United States

Mine Ban Policy

Last updated: 18 December 2019

Policy

The United States of America (US) has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty.

On 21 January 2020, the US Department of Defense announced that President Donald Trump ordered the rollback of US prohibitions on landmine production and use.[1] The new policy allows the US to develop, produce, and use landmines as long as they are “non-persistent,” that is, equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation features. The policy abandons the previous constraint on using antipersonnel mines only on the Korean Peninsula and instead permits the US to use them anywhere in the world.

Previously, in 2014, President Barack Obama announced new US landmine policy measures banning production and acquisition of antipersonnel mines as well as halting their use by the US anywhere except the Korean Peninsula.[2] While the Obama administration brought US policy further in line with the Mine Ban Treaty, it did not take any measures towards US accession.[3]

Under the 2014 policy, the US committed to not use antipersonnel landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula and not to assist, encourage, or induce other nations to use, stockpile, produce, or transfer antipersonnel mines outside of Korea.[4] It also committed to no future production or acquisition of antipersonnel mines.[5]

The 2014 policy announcement followed more than two decades of efforts by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont and NGOs organized under the US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL).

The US was the first country to call for the “eventual elimination” of antipersonnel mines in September 1994 and it participated in the Ottawa Process that led to the creation of the treaty, yet did not sign it in 1997. After the treaty was adopted in 1997, the Clinton administration set the US goal of joining it in 2006, but the Bush administration then reversed that objective in 2004.[6]

In 2009, the US participated as an observer in the Mine Ban Treaty’s Second Review Conference in Cartagena in 2009 and since then it has attended the Third Review Conference in Maputo in June 2014, the Fourth Review Conference in Oslo in November 2019, and every Meeting of States Parties. The US also participates in the treaty’s intersessional meetings in Geneva, most recently in June 2019.

On 12 December 2019, the US abstained from voting on UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 74/61 calling for universalization and full implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty, as it has done for every Mine Ban Treaty resolution since 1998.

The US is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Amended Protocol II on landmines and Protocol V on explosive remnants of war. It submitted its annual national report for Amended Protocol II on 12 April 2019, as required under Article 13.

Use

The last US use of antipersonnel mines was in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991 with the exception of the use of a single antipersonnel mine in Afghanistan in 2002.[7]

US forces in Afghanistan reportedly used Claymore directional fragmentation mines in 2009 and 2010, which are not prohibited under the Mine Ban Treaty if used in command-detonated mode.[8]

The current Trump administration policy allows for use of “non-persistent” landmines anywhere in the world, replacing the 2014 policy restricting US use of antipersonnel landmines to the Korean Peninsula. The new policy states that the US views “area denial systems” as a key component in strategy against “near-peer adversaries.”

The Department of Defense has long cited the need for the US to use antipersonnel mines on the Korean Peninsula in the event of an invasion by North Korea. Moreover, in the event of active hostilities, the current arrangement for a joint combined command structure would put a US general in charge of South Korean military forces. If the US were party to the Mine Ban Treaty, this means the US would violate the Mine Ban Treaty’s prohibition on assisting any prohibited activities.[9]

Numerous retired US military officers have questioned the utility of antipersonnel landmines in South Korea and elsewhere, citing the overwhelming technological superiority of other weapons in the US-South Korean arsenal in comparison with North Korea’s as sufficient to compensate for not using mines. In addition, a former commander of US forces in South Korea, the late Lt. Gen. James Hollingsworth, said in 1997 that antipersonnel landmines’ “minimal” utility to US forces is “offset by the difficulty…[they] pose to our brand of mobile warfare…Not only civilians, but US armed forces, will benefit from a ban on landmines. US forces in Korea are no exception.”[10]

After two South Korean soldiers on patrol were maimed by antipersonnel landmines that South Korea accused North Korea of laying in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) in August 2015, Major General Koo Hong-mo of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff described the mine-laying incident as “unthinkable for a normal military.”[11]

The US maintains no minefields anywhere in the world. The landmines already emplaced in and near the DMZ between North and South Korea are the responsibility of South Korean forces and not the US. The US cleared and destroyed the landmines laid around its Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba in 1999.[12]

Transfer

Since 23 October 1992, US law has prohibited any exports of antipersonnel mines through a moratorium that has since been extended multiple times.[13] The 2020 Trump administration policy states that it “will not seek to transfer landmines except as provided for under US law.”

