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Landmine Stockpiles and Their Destruction

Summary

Most antipersonnel landmines possessed by states that joined the Mine Ban Treaty were swiftly destroyed by the time the treaty entered into force on 1 March 1999. In the 20 years since, there has been steady progress to destroy remaining stocks, resulting in the destruction of more than 55 million antipersonnel landmines by 92 States Parties. The vast majority of those stockpiled antipersonnel mines were destroyed within the treaty’s four-year deadline. This was facilitated by the treaty’s unique cooperative compliance provisions and mechanisms, as well as by its community of supporters. However, the impressive compliance record by most States Parties was unfortunately not met by all as a handful missed deadlines, some significantly, in completing their stockpile destruction obligations. Two states remain in serious violation of the treaty’s stockpile destruction obligation.See “Conclusions on the status of implementation of Article 4 (Stockpile Destruction) of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention,” Mine Ban Treaty Seventeenth Meeting of States Parties, 25 September 2018. See also Landmine Monitor 2018, p. 4.

Introduction

The Mine Ban Treaty comprises an unprecedented combination of disarmament provisions and humanitarian goals. The comprehensive prohibitions on antipersonnel landmines stigmatize these explosive weapons, which are detonated by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person. The treaty contains firm deadlines requiring clearance of mined areas within 10 years, while states “in a position to do so” are obliged to provide assistance to landmine victims.

The treaty’s requirement that States Parties destroy their stockpiled antipersonnel mines within four years is one of the most visible examples of how the treaty is helping to eradicate these weapons.

This chapter looks at how landmines were once manufactured and transferred around the world, creating massive stockpiles that were used to the detriment of human lives and limbs. It reviews the largely successful implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty’s stockpile destruction obligations over the past two decades despite some serious challenges. The chapter considers how the treaty’s unique set of compliance provisions and mechanisms as well as its community of practice have helped states avoid and resolve stockpile destruction issues. Finally, the chapter provides some lessons learned.

Unless noted, all facts and figures contained in this chapter come from the Landmine Monitor reporting initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which has closely tracked and reported on stockpiling and destruction of antipersonnel mines since 1999.See the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor website for annual reports and country profiles (http://www.the-monitor.org/en-gb/home.aspx). Human Rights Watch provides research and editing for this civil society-based verification initiative to systematically monitor a major multilateral disarmament and international humanitarian law agreement.See also: Mary Wareham, “Evidence-Based Advocacy: Civil Society Monitoring of the Mine Ban Treaty,” in Wareham, Stephen D. Goose, and Jody Williams (eds.), Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy, and Human Security (Rowman & Littleford, 2008).

Landmine Stockpiles

In their seminal 1993 report Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, ICBL co-founders Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights described landmines as “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion” due to their widespread proliferation, longevity, and the devastating harm caused by decades of unrestrained use.Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, October 1993. https://www.hrw.org/news/1993/10/01/landmines-deadly-legacy That report showed how weak and convoluted rules governing the use of landmines had been widely ignored, creating a complex humanitarian tragedy over the long-term.

More than 50 states produced antipersonnel mines at some time, of which 41 stopped before or upon joining the Mine Ban Treaty. But by that point, the damage had already been done. Hundreds of millions of antipersonnel landmines had been transferred around the world for decades, creating massive stockpiles. Some stockpiled landmines were abandoned or looted, other stocks were used, but many remained in their storage crates, untouched as the stigma against landmines grew.

The first annual Landmine Monitor report estimated that more than 250 million antipersonnel mines were stored in the arsenals of 108 countries. When it was presented to states attending the treaty’s First Meeting of States Parties held in May 1999 in Maputo, Mozambique, the ICBL called for a major effort to eradicate landmine stockpiles as a form of “preventive mine action.”International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Landmine Monitor Report 1999: Towards a mine-free world,” April 1999. This first report is available from the Monitor’s archived site: http://archives.the-monitor.org/

Nearly all of the 33 states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty are still believed to stockpile landmines, despite limited information.States not party that have stockpiled antipersonnel mines: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Georgia, India, Iran, Israel, Kazakhstan, North Korea, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Libya, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Syria, United Arab Emirates, US, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. But over time, major non-signatories have made notable announcements and disclosures concerning their landmine stocks as a gesture of goodwill and transparency. At the Mine Ban Treaty’s Third Review Conference in 2014, the United States announced that it had prohibited production of antipersonnel mines and disclosed that it possessed a stockpile of three million mines, a significant reduction from the more than 10 million previously reported by the United States government. China stated that it held fewer than five million mines, a massive decrease from the long-standing estimate of 110 million mines.

