November 21, 2001

Subject: Issues and Questions for the Landmine Policy Review

It is our understanding that the U.S. is undertaking a review of current landmine policy and issues, coordinated by the National Security Council with input from the Department of Defense and Department of State. Human Rights Watch welcomes such a review, with a view toward the stated objective since 1994 of reaching a comprehensive ban on antipersonnel mines as soon as possible.

Human Rights Watch strongly believes that a meaningful review must include an evaluation of current assumptions regarding the requirements for and utility of antipersonnel and antivehicle mines. An important conclusion of the recent National Academy of Sciences report on landmine alternatives was that data used to validate the effectiveness of antipersonnel mines should be updated.

Current U.S. landmine policy is hinged on two conditions: the need to use antipersonnel mines to defend South Korea, and the need to retain antipersonnel mines in mixed systems to protect antitank mines. The manner in which these two issues are reviewed is the critical building block on which any landmine policy decision will be made.

Human Rights Watch calls upon the Bush Administration and policy makers in the National Security Council, Department of State, and Department of Defense to consider the following issues and questions in their review of U.S. landmine policy.

Do Mines have a Role on the Modern Battlefield?

According to an assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency, U.S. self-destruct antitank mines-the ones in mixed systems-may be obsolete by the end of this decade because of the proliferation of countermine systems that will be able to neutralize them.

Mines have little to no utility in the war fighting principles currently being adopted by the U.S. military for the 21st century. Some outside the Pentagon have argued that mines violate the tenets of dominant maneuver, precision engagement, and focused logistics that form the foundation for the current revolution in military affairs. Smart mines were developed by the U.S. to fight Warsaw Pact armor and mechanized forces. Dumb mines are an enduring legacy of World War II and are to be used in starkly similar ways in Korea.

Only cursory evaluations of the nonmaterial alternatives (i.e., changes in tactics, doctrine, or substitution of alternative sensor/weapon systems) for antipersonnel mines have been conducted by independent organizations or made public. The Pentagon probably did this in producing the Mission Needs Statements for landmine and mixed system alternatives (dated November 1997 and April 1999) but its analysis of nonmaterial alternatives has not been publicly released. The assumption that by foreswearing antipersonnel mines the U.S. would take X-percentage of higher casualties and lose Y-amount of ground, and non-use of mines would thus become a "war stopper" issue must be challenged.

Human Rights Watch questions the role and utility of antipersonnel mines and asks that the landmine policy review consider the following questions:

  • Has the firepower available to frontline U.S. forces increased enough in volume and lethality to compensate for removing antipersonnel mines from calculations of final protective fires?
  • Will weapons in development like the Objective Individual Combat Weapon (OICW) and a 120mm canister round for tank cannon change this in coming years?
  • Is the time needed to employ mines or the minimum self-destruct times of scatterable mines compatible with the tempo of operations in the type of mobile warfare that the U.S. military is equipping and training itself to fight?
  • Does the United States possess an adequate stock of alternative antitank weapons to destroy enemy armored forces?
  • Are more effective and precise antitank weapons being developed or just entering service that would obviate the need for mines in the first place?
  • Does the requirement to deliver mixed munitions reduce the availability of these alternative weapons and their delivery platforms?
  • Have the logistical and tactical burdens of mines been calculated and considered? Has a trade-off analysis been conducted to consider the opportunity costs of not removing mines from service?
  • Aside from the revision of Field Manual 20-32 and unpublicized changes to war plans, what changes in tactics, doctrine, and operational concepts have taken place since May 1996 to implement U.S. policy on antipersonnel mines?
  • Are current smart mine systems compatible on the digitized battlefield?

How Much Time Do Antipersonnel Mines Buy?

One of the findings of a study conducted for the Pentagon in 1997 credited antipersonnel mines with providing as much as eighty minutes of delay time against dismounted forces attempting to breach a minefield containing a mix of antitank and antipersonnel mines.