The US exported antipersonnel landmines including more than 5.6 million antipersonnel mines to 38 countries between 1969 and 1992. Deminers in at least 28 mine-affected countries have reported the presence of US-manufactured antipersonnel mines, including non-self-destructing and self-destructing/self-deactivating types.

Production

The US last produced antipersonnel mines in 1997.[14] Under the Trump administration policy, the US may acquire “on/off” area denial systems that can be remotely activated to address an imminent or probable threat and de-activated when the threat subsides. US defense officials commenting on the new policy told media that the US has a sufficient inventory of so-called smart landmines that there is no need to restart production immediately.

No antipersonnel mines or other victim-activated munitions are being funded in the FY2021 ammunition procurement budgets of the US Armed Services or Defense Department. The last time the US produced antipersonnel mines was in 1997, when it manufactured 450,000 ADAM and 13,200 CBU-89/B Gator self-destructing/self-deactivating antipersonnel mines for $120 million. The last non-self-destruct antipersonnel mines were procured in 1990, when the US Army bought nearly 80,000 M16A1 antipersonnel mines for $1.9 million.

Previously, the 2014 policy announced a detailed study of alternatives to antipersonnel mines that was completed in 2018 and formed the basis of the Trump administration policy, according to the Department of Defense.

The US had previously announced that it was modernizing its Volcano vehicle and helicopter landmine dispenser system and from 2023 it intended to field a “Gator Landmine Replacement” networked munition system to “use non-lethal means to keep civilians away from dangerous areas.”[15] Both systems reportedly comply with the Mine Ban Treaty. The 2020 policy does not appear to abandon the search for alternatives to antipersonnel mines, as it states that “the Military Departments should explore acquiring landmines and landmine alternatives that could further reduce the risk of unintended harm to noncombatants.”

Stockpiling

In 2014, the Department of Defense disclosed that the US has an “active stockpile of just more than 3 million anti-personnel mines.”[16] This is a significant reduction from the previous number reported in 2002 of approximately 10.4 million antipersonnel mines.[17]

The US stockpile consists mostly of remotely-delivered mines that are scattered over wide areas by aircraft or tube artillery and equipped with self-destruct features designed to blow the mine up after a pre-set period of time, as well as self-deactivating features. Various types of antipersonnel mines are stockpile according to the following table, which is significantly out of date.

US stockpiles of antipersonnel mines in 2010[18]

System
[quantity of antipersonnel mines in each]

Inside the US

Outside the US

Quantity

Antipersonnel mines

Quantity

Antipersonnel mines

M692 Artillery Delivered Antipersonnel Mine [36]

41,785

1,504,260

40,017

1,440,612

M74 Ground Emplaced Mine Scattering System [5]

0

0

120

600

GATOR*

9,541

200,795

1,310

26,398

Volcano (in M87 dispenser only) [1]

64,800

64,800

16,492

16,492

M86 Pursuit Deterrent Munition [1]

2,586

2,586

1,191

1,191

M131 Modular Pack Mine System [4]

1,757

7,028

102

408

Total

120,469

1,779,469

59,232

1,485,701

Grand Total

3,265,170

Note: * The accounting for GATOR includes CBU-89 [22], CBU-104 [22], and CBU-78 [15] air-dropped bombs.

