What is the difference between a landmine, cluster munition, and explosive remnant of war?

Antipersonnel landmines are explosive devices designed to injure or kill people.  Article 2.1 of the Mine Ban Treaty defines an antipersonnel mine as: “a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.” This means that the treaty bans the use of mines which are victim-activated, while the use of some mines in “command-detonated” mode (meaning operated by remote control) is allowed under the treaty. In recent years, greater attention has been paid to the extensive use of improvised mines, primarily by non-state armed groups. These improvised landmines are often referred to as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or booby-traps. However, most are exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person and therefore meet the definition of an antipersonnel mine contained in the Mine Ban Treaty and are prohibited regardless of whether they were fabricated in a factory or elsewhere.

Antivehicle or antitank mines are designed to explode when triggered by a vehicle.

Cluster bombs, or cluster munitions, are weapons containing from several to hundreds of explosive submunitions. They are dropped from the air or fired from the ground and are designed to break open in mid-air, releasing submunitions and saturating an area that can be as wide as several football fields.

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) are weapons that for some reason fail to detonate as intended, thereby becoming unexploded ordnance. These unstable explosive devices are left behind during and after conflicts and pose dangers similar to landmines.

Abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO) is explosive ordnance that has not been used during armed conflict and has been left behind and is no longer under control of the party that left it behind. It may or may not have been primed, fuzed, armed, or otherwise prepared for use.

Explosive remnants of war (ERW) are explosive munitions left behind after a conflict has ended. They include unexploded artillery shells, grenades, mortars, rockets, air-dropped bombs, and cluster munitions. Under the international legal definition, ERW consist of UXO and AXO, but not mines.

(Last updated September 2019)