International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)
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History of Landmines

Until the Nineties, antipersonnel landmines had been used by almost all armed forces of the world, in one form or another. Thanks to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, landmine use has dramatically dropped. But the weapon still poses a significant and lasting threat.

How it started

Antipersonnel mines were first used on a wide scale in World War II. Since then they have been used in many conflicts, including in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, the first Gulf War. Precursors of the weapon are said to have first been used in the American Civil War in the 1800s.

Today, the weapon is still being used in a handful of conflicts.

Antipersonnel mines were initially developed to protect antitank mines and stop them being removed by enemy soldiers. They were used defensively, to protect strategic areas such as borders, camps or important bridges and to restrict the movement of another force.

A key characteristic of the weapon is that it's designed to maim rather than kill an enemy soldier. The logic goes that more resources are taken up caring for an injured soldier on the battlefield than dealing with a dead soldier.

After a while, antipersonnel landmines began to be deployed on a wider scale, often in internal conflicts and started being aimed at civilians. They were used to terrorise communities, deny access to farming land and restrict population movement.

The practice of marking and mapping minefields was no longer

A young Afghan girl passes red painted stones, a warning that the field near Kabul's University is mined. 1997. Credit: Robert Semeniuk.

followed strictly. As a result, civilians, peacekeepers, aid workers and soldiers alike had no way of knowing if they entered a minefield. Rain and other weather often shifted minefields. So without clear records, and with the impacts of weather and time, clearing up the mess after a conflict became even harder.

Military intelligence

Also, it became obvious that antipersonnel mines often harmed the very people they were there to protect: the soldiers. In addition to mounting soldier casualties, there was growing opposition to mine use within military ranks. The soldiers argued that the limited and questionable military utility of the weapon is outweighed by its humanitarian costs.

Developments

Technological developments saw the production of systems for delivering mines from the air. These were then used in much larger numbers and mapping and marking became almost impossible.

Also, so-called "smart" mines were developed. These self-destructing and self-deactivating mines are meant to destroy or deactivate themselves after a designated period of time. However, like "dumb" or long-lived mines, this so-called "smart" variety are indiscriminate and inhumane weapons when armed. Also, some may fail to self-destruct or self-deactivate and so may remain live indefinitely. They tend to be dropped by air, often in larger numbers than ground delivered mines, and are not fenced, marked or monitored thus posing the same long-term risk to life and limbs as long-lived mines.

Production

In the past, more than 50 countries have produced antipersonnel mines, both for their own stocks and to supply others.

Thirty-nine nations have now stopped production, and global trade has almost halted completely. None of the 156 States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty produces landmines anymore. Unfortunately, 12 states not party to the treaty continue to produce (or have not foresworn the production of) antipersonnel mines: China, Cuba, India, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Of those, as few as three were actively manufacturing antipersonnel mines in 2009: India, Myanmar and Pakistan.

At the same time some non-state armed groups or rebel groups in various countries produce antipersonnel mines, mostly of the improvised variety.

For the latest updates see Landmine Monitor.