Infantry: Why Landmines Refuse To Go


March 28, 2020: In January 2020 the United States lifted restrictions on the deployment of anti-personnel landmines by American forces. This ban had been imposed in 2014 for American troops everywhere except those in South Korea. That decision was criticized worldwide because most nations had signed and ratified the 1997 Ottawa Convention banning the manufacture or use of landmines.

The new American rules allow U.S. troops to use landmines that are activated or deactivated electronically and permanently deactivate after a set period or when their battery runs out of power. The Americans believe the mines are essential in Korea because North Korea has been threatening to attack again because the 1953 armistice halted but did not officially end the Korean War (1950-53). The North Koreas regularly remind the U.S. and South Korea of that fact.

The U.S. also believes the Ottawa Convention is largely a failure because landmines are still widely used. While 161 nations signed the Ottawa treaty, the 36 which did not comprise some major military powers like China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel (and the Palestinians), both Koreas, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Most of these nations still see a pressing need for landmines, although many are trying to find replacement weapons.

Landmines were outlawed in 1999 but most of the nations that rushed to sign the Ottawa Convention either didn’t have landmines or didn’t have any reason to use them. While landmine casualties have declined from about 20,000 a year when the Cold War ended (1991) to about 5,000 now, that was largely due to the collapse of many communist governments, which were always the biggest landmine users, mainly to keep people from entering or leaving their territory. The fall of communism led to more open borders and a lot of mines were taken out of service. Thus the treaty backers like to take credit for 87 countries destroying 46 million landmines. The reality was that most of those mines would have been destroyed anyway because the collapse of so many communist governments made most of those mines unnecessary and for retirement and destruction.

Despite the anti-landmine efforts, some countries still manufacture and use them. In the last few years Israel, Libya, Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Myanmar (Burma) planted new mines. Although some nations that still use landmines, like Israel, have taken the lead in developing new technology and techniques for quickly clearing landmines, especially old ones whose location was never recorded.

In addition, there are three countries still manufacturing landmines (India, Myanmar, and Pakistan). Arms dealers still provide large quantities of Russian and Chinese landmines, many of them Cold War surplus. China, Russia, and other communist nations were the major producers of landmines during the Cold War. The mines were produced not so much for use against potential enemies but to aid in keeping the borders closed and preventing citizens from leaving these unpleasant dictatorships.

There has been a growing list of outlaw organizations that are ignoring the 1999 ban. The Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan are manufacturing landmines in primitive workshops and using them against Pakistani, Afghan, and foreign soldiers, as well as Afghan civilians who refuse to support Islamic terrorism. Rebels and gangsters have not signed the international agreement and find the mines a cheap way to control civilian populations and slow down the movements of the security forces. It takes more time, money, and effort to remove these mines than to place them.

Despite the 1999 treaty, landmines are still causing over 5,000 casualties a year worldwide. About 20 percent of the victims are killed and 90 percent of them are males. This is largely because men are more likely to be out in the bush or working farmlands that still contain mines. A third of the casualties are security personnel (police and soldiers). This is because in many countries rebels and criminals are still using landmines, either factory made ones from countries that did not sign the Ottawa Convention or locally made models.

Landmines are simple to make and workshops are easily set up to do it. There’s no shortage of mines out there, despite the fact that so many have been destroyed in the name of the 1999 Ottawa Convention. There are believed to be over 100 million mines still in the ground and at least as many in military warehouses for future use.

The 1999 Ottawa Convention was supposed to have eliminated the threat of landmines. It hasn’t worked because the owners of the largest landmine stockpiles, especially Russia and China, refused to sign. Chinese landmines are still available on the international arms black market. China is believed to have the largest stockpile, mostly of anti-personnel mines. The old ones are often sold before they become worthless. But even these mines, which go for $5-10 each, are too expensive for many of the criminal organizations that buy them. Land mines, competitive with the factory built ones from China, can be built for less than $3 each. You can find all the technical data you need on the Internet.



  1. Landmines and other similar munitions aren’t going anywhere, and the only idiots that ever thought they could do something about them were dangerously naive.

    I don’t like them any more than any other soldier does, but as we see in both of our recent conflict zones, the nature of things creates the incentive for them to be used, and used extensively. The enemy is going to use them because it offers a low-risk technique to get at our troops, who they stand no chance going up against in a stand-up “fair” fight. So, the landmine/IED/booby trap.

