Background Briefing

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U.S. Landmine Production and Exports

A Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper

August 2005

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Landmine Monitor Report

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Policy Background

The Bush Administration’s Landmine Policy

Development and Production of New Landmines

Export and Transfer of Landmines


The Bush administration appears poised to erase many of the positive steps the United States has taken in the past toward banning antipersonnel mines.  The United States has apparently not used antipersonnel mines since the Gulf War in 1991.1  It has had a prohibition on exports of antipersonnel mines since 1992.  The last antipersonnel mines rolled off U.S. production lines in 1997.  However:

  • The United States will decide in December 2005 whether it will begin the production of a new antipersonnel mine called Spider. 

  • According to a media report, which the Pentagon has yet to confirm or deny, in May 2005 the U.S. Army was to begin deploying to Iraq a new remote-controlled landmine system called Matrix, which relies on technology developed for Spider.  

  • The Pentagon has requested a total of $1.3 billion for development and production activities for another new antipersonnel mine called the Intelligent Munitions System, with a full production decision expected in 2008. 

  • There is concern that a United States proposal for an international prohibition on export of landmines that do not self-destruct will pave the way for the resumption of U.S. export of antipersonnel mines that do self-destruct.

    These developments are the result of the Bush administration’s landmine policy announced in February 2004 under which the United States abandoned its long-held objective of joining the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits the use, production, trade or stockpiling of antipersonnel mines.2  The United States still stockpiles 10.4 million antipersonnel mines, the world’s third largest arsenal after China and Russia.3  The U.S. also has 7.5 million antivehicle mines, and production and export of antivehicle mines has been ongoing.4     

    Future use, production, or export of antipersonnel mines by the United States will of course not constitute a violation of the Mine Ban Treaty since the United States is not party to the treaty.  However, such acts would clearly be against the trend of the emerging international consensus against any possession or use of antipersonnel mines.5  As of July 1, 2005, a total of 145 countries were party to the Mine Ban Treaty, and another eight countries had signed but not yet ratified.  With very few exceptions, nearly every nation has endorsed the goal of a global ban on all antipersonnel mines at some point in the future.  Even many states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty have stopped production, trade, and use of the weapon.6  Human Rights Watch, as one of the founders of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, believes that any production, trade, stockpiling, or use of antipersonnel mines by any actor must be condemned. 

    United States production, export or use of new antipersonnel mines could also create difficulties for many of its military allies who are part of the treaty.  States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty cannot “assist” in any way with acts that are prohibited by the treaty; thus States Parties could be in danger of violating the treaty if the United States were to use these mines in joint military operations. 7  Moreover, States Parties would have to consider ending any investments they may have in U.S. companies producing or exporting the new antipersonnel mines.8

    [1] The United States used landmines in 1991 in Kuwait and Iraq, scattering 117,634 of them mostly from airplanes.  The U.S. apparently did not use landmines in Yugoslavia (Kosovo) in 1999, nor in the fighting in Afghanistan since October 2001, nor in the fighting in Iraq since March 2003.  However, the U.S. reserved the right to use antipersonnel mines during each of these conflicts, and deployed antipersonnel mines to the region at least in the cases of Kosovo and Iraq.

    [2] U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, “Fact Sheet: New U.S. Policy on Landmines,” February 27, 2004.  The full name of the treaty is the Convention on the Prohibition on the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and On Their Destruction.

    [3] Included in this stockpile are 2.8 million non-self-destructing landmines. Mixed systems that contain both self-destructing antipersonnel and antivehicle mines constitute only 11 percent of the overall stockpile.  For details see, International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 2004: Toward a Mine-Free World (New York: Human Rights Watch, November 2004), pp. 1,141-1,142.

    [4] For example, the U.S. exported 124,000 antivehicle mines to South Korea in 2004.

    [5] “The 2004 Nairobi Declaration,” which was agreed to by States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty at the First Five-Year Review Conference, held in Nairobi from November 29 to December 3, 2004, states: “One-hundred-forty-four states have joined this endeavor and have established a powerful international norm that is recognized, in words and in actions, well beyond the Convention’s membership.  Whereas anti-personnel mines were until recently in widespread use, their production has decreased dramatically, trade in this weapon has virtually ceased and their deployment is now rare….  And together we have destroyed more than 37 million stockpiled mines.”  The declaration is contained in Part IV of the Final Report of the First Review Conference, APLC/CONF/2004/5, 9 February 2005.

    [6] The most comprehensive source on the global status of the landmine ban is the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor Report 2004.  The report notes that in 1998/1999 fifteen governments used antipersonnel mines, while in 2003/2004 the number declined to four (Georgia, Myanmar, Nepal, and Russia).   Landmine Monitor Report 2004, p. 6.

    [7] Article 1 of the Mine Ban Treaty states, “Each State Party undertakes never under any circumstances … to assist, encourage or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited to a State Party under this Convention.”

    [8] Ibid.