Gambia to return to their homelands.  Senegalese refugees poured into the Gambia 10, 15, 20 years ago and have been living in Gambian villages and communities ever since, putting strains on local agricultural resources.  But, with the clearance of mines from the Casamance and the increased prospects for peace, many of these refugees are returning to their home villages in Senegal.  These returns are accompanied by increased agricultural outputs from southern Senegal and therefore increased economic activity overall (All Africa).

Senegal, through the national mine action center (CNAMS) and a variety of national and international NGOs strives to provide victim assistance services to those injured by landmines.  Since 2011, the availability of services has increased, but many barriers to access remain.  The complete range of victim assistance services, from emergency medicine to psycho-social counseling, is available in the Casamance region, but services are provided by different organizations and many are centralized in the regional capitol, Ziguinchor, making them inaccessible for survivors elsewhere.  This is an area in which the government could improve its response, but the fact that services are available at all is notable (The Monitor).


The Indirect Benefits of Mine Action in the Casamance

While harder to quantify, the indirect benefits of mine action are sometimes more important than the direct benefits described above because they can impact the entire country, not just the persons living in mine-affected regions.  In Senegal, landmines are being used as an entry point into peace negotiations; mine action is building confidence and goodwill in the residents of Casamance towards the central government in Senegal; and it provides the basis for long-term economic development.

There are two international organizations actively engaged in the negotiating process between the government of Senegal and the MFDC.  Under official auspices, the Sant Egidio community, a Catholic lay community based in Rome has been mediating negotiations between the political wing of the MFDC and Macky Sall’s government.  Sant Egidio has been involved in a number of peace negotiations, including the one that concluded the twenty-year civil war in Mozambique, and have a strong reputation within the international community.  Their involvement is supported by the US State Department and has been welcomed by both parties to the conflict.

However, long before the entry of Sant Egidio, the NGO Geneva Call entered into negotiations starting in 2006 with the MFDC with the hope of getting the MFDC to sign a deed of commitment to ban the use of anti-personnel landmines.  Geneva Call’s deed of commitment is modeled on the Mine Ban Treaty and has served as an opportunity to engage with non-state actors to reduce the humanitarian impact of conflict.  But, it also provides the opportunity to build rapport with rebel groups, identify leaders and put Geneva Call in the position to facilitate and mediate peace negotiations between parties to a conflict.  Thus, using landmines as the entry point, Geneva Call has been able to facilitate humanitarian demining in Casamance while also engaging with the military wing of MFDC (Geneva Call; IRIN News).  This relationship feeds into the negotiations mediated by Sant Egidio.

The thirty years of conflict and repeated promises by Senegalese leaders have left the people of the Casamance politically apathetic and generally feeling forgotten by Dakar.  In 2000, the newly elected Abdoulaye Wade promised to resolve the conflict in 100 days and the fact that he failed to do so (by some 4000 days), led to very low turnout in the 2012 election by people in the Casamance.  After years of unmet promises and thousands of victims, “forgotten Casamance… has been dying a slow death” (African Arguments).  But the renewed engagement by Macky Sall’s government, which has established a de facto cease fire and, and the continued demining has allowed refugees to return to the region as described above.  Those returns, and the demonstration of belief that those returns represent on behalf of the people of Casamance, shows that Dakar has not abandoned the region.

And the conflict is not just receiving attention locally.  Macky Sall met with US President Barack Obama in March 2013 to discuss the Casamance conflict, a meeting well publicized in Senegal, which reflects the high level of interest concluding this conflict has in both Senegal and internationally.  And it starts with landmines.  By supporting demining, the US and Senegalese governments have shown to the people of the Casamance their interest in the region and their desire for peace.  Through this strategic investment, the US has been able to buy trust among Casamance civil society to be able to send a high level delegation to the region to put pressure on the Senegalese government and the MFDC to negotiate (State Department).

Last, poverty has become endemic in the Casamance.  Between people fleeing the violence and agricultural lands abandoned due to landmine contamination, what was once the breadbasket of Senegal had been allowed to run fallow.  “For us the demining represents a return to normal life. This will allow people to escape from the poverty into which the landmines plunged them” (All Africa). But in addition to alleviating poverty through cultivation, trade across the borders with the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau can resume.  Roads that had been closed due to fears of landmine contamination will now be opened allowing trade within the Casamance.  The World Bank estimates that 0.1% of contamination by landmines results in a 0.5% decrease in GDP.  For every field freed of landmines, the economy of the whole will grow.

This will also improve relations between the states and within the region.  While the Gambian president has pledged his support for peace (All Africa), he has been suspected of aiding the MFDC which has soured relations between the two countries.  Once peace is consolidated in the Casamance and the mines are cleared, the rest of the refugees in the Gambia and Guinea-Bissau can return to their farms and enter productive cultivation and not rely on support from host governments as refugees.  Once the conflict in the Casamance is resolved, the Senegalese army can join regional peacekeeping units instead of being forced to fight in their own backyards.  And it starts with landmines; or rather it starts by using landmines to address the larger issues of isolation, poverty and political exclusion.  That’s why mine action is important.  Because it’s not just about landmines; it’s about development and the consolidation of peace.

Michael P. Moore

April 29, 2013




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