Fewer non-state armed groups are able to obtain factory-made antipersonnel mines now that production and transfer has largely halted under the Mine Ban Treaty. Some in states outside the treaty have acquired landmines by stealing them from government stocks or removing them from minefields. However, most have made their own improvised landmines from locally available materials. These are often known as victim-activated improvised explosive devices or IEDs. These are also banned by the treaty.

Stockpile Destruction

By the time the Mine Ban Treaty entered into force, more than 12 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines had already been destroyed by states committed to relinquishing the weapons. Canada, Norway and ten other signatories and States Parties had completed the destruction of their antipersonnel mine stocks, while eighteen more were in the process of doing so, including France, Italy, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.Austria, Belgium, Canada, El Salvador, Germany, Guatemala, Luxembourg, Namibia, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, and Switzerland. See Landmine Monitor Report 1999.

By the treaty’s First Review Conference in 2004, 65 States Parties had completed the destruction of their stockpiles, collectively destroying more than 37.3 million antipersonnel mines.See Landmine Monitor Report 2004. No State Party facing the first stockpile destruction deadline of 1 March 2003 failed to meet it. Italy destroyed the most mines (7.1 million), followed by Turkmenistan (6.6 million), while Albania, France, Germany, Japan, Romania, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom each destroyed more than one million antipersonnel mines.

By the time of the treaty’s Second Review Conference in 2009, 86 States Parties had completed the destruction of their stockpiles, destroying a collective total of 44 million antipersonnel mines.See Landmine Monitor Report 2009. However, a handful of states completed destruction of their stockpiles days or months after their respective deadlines had passed.

According to Landmine Monitor’s count, a total of 92 States Parties had destroyed a collective total of more than 55 million stockpiled antipersonnel mines as at 2019, the year of the treaty’s Fourth Review Conference.

However, there were certain exceptions to this impressive record by four States Parties, which missed their stockpile destruction deadlines by years.See Landmine Monitor 2018, p. 4.

Ultimately, none of the stockpiled antipersonnel mines posed significant technical issues for States Parties to destroy, with two notable exceptions: the Soviet-made PFM-type scatterable mines and United States-made ADAM artillery-delivered mines.

Referred to by Afghans as “butterfly” mines due to their unique shape and bright colour, the Soviet-made PFM-type scatterable antipersonnel mines contain a toxic liquid explosive filling (VS6-D) that renders them extremely dangerous and difficult to destroy. PFM mines are packed in containers for delivery by helicopter, rocket, or ground dispenser, which has added another complication as their destruction requires sophisticated environmental pollution control measures.

Ukraine missed its stockpile destruction deadline due to the challenges it has faced destroying the 6 million PFM-type mines. Belarus faced similar challenges but completed the destruction of its 3.3 million PFM types mines in April 2017, while North Macedonia and Turkmenistan also destroyed stocks of PFM-type mines.

The United States-made ADAM mines stockpiled by Greece and Turkey contain a small amount of depleted uranium that requires a special industrial process to destroy, so the projectiles containing the ADAM mines were transferred to Germany for demilitarization at a specialized facility.

Any assessment of stockpile destruction under the Mine Ban Treaty would be incomplete without considering Article 3’s provision that allows a State Party to retain or transfer “a number of anti-personnel mines for the development of and training in mine detection, mine clearance, or mine destruction techniques.”

Of the 164 States Parties, 71 have retained antipersonnel mines for training and research purposes, of which 37 retain more than 1,000 mines and four each retain more than 12,000 mines.See Landmine Monitor 2018, p. 19.  The remainder each retain fewer than 1,000 mines. Another 86 States Parties have declared that they do not retain any antipersonnel mines, including 34 states that stockpiled antipersonnel mines in the past.

Over the past 20 years, ICBL concerns that the retention provision would be abused by a State Party using such mines in combat have not been realized. There have been some close calls that were resolved in true cooperative compliance fashion through quiet and sustained follow-up with the State Party concerned.

However, the retention by certain states of several thousand or more than 10,000 mines still raises significant compliance questions for the Mine Ban Treaty. The ICBL is especially concerned by States Parties with retained mines that have never used them for the treaty’s permitted purposes, as these are in essence stockpiled mines.

Cooperative Compliance

Each State Party facing the Mine Ban Treaty’s stockpile destruction deadline has met that obligation, with a handful of exceptions, some serious. This section looks at how the treaty’s innovative cooperative compliance provisions and mechanisms helped contribute to this largely positive outcome.See also: Stephen D. Goose, “Goodwill Yields Good Results: Cooperative Compliance and the Mine Ban Treaty,” in Goose, Jody Williams, and Mary Wareham (eds.), Banning Landmines: Disarmament, Citizen Diplomacy, and Human Security (Rowman & Littleford, 2008).

