The Bush Administration's Love of Human Life: Land Mines

Thursday, September 01, 2005

How do you feel about land mines? An example of how the world views land mines might be the fact that 145 total countries (including every member of NATO) are party to the Mine Ban Treaty (otherwise known as the Ottawa Convention). This treaty prohibits the use, production, trade or stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. Antipersonnel self-destructing mines (mines that blow up after a set period of time) as well as persistent mines (mines that do not self-destruct) are prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.

It appears that the Bush administration is ready to resume production of antipersonnel mines, something the United States has not produced since 1997. Recently the Pentagon requested $1.3 billion for development and production of a new antipersonnel mine system named Intelligent Munitions System (IMS) which has sparked concern from Human Rights Watch.

In addition to the Pentagon's budget request, the Bush administration announced a new landmine policy on February 27, 2004 that slipped under the radar. The U.S. Department of State laid out the administrations new agenda in it's bullet form fact sheet titled: "New United States Policy on Lanmines-Reducing Humanitarian Risk and Saving Lives of United States Soldiers." To quote the administration: "The United States will not join the Ottawa Convention because its terms would have required us to give up a needed military capability. However, this new policy dramatically reduces the danger posed to civilians from unexploded landmines--both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle--left behind after military conflicts."

This claim is false. A study published by the International Committee of the Red Cross in conjunction with a group of over 30 retired officers from various countries had this to say about "smart" mines: "Because of the vast numbers [of mines] involved, and the complete absence of any [mine] marking, it is likely that the number of civilian casualties resulting from a large-scale strike with remotely delivered mines will greatly exceed the casualty rates seen with conventional minefields.... Even the doubtful benefit of self-destruction and self-deactivation at a later date will not prevent widespread casualties in the initial days after the strike. There is little doubt that the development of remotely delivered mines has increased the probability of a major rise in post-conflict mine casualties."

The Mine Ban Treaty prohibited the use, production, trade or stockpiling of antipersonnel mines. As of November 2004, the United States had stockpiled 10.4 million antipersonnel mines, only China and Russia have larger stockpiles. Add to this the 7.5 million antivehicle mines the U.S. also has in stockpile. In addition to the stockpiling of mines, the U.S. continues to produce and export antivehicle mines, 124,000 sold to South Korea alone in 2004.

Budget documents released in February show the Pentagon has requested $688 million for research and $1.08 billion between fiscal years 2006 through 2011 for production of new landmine systems. These new mines will be triggered by command detonation or "man-in-the-loop" and also through victim-activation.

One of these new programs is the Spider system of land mines. It is a control unit capable of monitoring eighty-four hand placed unattended munitions that deploy a web of tripwires across an area. This style of mine is controlled by a man-in-the-loop type system which allows for activation by either the victim or a soldier. A decision to produce the Spider is set to be made in December of 2005, but to date the U.S. has already spent $135 million on development and another $11 million for research. According to the report by the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics: "U.S. Department of Defense Removal and Destruction of Persistent Landmines and Development of Landmine Alternatives", a total of $390 million has been budgeted to produce 1,620 Spider systems and 186,300 munitions.

In addition to this, the administration will be further developing what they call Intelligent Munitions Sytems (IMS) or "smart" landmines otherwise known as self-destructing mines. These mines either self-destruct within a certain period of time, or have a battery that dies after time rendering the mine non-active. One problem with these types of mines is that the Landmine Protocol of CCW, which the U.S. and China belong to, allows for a 10% failure rate. On top of this the Landmine Protocol allows for 120 days before self-destruction must occur. This is not the only problem with so-called "smart" mines. These types of mines are usually delivered by aircraft or artillery at the rate of thousands per minute. The results of this type of delivery system are scattered areas of landmines hard to map or fence off unlike a traditional field of hand-laid "dumb" mines. The U.S. last used these mines (Gator Mines) in the Gulf War, scattering 117,634 landmines across Kuwait and Iraq.

Just in case you are keeping a running total on just how much the U.S. government spends on landmines, here are some more numbers to crunch. Between the fiscal years 1999 to 2004 the Pentagon spent over $319 million on alternatives for antipersonnel mines. One such program named the Remote Area Denial Artillery Munition (RADAM) was cancelled in 2002 after costs reached $12.1 million. The RADAM program produced zero munitions. A total of $172 million was spent on research and development of IMS systems between the fiscal years of 1999 to 2004. Currently $1.3 billion has been requested for IMS development and production between the fiscal years of 2005 to 2011. In February of 2004, the Pentagon requested $20.2 million to produce 40,000 M18A1E1 Clymore mines ($16 million in supplemental funding provided from the Emergancy Wartime Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2003).

Maybe this is just me, but wouldn't the best way to reduce the humanitarian risk of landmines just be as easy as not producing or using them. Clearly the Bush administration has made it's stance clear on this issue, if it helps the U.S. military kill people, then it's ok for us to use, produce and export. This seems like a lot of time money and energy spent on what I would classify as a weapon of mass destruction. Wouldn't you? All the numbers can be fact checked, in August Human Rights Watch report: "Back in Business? U.S. Landmine Production and Exports." Footnotes to the various reports, fact sheets and policies can be found in the Human Rights Watch briefing paper.


We are lucky to have Jody Williams, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, living right here in Vermont. She is part of the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines

This is yet another issue that so clearly reflects the Bush administration's heartless and shameful policies.

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