Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
February 27, 2004
Frequently Asked Questions on the New United States Landmine Policy
President Signs Bold New Landmine Policy
Q. What is the difference between an anti-personnel landmine and an anti-tank landmine?
A. Anti-personnel mines are primarily designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person and to incapacitate, injure, or kill. Anti-tank or anti-vehicle landmines are designed to explode with the presence, proximity, or contact of a vehicle, but the presence of a person is not normally enough to trigger them. Anti-vehicle mines are usually used on or along roadways and other transportation lanes to prevent the movement of enemy vehicles.
Q. Will the United States sign the Ottawa Convention?
A. The terms of Ottawa and critical U.S. national interests were not reconciled, and so the U.S. did not and will not become a party to Ottawa. Rather than dwell on past differences, President Bush’s new policy looks forward with vision, breaks new humanitarian ground and makes the U.S. the first major military power to address the key issue of why landmines present a humanitarian problem and to apply the solution to anti-vehicle mines as well as anti-personnel mines. We should not forget that the U.S. has already signed and ratified a landmine treaty – the Amended Mines Protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW). Additionally, it is a party to the Geneva Conventions and participates in the landmine deliberations of the Conference on Disarmament.
Q. How does this policy compare to previous U.S. policies? How does it compare to the Ottawa Convention?
A. Previous policies and the Ottawa Convention dealt only with anti-personnel landmines. President Bush’s new policy addresses the true humanitarian issue of all persistent (“dumb”) landmines, regardless of their type.
Q. Where does the United States currently store its landmines?
A. The United States stockpiles landmines and other munitions in a number of locations within the United States and abroad. For security reasons, we routinely do not discuss the specific types, quantities or locations of munition stores.
Q. How are mines detected and removed?
A. The most reliable method of detecting and removing persistent landmines still involves using a metal detector and prod, working slowly and methodically to clear a minefield inch by inch. Other technologies such as mechanical flails or ground sifters are faster, but typically not as reliable. The use of mine-sniffing dogs can greatly facilitate the work, but it is still up to the person to probe and dig out the mine. The mine can then be either lifted or destroyed in place with a small amount of explosive. Non-persistent mines are typically laid on the surface and destroy themselves within a relatively short period of time.
Q. Where does the United States still use landmines?
A. The United States has a variety of landmines stockpiled for use in Korea, but currently maintains no minefields anywhere in the world, including Korea. The mines along South Korea's section of the DMZ belong to South Korea. With the exception of non-self-destructing anti-personnel landmines, the United States has landmines available for use worldwide, where their use would be necessary to ensure the safety of our men and women in uniform and the success of their mission.
Q. How does self-deactivate or self-destruct technology work?
A. Self-destructing mines blow themselves up after a given period of time. For U.S. mines, that period could be as little as 4 hours, or could be as much as 15 days. The new types of mines that the United States will develop will have remote control capabilities so they can be blown up on command. Self-deactivation is a back up method, where the battery in the mine gradually loses its charge, eventually causing the mine mechanisms to become incapable of operating.
Q. Why are self-destructing mines less dangerous than other types of landmines?
A. Self-destructing mines do not leave a long-term, harmful legacy and as a result offer little risk to civilians. The core of the humanitarian problem caused by mines is not whether the mine is anti-personnel or anti-tank, but whether the mine constitutes a continued and persistent threat.
Q. How reliable are the self-destruct and self-deactivate mechanisms?
A. Highly reliable. We have tested over 67,000 landmines under a wide range of conditions, with no failures of the self-destruct system. If the self-destruct mechanism should fail, the self-deactivation system would make sure the landmine could not function after no more than 90 days.
Q. What other obligations does the United States have regarding landmines?
A. The United States is a party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which includes restrictions on the use and transfer of anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines. Additionally, the United States is a party to various relevant Geneva Conventions on the laws of war and to the International Test and Evaluation Program for Humanitarian Demining that promotes development and sharing of new technologies for demining.
Q. Why does the United States need to use landmines?
A. Landmines still have a valid and essential role in military operations. Landmines enable a commander to shape the battlefield to his advantage. They deny the enemy freedom to maneuver; enhance effectiveness of other weapons (such as artillery or combat aircraft); allow us to fight with fewer forces against a larger enemy force; and protect our forces, saving the lives of our men and women in uniform. No other weapon exists that provides all the capabilities provided by landmines.
Q. How is the United States involved in humanitarian mine action (aka humanitarian demining)?
A. The U.S. was one of the first countries to support humanitarian demining efforts back in 1988 when we funded the first such programs in Afghanistan. Since then, the U.S. has consistently been one of the world’s strongest supporters of humanitarian mine action, providing nearly $800 million in 46 countries since 1993 alone when the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, supported by the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Agency for International Development, was formally established. Our objectives are to reduce civilian casualties, create conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their homes, reinforce an affected country’s political and economic stability, and encourage international cooperation and participation. U.S. funding has been effectively expended on all of the mine action "pillars:" mine detection and clearance, mine risk education to threatened populations, assistance to mine survivors and their families, research and development into new humanitarian mine detection and clearance technologies, establishing national mine action programs, and training staff to operate those indigenous programs.
The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program has succeeded in helping to reduce the rate of landmine casualties, broaden the reach of mine awareness programs, increase the amount of land cleared and restored to productive use, accelerate the number of people returned to their homes and expand the number of landmine survivors receiving assistance.