During the whirlwind Ottawa Process that created the treaty, states prioritized securing an unequivocal prohibition of antipersonnel mines over creating complex verification provisions. According to one diplomat, “the thinking at the time by the majority of negotiating states was that it should be politically so costly to breach the obligations of the treaty that it would deter anyone from doing it.”Interview with Steffen Kongstad, Deputy Director General, Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo, 5 April 2006.

A unique “cooperative compliance” approach proposed by Canada in early 1997 was ultimately incorporated into the final text of the treaty. Under Article 8, States Parties commit to “consult and cooperate with each other” and “work together in a spirit of cooperation” to implement provisions by providing financial, technical, and other assistance.

According to the ICBL chair, Stephen D. Goose of Human Rights Watch, the cooperative compliance approach “assumes goodwill on part of all States Parties … to try to resolve issues in the quietest, friendliest, least confrontational manner” by emphasizing assistance to States Parties to meet their obligations rather than criticism for failing to do so.Telephone Interview with Steve Goose, Executive Director Arms Division, Human Rights Watch, 11 April 2006.  

Article 8 also lists five compliance steps that the treaty’s States Parties can follow, but none have been attempted over the past 20 years.The treaty provides for five steps to be taken: 1) One or more States Parties can request information regarding allegations of non-compliance from the requested State Party that has 28 days to respond; 2) If the requested State Party fails to respond satisfactorily (or at all), the requesting state or states may either refer the matter to the next meeting of States Parties or, if one-third of members agree, convene a special meeting of States Parties; 3) If unable to resolve the issue, the meeting or special meeting of State Parties can authorize by majority vote a fact-finding mission to the State Party concerned by a team of experts selected from a list maintained by the UN Secretary-General; 4) The fact-finding mission must give at least 72 hours notice before its arrival, and may stay up to fourteen days after which it reports its findings to the meeting or special meeting of States Parties; 5) The meeting or special meeting of States Parties reviews the fact-finding mission’s report and then, by a two-thirds vote if consensus cannot be reached, may ask the requested State Party to take measures to address the compliance issue within a specified period of time, and suggest ways and means to resolve the matter, “including the initiation of appropriate procedures in conformity with international law.” In addition, the treaty’s Article 6 provision stipulates that States Parties requiring assistance to fulfill their implementation obligations should “seek and receive assistance” from other State Parties. And Article 7 requires State Parties to provide a transparency measures report detailing their implementation within six months of the treaty taking effect for that country and annually thereafter, by 30 April.The treaty requires that each State Party with stockpiled antipersonnel mines report and provide updated information annually on: 1) The total number of antipersonnel mines in its ownership or possession, or under its jurisdiction or control, including a breakdown of the type, quantity and, if possible, lot numbers of each type of stockpiled mine; 2) The status of programmes to destroy stockpiled antipersonnel mines, including details of the methods to be used in destruction, location of all destruction sites and the applicable safety and environmental standards to be observed; and 3) The types and quantities of all antipersonnel mines destroyed during the previous calendar year, including the full breakdown of the quantities, types and, if possible, lot numbers of each type of stockpiled mine. See ODA Article 7 monitoring website (https://www.unog.ch/80256EE600585943/(httpPages)/E262A17349C45BDEC12573ED00387359?OpenDocument).

The transparency reporting requirement has provided States Parties, Landmine Monitor and others with a particularly valuable tool to review and confirm data on stockpiled landmines as well as track efforts to destroy them.

From the outset, the Mine Ban Treaty lacked a standing institutional structure. This reflected the desire of states to spend funds in the field on mine clearance and victim assistance rather than on costly secretariats.By 1997, there was already fatigue over the cost and needs of treaty support structures after the Chemical Weapons Convention created the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 1993 and the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty established its International Monitoring System in 1996. It also was due to concern that States Parties remain actively involved in overseeing implementation and addressing challenges.

Over the past two decades, States Parties and the Mine Ban Treaty community have gradually put in place a web of mechanisms and structures to enable implementation concerns to be resolved cooperatively before they escalate. A lightly staffed Geneva-based implementation support unit supports States Parties, including the chairs of various committees that oversee the implementation of specific Mine Ban Treaty provisions.

The treaty’s system of regular meetings and informal sessions have facilitated support for stockpile destruction by issuing joint action plans urging States Parties that missed their deadline to comply without delay and communicate their plans to do so as well as request assistance. The treaty’s rotating stockpile destruction chairs have overseen destruction efforts, helping States Parties to overcome challenges.

