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.
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.
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.
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.”
Nearly all of the 33 states not party to the Mine Ban Treaty are still believed to stockpile landmines, despite limited information.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Case Study: Turkmenistan
State Party Turkmenistan reported the completion of its stockpile destruction on 28 February 2003, just ahead of its deadline.
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.
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.