However, the National Academy of Sciences' panel created to examine alternative technologies to replace antipersonnel mines called into question the perception that antipersonnel mines in minefields also containing antitank mines significantly hinder a breaching operation conducted by dismounted forces using modern minefield breaching equipment. The National Academy's panel calculated that it would take ten minutes for a properly equipped enemy to breach such a minefield without fires from other weapon systems covering it. The panel even notionally doubled its estimate of breaching time to account for the "fog of war."

Other independent research conducted by the nongovernmental Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation has found that antipersonnel mines delay an enemy force by twenty minutes from breaching a minefield containing both antipersonnel and antitank mines, thus allowing extra air strikes on the enemy.

However all of these scenarios apply only to a breach of a minefield by dismounted forces. Antipersonnel mines have little or no utility against breaching forces mounted in armored vehicles. Breaching a minefield by forces mounted in armored vehicles is the most common threat; the U.S. Army's Field Manual on Mine Warfare acknowledges this by stating that "[b]ased on current technology, most breaching operations are accomplished by mechanical or explosive means." This includes North Korean forces which are equipped with a significant amount of mechanical mine clearance equipment.

Human Rights Watch questions the benefit that antipersonnel mines provide in "protecting" antitank mines and asks that the landmine policy review consider the following questions:

  • In which situation do antipersonnel mines provide a greater delay effect: a dismounted breach conducted under fire or a dismounted breach conducted beyond observation or covering fires?
  • Has it been determined which scenario U.S. forces are more likely to face?
  • Has the delay effect of covering fires been calculated using either scenario described above? Has this been compared with the delay effect of the antipersonnel mines?
  • Has a trade-off analysis been conducted comparing the diversion of the assets necessary for the remote delivery of an antitank and antipersonnel minefield and the employment by the same delivery systems of other weapon systems capable of killing armored vehicles?
  • The U.S. Army is just completing procurement of nearly 190,000 M87A1 Volcano canisters containing as many as 1.14 million antivehicle mines. Previously each Volcano contained one antipersonnel mine, but a decision was made in 1996 to produce only canisters containing strictly antivehicle mines. Has a determination been made that antipersonnel mines are not necessary to protect antivehicle mines for this system? Are the M87A1 systems more vulnerable or less effective?

Is There Such a Thing as a Humanitarian Mine?

The United States procured a family of scatterable mines after the Vietnam conflict, which now comprises the majority of its current inventory. Nearly 86 percent of the current U.S. antipersonnel mine stockpile consists of ADAM artillery-delivered antipersonnel mines. All smart mines are designed to self-destruct between four hours to fifteen days after their use depending on the setting selected and mine type. These mines are also designed to self-deactivate within a maximum of 120 days, as their battery dies. Because of the short lifespan of these mines, some claim that these mines "pose little, if any, humanitarian threat to noncombatants."

What occurs between the time when the mines are armed and they self-destruct or self-deactivate is apparently not a significant consideration, even though this may be a period of hours, days, or up to seventeen weeks. Because most U.S. smart mines are remotely delivered and are not required to be marked, fenced, or monitored, they threaten civilians and livestock when used in populated areas.

These mines also cannot distinguish friendly forces that may maneuver through the mined area during the course of subsequent combat operations. In recent years, senior U.S. Army combat engineers recognized the fratricide threat posed by the use of mines during exercises at combat training centers. "This is especially true with scatterable mines," states a lessons-learned document from the Army Engineer School.

Taken in perfect conditions, all of these smart mines should destroy themselves and go away. However since some of the self-destruct mechanisms inevitably fail, some mines will remain intact, with no indication visible on the mine whether it is live or not. According to a U.S. Army Information Paper circulated in 1990, "10% of all [smart mines] fail to function as planned (e.g. detonate at the wrong time, detonate immediately upon arming, fails to detonate at all, etc.)." The Pentagon claims that statistically, during acceptance testing, only one in ten thousand of these mines fail to self-destruct on time. The Army has also claimed that 120 days after smart mines have been activated the batteries will be sufficiently discharged so the mines will be "self-deactivated" and thus will not operate as intended. However, the test protocols and results data have not been provided to substantiate this claim. There is a significant difference between acceptance testing and use in operational conditions. For example, the last time U.S. Gator mines were found and cleared in northeast Kuwait was July 8, 1993 - over two years after they were deployed. It is not known if the batteries (and therefore the fuze) were still operable because the mines were destroyed in situ; the explosive charge was still active and presented a hazard.

