Antipersonnel Landmines: “A Weapon of Mass Destruction in Slow Motion”
In my previous post I outlined the movement to ban antipersonnel mines in the 1990s. After the signing of the Ottawa Treaty, countries participating destroyed stockpiles of millions of AP mines. But the treaty did not ban landmines of all types. The movement was focused primarily on this specific subset of landmines, which unlike their counterparts, specifically target individuals and are most devastating to innocent civilians. A significant percentage of landmine casualties are the result of antipersonnel landmines. In Mozambique from 1980-1993 for example, over eighty-percent of all landmine casualties were caused by antipersonnel mines. A more recent study looking at the impact of explosive remnants of war (ERWs) in 60 states/regions indicated that in 2010 alone, ERWs caused 4,191 causalities with landmines being the largest contributor (71%). Of the landmines causing injury or death, antipersonnel mines had the highest percentage (34%), with victim-activated IEDs (18%), anti-vehicular mines (10%), and mines of “an unspecified type,” (9%) making up the rest.
Several factors have contributed to the excess of AP mines across the globe. Their low cost and light-weight has made them a popular weapon among guerrillas, terrorists and insurgents. As a strategic weapon, they are and have been used for a variety of reasons including the blocking off of strategic resources, slowing down enemy advances, and inflicting injury and death to strain enemy medical supplies and damage their morale. Unfortunately, their long shelf-life and inability to distinguish between combatants and civilians has allowed them to kill and maim for decades after their initial deployment. For all these reasons, antipersonnel mines have acquired the label of “weapons of mass destruction in slow motion.”
Initially, landmines were designed to target armored vehicles but in the latter-half of the twentieth century mines became increasingly popular as weapons against people. Hence the designation between anti-vehicular or anti-tank mines and antipersonnel mines (AP mines). Anti-tank mines require a more significant force to activate, usually between 100 and 300 kg of pressure and target (as the name suggests) armoured vehicles. In contrast, antipersonnel mines will detonate under 5 to 50 kg of pressure. To put this into perspective, the average adult weighs approximately 65 to 86 kg. This makes AP mines extremely sensitive and dangerous to human beings.
Antipersonnel mines can generally be divided into two types: blast mines and fragmentation mines. The former are activated via direct contact by the victim (i.e. stepping on the mine). Fragmentation mines are detonated by a trip wire, and propel shards of metal over vast distances. Blast mines are usually distinguishable by their size and the amount of TNT contained. They are not designed or intended to immediately kill their victims, but inflict serious injury or amputation, causing stress to military and medical resources. For instance, smaller blast mines will typically result in damage or amputation to a victim’s foot or leg, according to surgeon Gino Strada, rarely do these types of blast mines cause injuries above the knee. Larger blast mines on the other hand, can damage the groin, opposite leg, buttocks, abdomen or chest. Victims of blast mines will usually require amputation, but the wounds can often be fatal if an artery is damaged. If the victim does not receive appropriate medical attention, they risk bleeding out, going into hemorrhagic shock, or succumbing to infection from grass, mud or even fragments of their clothing and flesh that become lodged into the wound. (To see examples of injuries caused by blast mines, click here, and here. Below is a video of a soldier detonating a blast mine. WARNING: both the images and the video contain graphic material depicting actual wounds inflicted by landmines).
Boutros-Gahli, Boutros. “The Landmine Crisis: A Humanitarian Disaster.” Foreign Affairs 73 (October 1994): 8-13.
Strada, Gino. “The Horror of Landmines.” Scientific American. May 1996
International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 1996. “Anti-personnel Landmines: Friend or Foe? A Study of the Military Use and Effectiveness of Anti-personnel mines.” Geneva: ICRC.
Eric Stover, James C. Cobey, and Jonathan Fine. (2000). “The public health effects of land mines: Long-term consequences for civilians.” In Barry S. Levy and Victor W. Sidel (Eds.), War and Public Health. Washington, DC. American Public Health Association.