Stockpile destruction

The shelf-life of existing antipersonnel mines stockpiled by the US decreases over time in part because batteries embedded inside the mines deteriorate as they age. The 2014 policy precludes the US from extending or modifying the life of the batteries in its stockpiled antipersonnel mines.[19]

A Defense Department spokesperson stated in 2014 that the existing antipersonnel mine stocks “will start to decline in their ability to be used about[sic]—starting in about 10 years. And in 10 years after that, they’ll be completely unusable.”[20] In 2014, a US official said the US would not extend the shelf-life of existing systems, for example, by replacing their batteries, which have a shelf-life of 36 years.

According to the 2020 policy, the Department of Defense will “maintain a robust stockpile surveillance program to ensure the operational quality and reliability of landmines, particularly the reliability of self-destruction mechanisms and self-deactivation features.” A Department of Defense fact sheet claims that “reliability of safety features of the landmines in the operational inventory is very high.”

The previous 2014 policy committed the US to destroy its antipersonnel mine stockpiles “not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.” In 2015, the Secretary of State said the US “will begin destroying its anti-personnel landmine stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.”[21] It is unclear how many landmines were destroyed prior to the 2020 policy change.

In 2014, Expal USA—the US subsidiary of Spanish defense company Expal—won a contract to destroy Gator and Volcano mines at its facility in Marshall, Texas.[22] The estimated completion date was June 2020 according to Maxam, the multinational company that owns Expal.[23]

General Atomics built the US Army a special “munitions cryofracture demilitarization facility” at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma to destroy US stocks of ADAM mines through disassembly and cryofracture.[24] The destruction process started in December 2004 and was supposed to conclude by June 2018, but it is unclear if this deadline was met.[25]

Since 2011, at least 96 M86 Pursuit Deterrent Munitions and 40 M74 antipersonnel mines as well as other “problematic munitions” have been destroyed in a static detonation chamber built to destroy US stocks of chemical weapons.[26]

Retention

In 2020, the US said a small quantity of “persistent mines” (non-self-destructing) are retained for demining and counter-mine testing and training.[27]



[2] It’s unclear if the 2014 landmine policy was codified as a presidential directive like previous landmine policies announced in 1996, 1998, and 2004.

[3] At that time officials articulated US aspirations to join the treaty. For example, a Department of State fact sheet issued for 2015’s Mine Action Day referred to the “ultimate goal” of US accession to the Mine Ban Treaty. US Department of State, “Fact Sheet: U.S. Global Leadership in Landmine Clearance and Conventional Weapons Destruction,” 3 April 2015.

[4] Office of the Press Secretary, “Remarks by the President at Clinton Global Initiative,” The White House, 23 September 2014; and Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet: Changes to U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy,” The White House, 23 September 2014.

[5] The June 27 landmine policy announcement was made by the US ambassador to Mozambique at the Mine Ban Treaty’s Third Review Conference and detailed in a White House fact sheet. Statement by Ambassador Douglas Griffiths, Mine Ban Treaty Third Review Conference, Maputo, 27 June 2014; and Office of the Press Secretary, “Fact Sheet: Changes to U.S. Anti-Personnel Landmine Policy,” The White House, 27 June 2014.

[6] See, US Department of State, “Fact Sheet: New United States Policy on Landmines: Reducing Humanitarian Risk and Saving Lives of United States Soldiers,” Washington, DC, 27 February 2004.

[7] The use of a mine in Afghanistan was disclosed as part of the June 27 policy announcement. “And since the Ottawa Convention came into force in 1999, we are—or since 1991, excuse me—we are aware of only one confirmed operational employment by U.S. military forces, a single munition in Afghanistan in 2002.” US Department of State, “Daily Press Briefing: June 27, 2014,” 27 June 2014. In 1991, in Iraq and Kuwait the US used 117,634 antipersonnel mines, mostly air-delivered. US General Accounting Office, “GAO-02-1003: MILITARY OPERATIONS: Information on US use of Land Mines in the Persian Gulf War,” September 2002, Appendix I, pp. 8–9.