From a deminer's perspective, all mines or unexploded ordnance must be treated as though they are live and capable of exploding. Smart mines must be cleared one at a time using the same procedures used to clear all mines. The humanitarian impact is still present whether the mines are dumb or smart.

One result of this approach to distinguish between dumb and smart mines is to provide justification for many countries to keep all antipersonnel mines, whether dumb or smart. Additionally, because smart mines have a limited operational lifespan, they are not the rational choice for the long-term defense of borders, demilitarized zones, or fixed installations. This is the enduring role of the dumb mine. Therefore, since smart mines have this limitation, one naturally needs to keep dumb mines to fulfill the other role. In essence, the United States insists on this exception on the Korean Peninsula.

Human Rights Watch questions the distinction between dumb and smart mines and asks that the landmine policy review consider the following questions:

  • Can the nearly U.S.$820 million investment in alternatives to antipersonnel mines be used to purchase additional alternative weaponry capable of fulfilling the mission needs for mines?
  • If, as some say, mines protect light early-entry forces during the early stages of a crisis, then why did U.S. forces not lay minefields during the early deployments of Operation Desert Shield?
  • Were U.S.-delivered smart mines effective in disrupting, blocking, or canalizing enemy forces during Operation Desert Storm?
  • Did smart mines pose a maneuver hazard to friendly forces or necessitate changes in their combat plans during Operation Desert Storm?
  • Are all of the antipersonnel mines retained for use in Korea located within that theater? If not, when are they scheduled to arrive? Will U.S. forces use these mines to repel a North Korean invasion or are the mines designated for use in subsequent operations?
  • In their annual testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee this year, why did not one combatant Commander in Chief highlight the need for mines as a critical combat element?
  • Why is the U.S. considering making the only artillery-delivered scatterable antitank mine system in its inventory non-compliant with the Mine Ban Treaty by mixing it with antipersonnel mines in the RADAM system?
  • If a decision were made to produce RADAM, would a greater number of them be needed to provide the equivalent density of antitank mines in artillery-delivered scatterable minefields?

The International Context

It is important that a review of landmine policy consider the international context. This includes the facts that the United States:

  • keeps company diplomatically with Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Burma, Syria, and Cuba by refusing to join the Mine Ban Treaty;
  • is the only NATO partner that has not signed, ratified, or initiated procedures to accede to the Mine Ban Treaty;
  • is one of just fourteen countries that has not banned the production of antipersonnel mines;
  • possesses the third largest stockpile of antipersonnel mines in the world, totaling more than 11 million mines, including 1.2 million "dumb" mines;
  • stockpiles 1.7 million antipersonnel mines in twelve countries, five of which are party to the Mine Ban Treaty;
  • exported at least 5.6 million antipersonnel mines to thirty-eight countries between 1969 and 1992;
  • manufactured antipersonnel mines that have been found in at least twenty-eight mine-affected countries or regions.

Political, alliance/coalition, arms control and other global concerns should have an impact on decision-making regarding antipersonnel mines. There can be many advantages to the U.S. politically and militarily from being part of the international ban on antipersonnel mines as soon as possible. There will be a tangible increase in U.S. security from a global mine ban.

Another factor that needs to be weighed is the impact of mines, often of U.S. origin, on U.S. forces. Mines have caused nearly 100,000 U.S. Army casualties since 1942. One-third of all U.S. Army casualties in Vietnam were the result of mine incidents; the enemy emplaced most of these mines. Of the seventy-five U.S. Army personnel killed in action by known enemy munitions in the Persian Gulf War, twenty-nine were the result of mines. Of the fifty-six U.S. Army personnel wounded in action by known enemy munitions, fourteen were the result of mines. Peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Bosnia, and Kosovo have all resulted in U.S. mine casualties. At least two U.S. service members were wounded by antipersonnel mines in 2001, one in Kosovo and one in South Korea.

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