    And, if they’re going to keep using them, why should we stop? The historical record is replete with cases where one side has forgone using a weapon for one reason or another, generally out of some misguided delusional morality, and what that record shows is, that’s usually the losing side. The only way you get someone to avoid using an effective weapon is by having an even more effective one ready and deployed for use. The record of war gasses in WWII is instructive, on this count–Hitler supposedly loathed chemical warfare because he’d been a victim of it in WWI, but the reality is that the thing that kept the Germans from using them was the mistaken idea that they had about how far along the UK and the US were, when it came to the new nerve agents. Being as the Germans had built off existing pesticide technology, much of which was patented in the UK and the US both, it was a safe bet (they thought…) that they would get to use their new toys once, and then the Allies would slime Germany in turn. Thus, no actual use of the new German war gasses, or any others.

    No, you want to put a stop to land mines, banning them isn’t going to work. The only way to really do it is to create a situation such that the enemy sees their use as triggering your use of them, and avoids that out of fear you’ll deploy your toys against your opponents.

    Land mines and IED attacks are going to stop only about the time that the people using them fear the repercussions more than they desire the benefit. We are a few years away from the technology to do that, but I would be putting money into development right now, and coming up with a solution. The one I like is that you hire someone like the guys who build the Roomba, and tell them you want an autonomous “mine” that can be seeded alongside routes of communication, and which is designed to influence the behavior of the people laying IEDs and such-like. And, when I say “influence”, what I really mean is “kill as horribly and graphically as possible, preferably when they walk in the door to their little stick huts”. You want them to stop putting IEDs in place, you kill them in front of the wife and kiddies, and maybe kill the wife and kids as well. Salutary lessons, all around. Then, they stop.

    Personally, I like the idea of a mine that gets up and follows you home. Maybe one that tracks you by the explosive residue left on your body after you handle the IED fixings, and trails you back to the cache.

    Sh*t’s all sciency-fictional now, but it won’t be inside a few years. And, frankly, that’s about the only way you’re ever going to stop the use of land mines and IEDs, fairy-tale princesses and fantasists notwithstanding–It has to be so painful that rather than use the damn things, all the people on the other side will be motivated to cut the throat of the idiot suggesting they be used. Moral dissuasion does not work, period. It has to be backed up with sheer f**king horror.

  2. In Afghanistan, in addition to the various de-mining NGOs and .mil agencies, there is a whole cottage industry that digs up land mines and sells them for the explosives and scrap metal.

    • Which is simultaneously a marker for how much ordnance the Soviets expended in that God-forsaken country and a sad commentary on just how futile the effort was.

      Afghanistan is a problem whose center of gravity is actually located in Pakistan, scattered among the numerous offices of the ISI. Were we to bomb those instead of near-Stone Age Afghanis, I suspect much of the problem would evaporate with the settling dust that resulted. And, even if it didn’t, I don’t see how it could hurt. Pakistan is a nasty country run by nasty people, and I can’t think of a single redeeming feature that any of them possess. Their Islamic irredentism for the days when the Moguls ran the sub-continent will eventually result in their portion of it all being reduced to radioactive dust, because I don’t see the Indians putting up with their BS much past the point that the US and China quit sponsoring them. Which will happen when we withdraw, and the Chinese decide they want to “develop” all those lovely mineral deposits in Afghanistan. End state won’t look much better than what the Uyghurs are enjoying, and will likely look even worse.

      The really humorous thing about it all is that the whole thing is entirely self-inflicted. The Han Chinese are going to sidle up to the Islamic world, and put a knife so deep into their backs that they’ll never know what hit them. Iran is already feeling the tip of the blade going in.

      Ah, well… Not my problem. The incompetent twits we have running our State Department and our “Defense” Department will keep falling for the premise offered up by the Pakis, and won’t ever figure out how badly they’ve been had. Morons, the lot of them–They still haven’t figured out the con, despite finding bin Laden in a compound right in the middle of the Pakistani equivalent of West Point.

      • Hey, now, bin Laden’s compound was *at least* a stone’s throw from Pakistan’s West Point.

        And as for China dominating the region: I’ll give it a maybe. Islam in the region has survived the British, the Russians and the Americans. The Chinese are certainly poised to be brutal, but they will have to go a ways to out-brutalize the Russians. And there are lots of places to run and hide from eastern Anatolia to Xinjiang, and lots and lots of burned-out tanks in between.


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