[8] CJ Chivers, “Turning Tables, U.S. Troops Ambush Taliban with Swift and Lethal Results,” New York Times, 17 April 2009; and “Taliban displays ‘US weapons,’Aljazeera, 10 November 2009. The use of Claymore mines in command-detonated mode, usually electrical or shock tube (non-electrical) detonation, is permitted by the Mine Ban Treaty, while use in victim-activated mode, usually with a tripwire, is prohibited. For many years, US policy and doctrine has prohibited the use of Claymore mines with tripwires, except in Korea. See, Landmine Monitor Report 2000, p. 346.

[9] Choe Sang-Hun, “U.S. and South Korea Agree to Delay Shift in Wartime Command,” New York Times, 24 October 2014.

[10] Human Rights Watch (HRW), Arms Project, and the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, “In Its Own Words: The U.S. Army and Antipersonnel Mines in the Korean and Vietnam Wars,” July 1997.

[11] Jethro Mullen and Kathy Novak, “South Korea: Propaganda broadcasts at North to resume after landmines,” CNN, 10 August 2015. See also USCBL Web Post, “New mine-laying in Korea condemned,” 10 August 2015.

[12] Beginning in 1961, the US emplaced approximately 50,000 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines along the perimeter of its facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Letter from Dr. George R. Schneiter, Director, Strategic and Tactical Systems, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, to Human Rights Watch, 21 March 2000.

[13] On 26 December 2007, the comprehensive US moratorium on the export of antipersonnel mines was extended for six years until 2014. Public Law 110-161, Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Section 634(j), 26 December 2007, p. 487.

[15] Jen Judson, “US Army Dusting off Volcano Mine Dispensers,” DefenseNews, 21 December 2016.

[16] “We have an active stockpile of just over 3 million anti-personnel mines in the inventory.” US Department of Defense, “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” 27 June 2014.

[17] Information provided by the US Armed Services in Spring/Summer 2002, cited in US General Accounting Office, “GAO-02-1003: MILITARY OPERATIONS: Information on U.S. use of Land Mines in the Persian Gulf War,” September 2002, Appendix I, pp. 39–43. See also, US entry in ICBL, Landmine Monitor Report 2009.

[18] Data on types and quantities from a 2010 Department of Defense document on file at HRW. Also listed in this document are 7.2 million antipersonnel mines that are “Unserviceable and Suspended” (190,458), “Former WRSA-K [War Reserve Stocks for Allies – Korea]” (520,050), and “demil” (6,528,568), which presumably means in the demilitarization account awaiting destruction.

[19] A US official confirmed to HRW that the US would not extend the shelf-life of existing systems, for example, by replacing their batteries. Meeting with US Delegation, Mine Ban Treaty Third Review Conference, Maputo, 27 June 2014. Unofficial notes by HRW.

[20] US Department of Defense, “Department of Defense Press Briefing by Rear Adm. Kirby in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” 27 June 2014. In 2010, the Department of Defense indicated that the batteries in self-destructing and self-deactivating mines have a shelf-life of 36 years and estimated that the shelf-life of batteries in the existing stockpile of antipersonnel mines would expire between 2014 and 2033. According to a 2010 Department of Defense document on file at HRW.

[21] Statement by John Kerry, US Secretary of State, 3 April 2015.

[22] US Army, Award Notice on “Conventional Ammunition Demilitarization,” 22 December 2014. In July 2010, the US Army issued a notice for contractors “for potential demilitarization” of the munitions. US Army, Notice on “Family of Scatterable Munitions (FASCAM) Demil,” 13 July 2010.

[23] MAXAM Press Release, “EXPAL USA receives $156 million U.S. army contract,” 16 June 2015. See also, LinkedIn, “Expal USA,” undated.

[24] General Atomics, “McAlester Army Ammunition Plant,” undated.

[26] Presentation by Timothy K. Garrett, Site Project Manager, Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, “Preparing to Process Problematic Munitions,” undated.

[27] Presentation by US Department of Defense officials to civil society organizations, 13 February 2020.