Lessons Learned

Below are seven lessons that can be drawn from stockpile destruction under the Mine Ban Treaty.

First, establish a clear deadline and robust transparency mechanisms. Without the four-year stockpile destruction deadline, it is highly unlikely that the Mine Ban Treaty’s impressive compliance rate could have been achieved. The ICBL fostered positive competition, challenging State Parties to declare and destroy their stockpiled mines in advance of the four-year deadline, setting certain events and earlier dates as completion targets.See for example, ICBL Press Release, “Landmines Campaign Challenges Governments to Complete Stockpile Destruction by September 2001,” (Buenos Aires, 6 November 2000).  

Second, ride the political momentum generated from the treaty negotiation process. The ICBL encouraged swift destruction of stockpiled mines as an optimal and highly visible way for states to demonstrate their strong commitment towards implementation. Heads of states and senior ministers attended completion events covered by media with campaigners and survivors present.Such stockpile destruction events took place in Algeria, Croatia, Japan, Mozambique, and other states.

Third, ensure that States Parties requiring implementation support receive the financial and technical aid they seek. Most national militaries disposed of their own landmine stocks, sometimes with external donor funding, but more often after the government allocated a budget to ensure destruction. Mine action operators, police and others played a supportive role by assisting with inventory reviews, determining how to safely destroy landmines and assisting with physical destruction of stocks.

Fourth, realize that physical destruction of landmines generally does not require sophisticated facilities. The vast majority of stockpile antipersonnel mines were destroyed through open-burning/open-detonation (OB/OD). Where the size of the stockpile or environmental constraints precluded this, states parties often transferred mines to be destroyed at facilities in other countries operated by private companies. Ultimately, no stockpiled antipersonnel mines posed significant technical issues for States Parties to destroy with two notable exceptions: the Soviet-made PFM-type scatterable mines and ADAM artillery-delivered mines.

Fifth, the Mine Ban Treaty experience demonstrated some of the side benefits that can come from the stockpile destruction. Several States Parties developed industrial processes to recover and recycle components with economic value as scrap metal. In some cases, the components were directly recycled into products. For example, Afghanistan melted the metal bodies of bounding fragmentation mines and refabricated them as manhole covers, while Ukraine has recycled the plastic bodies of some of its mines and made toy pelicans for children.

Sixth, civil society support and scrutiny is crucial to ensuring full compliance. Landmine Monitor published its first report prior to the submission deadline for states to provide their initial transparency reports under Article 7, thereby setting the standard for comprehensive and detailed reporting. Landmine Monitor’s analysis of Article 7 reports, together with its inquiries, reminders, and offers of assistance, have helped generate momentum towards stockpile destruction. When Landmine Monitor finds inconsistencies and irregularities, it engages with the State Party concerned to seek clarification and try to resolve the matter directly. 

Finally, the experience shows how no one wants to be at the top of the list when it comes to stockpiling weapons. In addition to tracking stockpiled mines, Landmine Monitor closely reviewed the quantities of mines retained by State Parties, drawing special attention to those retaining several thousand or more than 10,000 mines. Dozens of States Parties perceived this as negative publicity, especially if they were at the top of the list with the most mines, and responded by reducing the number retained or destroying the mines altogether.

Case Study: Chile

State Party Chile completed the destruction of its stockpile of 299,219 mines in August 2003, well in advance of the deadline of 1 March 2006. The process was notable for its transparency and high-level support. The Army and Navy destroyed the stocks by open detonation with assistance provided by the Organization of American States (OAS). Then-Minister of Defense Michelle Bachelet attended and spoke at several events held to mark the progressive destruction of the stocks. The ICBL, Landmine Monitor and media were also invited to witness the stockpile destruction at these events. In 2003, Chile announced that it would reduce the number of antipersonnel mines that it initially reported would be retained for training and research from 28,647. It now retains just over 2,000 mines.

Case Study: Greece

In its initial transparency report for the Mine Ban Treaty provided in 2004, State Party Greece disclosed a stockpile of 1.5 million antipersonnel mines. It started the process of stockpile destruction late, almost eight months after the 1 March 2008 deadline, and shipped a portion of the stockpile to Bulgaria for destruction. Complicated legal and contractual issues stalled any physical destruction for years. On 1 October 2014 a series of explosions demolished the Bulgarian facility of the subcontractor that held the mines, killing 15 workers. Greece resumed its efforts to destroy the stockpiled mines and committed to destroy them by the end of 2019. Earlier this year, Greece reported that 1,171,715 antipersonnel mines had been destroyed, while 396,452 mines were still to be destroyed.

