U.S. Army Destroys Last Non-Essential 'Dumb' Mines

Christopher Fischer and Andrew Howells

ON JUNE 30, the U.S. Army destroyed the last of the U.S.-based stockpile of more than 3.3 million non-self-destructing anti-personnel landmines (APLs), fulfilling President Clinton's May 1996 directive to eliminate all non-essential "dumb" mines by the end of 1999. The final 80 APLs were destroyed during a ceremony at Crane Army Ammunition Activity near Bloomington, Indiana. The elimination of the APLs is a major milestone in the Clinton administration's decision to phase out the use of "dumb" mines and rely on "smart" landmines, which, once deployed, are designed to self-destruct or self-disarm after a predetermined time.

With the exception of Korea, the U.S. military has already destroyed its overseas stockpiles of non-self-destructing mines, and is currently destroying the last of 50,000 APLs that had been deployed around the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba beginning in 1961. The United States plans to retain an estimated 1 million "dumb" mines in South Korea, most of which are stockpiled, in addition to 1,500 APLs for military training purposes. U.S. forces will also maintain an estimated 1 million "mixed" munitions, which combine anti-vehicle and anti-personnel devices, as well as an estimated 9 million "smart" mines. Clinton's May 1996 directive does not apply to the APLs in mixed munitions.

In September 1997, Clinton said the United States would seek to end the use of both "dumb" and "smart" mines outside of Korea by 2003 and worldwide by 2006. The continued need to rely on APLs to protect U.S. military forces in South Korea was cited by the administration as one of the primary reasons the United States would not sign the Ottawa Convention when the treaty opened for signature in December 1997.

The treaty bans the use, stockpiling, production and transfers of all APLs, including the devices now used in U.S. mixed munitions. The convention has been signed by 128 countries and will enter into force six months after the 40th state deposits its instrument of ratification, which could occur this year. The United States currently observes a unilateral moratorium on the transfer and export of APLs.

In September 1997, the Clinton administration announced that it is the goal of the United States to sign the Ottawa Treaty by 2006 if the Department of Defense can develop alternatives to APLs. The U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC), located at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey, awarded 12 contracts in January 1998 for the development and production of APL alternatives. ARDEC is expected to select two or three contractors for further development work. The Pentagon is considering both lethal and non-lethal alternatives, including acoustic, seismic and infrared remote sensing mechanisms.