The State of Mines: US Policy on Land Mines

Col. Micheal Thumm, USMC Fellow
Security Studies Program, M.I.T.

March 10, 1999

Before discussing US policy between March 1996 to June 1998 on land mines, I would like first to introduce the currently deployed US land mine systems. Basically there are three categories of land mine systems. The first category is "Non Self-Destructing" (NSD) or "Dumb" mines. Each system is either an anti-personnel land mine (AP) or anti-tank (AT) land mine. These systems have to be man-triggered, and they stay active until removed. Today they are deployed only in the DMZ of the Korean Peninsula. The second category is "Self-Destructing" (SD) "Pure" munitions, either for anti-personnel or for anti-tank purpose. They are short-lived (the preset self-destruction time is 4hr, 48hr, or 15 days), flexible and responsive, and highly reliable (over 99.99%). The third category is SD "Mixed" munitions. Each system contains both AP and AT functions, and they can be delivered by multiple means.

The underlying rationale for the US military’s deployment of land mines is to use them as a "force multiplier" for a smaller, more capable power projection army. The ultimate goal is force protection or, to save the lives of American soldiers. Now let me turn to the major US policy steps on the issue of land mines in the last few years.

On May 16, 1996, a White House Press Release stated that the US will cease use of Non-Self-Destructing (NSD) AP mines, except in Korea, and would look for alternatives that would permit the elimination of all AP mines. The willingness to end US reliance on AP as soon as possible was reiterated in PDD/NSC-48 issued on June 26, 1996.

On January 17, 1997, apparently feeling the international pressure for a land mine treaty, a White House Press Release stated that the US would negotiate a treaty banning AP mines in the UN Conference on Disarmament (CD), impose a permanent export ban on AP mines, and cap the US AP mine stockpile at its current level.

Although the US government made efforts to accommodate its policy on land mines in accordance with international pressure, it was unable to accept the Ottawa Treaty on Land Mines that calls for a total ban on AP mines once the treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999. Rather, the President’s Statement issued on September 17, 1997 made it clear that the US government would like a number of changes to the treaty text, namely, to be able to retain Mixed Munitions, to cease the use of all pure AP mines (except for Korea) by the year 2003, and to eliminate pure AP mines in Korea by 2006 provided that alternative systems can be devised by then. The US approach clashes with the Ottawa Treaty in that it deems the mixed systems critical to US global military commitments and security needs. The government believes such an approach is not very harmful to humanitarian interests as most US land mine systems have a self-destruction function with over 99.99% reliability.

Currently the US policy on land mines is to continue working closely with allies to address the humanitarian problem, make strong efforts to find alternative systems to AP mines, and to modernize land mine capability. Such a line of policy is well reflected in PDD/NSC-64 issued on June 23, 1998, in which it was stated that the US will end the use of all pure AP mines outside Korea by 2003, aggressively pursue AP mines alternatives for Korea by 2006, develop alternatives to AP sub-munitions or the entire mixed AT systems, and, most impressively, sign Ottawa by 2006 if alternatives to the AP mines in Korea are found.

Colonel Michael Thumm is the US Marine Corps Fellow at the MIT Security Studies Program. His specialty is AV-8B "Harrier II" pilot. He has secondary specialties in the A-4M "Skyhawk," as a forward air controller, and as a Joint Specialty Officer. He has been the Officer-in-Charge of the Hornet/Harrier Introduction Team in Iwakuni, Japan, preparing logistically for deployment of those aircraft to that location. He commanded the Marine Harrier Fleet Replacement Squadron, training the new Harrier pilots and the maintenance personnel for the US Marine Corps. He has served two tours in the Pentagon, one in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and most recently on the Joint Staff working the Anti-Personnel Landmine issue for which he was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal. As a result of these Pentagon tours he has had extensive experience working within the Executive Branch interagency process and in international negotiations. Colonel Thumm entered the Marine Corps through the US Naval Academy. His next assignment is as the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, First Marine Aircraft Wing, Okinawa, Japan.

Rapporteur: Yinan He

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