Case Study: Japan

State Party Japan completed the destruction of its stockpile of one million antipersonnel mines within weeks of the treaty’s 1 March 2003 deadline. It contracted three private companies to destroy the mines at a cost of ¥ 2.068 billion (US$17.8 million). The process was notable for its high-level political support and engagement by communities living near the destruction facilities. Japan’s Prime Minister addressed 300 children from around the country at a youth summit on solutions to the landmine crisis that followed an official ceremony organized by mayor of Shin-Asahi to mark completion of the destruction process. Landmine Monitor visited the stockpile destruction facility in 2000, when Association for Aid and Relief Japan and the town organized a 70-kilometer charity run with landmine survivor Chris Moon, a former deminer, to raise awareness and support for the Mine Ban Treaty. 

Case Study: Libya

States outside the treaty have been far less open about their production, transfers, and stockpiles of landmines, but sometimes civil war and regime change enables unprecedented insights into previously hidden activities. Before the Arab Spring began in 2011, Libyan officials used to state that the country had never produced or exported antipersonnel mines and no longer stockpiled the weapon.Landmine Monitor interview with Col. Ali Alahrash, Ministry of Defense, Geneva, 16 March 2004. Yet as the Gaddafi government progressively lost control of the country that year, government forces abandoned massive weapon depots containing landmines and other munitions.This included the 60-bunker Hight Razma facility near Benghazi, a 35-bunker facility near Ajdabiya, and a smaller facility near Tobruk. In September 2011, HRW visited in a Khamis Brigade base in the Salahadin neighborhood of Tripoli that included a farm compound holding approximately 15,000 antipersonnel mines and a nearby storage facility housing more than 100,000 antipersonnel and antivehicle mines. HRW, “Landmines in Libya: Technical Briefing Note,” 19 July 2011; and HRW, “Libya: Secure Unguarded Arms Depots,” 9 September 2011. Their contents revealed that Libya had received hundreds of thousands of antipersonnel and antivehicle mines over the years, accumulating a stockpile of mines from countries including Belgium, Brazil, China, and the former Yugoslavia. Gaddafi forces used mines in 2011 and there is evidence that non-state armed groups continue to use them. Libyan authorities, United Nations agencies and mine clearance organizations have attempted to collect and destroy abandoned landmines, but many are still believed to be held by militias, criminal groups and in civilian hands. Imagine how many lives and limbs could have been saved if Libya had heeded calls to join the Mine Ban Treaty.

Case Study: Turkmenistan

State Party Turkmenistan reported the completion of its stockpile destruction on 28 February 2003, just ahead of its deadline.Turkmenistan entry, Landmine Monitor Report 2004. However, it also reported that it would retain 69,200 antipersonnel mines for demining training purposes. One year later, after several States Parties and the ICBL pointed out that the number was unacceptably high, Turkmenistan announced it would destroy the stockpile. It invited representatives from the ICBL and Human Rights Watch to witness destruction later that year. They discovered that Turkmenistan had, in fact, been retaining 572,200 individual antipersonnel mines, as most of the stock was air-delivered and it had counted only the containers and not the mines they held.

Case Study: Ukraine

In 2006, State Party Ukraine reported a stockpile of 6.6 million antipersonnel mines under its ownership or possession that it inherited from the break-up of the Soviet Union. After missing the 1 June 2010 destruction deadline, Ukraine destroyed 1.4 million antipersonnel mines from stocks between 2011 and 2017. Since 2015, NATO’s Support and Procurement Agency has been assisting with the operation to destroy the remaining stockpile of more than 5 million PFM mines at a facility in Ukraine. Belarus also missed its 1 March 2008 deadline after facing similar challenges with the extremely hazardous PFM antipersonnel mines, but completed the destruction of its stockpile in April 2017, including 3.4 million PFM-1 mines.

Conclusion

Over the past 20 years, the United States and other non-signatories have declined calls to join the Mine Ban Treaty yet tacitly supported it from the sidelines. Their arguments against joining have diminished and now boil down to a general skepticism over the utility of multilateral treaties as well as objections with the unconventional and unprecedented way in which the treaty was negotiated outside of United Nations auspices (but with firm United Nations support).

Yet the Mine Ban Treaty is thriving and provides a prime example of a multilateral instrument that is working to reduce and prevent human suffering. This is seen vividly in the way in which States Parties have swiftly destroyed their stockpiled mines.

Those facing such challenges in completing their stockpile destruction obligation have not been met with condemnation, but rather with the cooperative compliance approach. The method seems to be working as 20 years on, no State Party has triggered the treaty’s Article 8 provisions, yet.

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