The Pentagon, under the Bush administration, plans to resume production of antipersonnel landmine systems in a move that is at odds with both the international community and previous U.S. policy, according to the leading human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Nearly every nation has endorsed the goal of a global ban on antipersonnel mines. In 1994 the U.S. called for the “eventual elimination” of all such mines, and in 1996 President Bill Clinton said the U.S. would “seek a worldwide agreement as soon as possible to end the use of all antipersonnel mines.” The U.S. produced its last antipersonnel landmine in 1997. It had been the stated objective of the U.S. government to eventually join the 145 countries signatory to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the use, production, exporting, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines.
The Bush administration, however, made an about-face in U.S. antipersonnel landmine policy in February 2004, when it abandoned any plan to join the Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention. “The United States will not join the Ottawa Convention because its terms would have required us to give up a needed military capability,” the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military announced, summing up the administration’s new policy, “The United States will continue to develop non-persistent anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines.”
HRW reports that “New U.S. landmines will have a variety of ways of being initiated, both command-detonation (that is, when a soldier decides when to explode the mine, sometimes called ‘man-in-the-loop’) and traditional victim-activation. A mine that is designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity, or contact of a person (i.e., victim-activation) is prohibited under the International Mine Ban Treaty.”
To sidestep international opposition, the Pentagon proposes the development of the “Spider” system, which consists of a control unit capable of monitoring up to eighty-four hand-placed, unattended munitions that deploy a web of tripwires across an area. Once a wire is touched, a man-in-the-loop control system allows the operator to activate the devices.
The Spider, however, contains a “battlefield override” feature that allows for circumvention of the man-in-the-loop, and activation by the target (victim).
A Pentagon report to Congress stated, “Target Activation is a software feature that allows the man-in-the-loop to change the capability of a munition from requiring action by an operator prior to being detonated, to a munition that will be detonated by a target. The Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Service Chiefs using best military judgment, feel that the man-in-the-loop system without this feature would be insufficient to meet tactical operational conditions and electronic countermeasures.”
The U.S. Army spent $135 million between fiscal years 1999 and 2004 to develop Spider and another $11 million has been requested to complete research and development. A total of $390 million is budgeted to produce 1,620 Spider systems and 186,300 munitions. According to budget documents released in February 2005, the Pentagon requested $688 million for research and $1.08 billion for the production of new landmine systems between fiscal years 2006 and 2011.
Steven Goose, Director of HRW Arms Division, told Project Censored that Congress has required a report from the Pentagon on the humanitarian consequences of the “battlefield override” or victim-activated feature of these munitions for review before approving funds. Though production was set for December of 2005, Congress has not, as of June 2006, received this preliminary Pentagon report.
If the Spider or similar mine munitions systems move forward, a frightening precedence will be set. At best the 145 signatories to the Ottawa Convention will be obligated to the treaty, which forbids assistance in joint military operations where landmines are being used. At worst, U.S. production will legitimize the international resumption of landmine proliferation.
Steven Goose warns, “If one doesn’t insist on a comprehensive ban on all types and uses of antipersonnel mines, each nation will be able to claim unique requirements and justifications.”
UPDATE BY ISAAC BAKER
Landmines are horrific weapons. And, naturally, news stories about the terror they inflict upon human beings—mainly civilians—are gritty and disturbing if they are truthful. Especially when it’s your own government that’s responsible.
And given the mainstream media’s typical service to power, this story didn’t make many headlines.
But the potential ramifications of the U.S. government resuming production of landmines are overwhelming. And since the average American can’t depend on the media to inform them of the horrific things their government is doing, concerned people must take it upon themselves to put their government in its place.
We all must ask ourselves: Do we want our government—the body that theoretically represents us, the people—to spend millions upon millions of dollars on these destructive weapons? Are we comfortable with sitting back and letting our government produce weapons that kill and maim civilians?
Or will we coalesce and let the powerful know that we will not stand for this gross disregard for human life and international opinion?
It’s our responsibility to stop the abuses of power in our country. And if we do not confront our government on this issue, I believe, the blood of the innocents will be on all of our hands.
Isaac Baker, “After 10-Year Hiatus, Pentagon Eyes New Landmine,” Global Policy Forum (Inter Press Service), August 3, 2005
Human Rights Watch website, August 2005
“Development and Production of Landmines,” Human Rights Watch, August 2005.
Student Researchers: Rachel Barry and Matt Frick
Faculty Evaluator: Scott Suneson