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United States

Last Updated: 18 October 2010

Mine Ban Policy

Mine ban policy overview

Mine Ban Treaty status

Not a State Party

Pro-mine ban UNGA voting record

Abstained on Resolution 64/56 in December 2009, as in all previous years

Participation in Mine Ban Treaty meetings

Attended as an observer the Second Review Conference in November–December 2009; did not attend the intersessional Standing Committee meetings in June 2010

Key developments

Landmine policy review underway; first formal participation in a Mine Ban Treaty meeting; two-thirds of Senate supported a ban


The United States of America has not acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty, despite being the first nation to call for the “eventual elimination” of antipersonnel mines in September 1994. The US participated in the Ottawa Process that led to the creation of the treaty, but did not sign in 1997. The Clinton administration set the goal of joining in 2006. However, in 2004 the Bush administration announced a new policy that rejected the treaty and the goal of the US ever joining.[1] 

The Bush policy requires an end to the use of antipersonnel mines that do not self-destruct and self-deactivate (sometimes called “persistent” or “dumb” mines) globally, including in Korea, after 2010. But it permits the use of self-destructing, self-deactivating antipersonnel mines anywhere in the world for the indefinite future.

The administration of President Barack Obama is engaged in a comprehensive review of US landmine policy.[2] In March 2010, the National Security Advisor, General James L. Jones, provided an update on the review to Senator Patrick J. Leahy, a long-time champion of the landmine ban. General Jones stated, “The Administration is firmly committed to the humanitarian goals of the Treaty, and we continue to make progress toward that end.… I want to assure you that United States policy with regard to landmines is a serious, complex issue that has commanded this Administration’s full attention.” He said the review was “not simply to reassess the current utility of our non-persistent mine systems for certain mission requirements, but to specifically examine the costs and benefits that would be involved in a decision to accede to the Ottawa Treaty.”[3]

The review got off to a fitful start. In what was later termed a mistake, on 24 November 2009, a US Department of State spokesperson responded to a question by stating that the Obama administration had completed a review of national landmine policy and concluded the existing Bush-era policy would remain in effect and the US would not join the Mine Ban Treaty.[4] It had not been publicly acknowledged at the time that a policy review was even underway.

The announcement sparked an immediate public outcry and generated widespread media coverage.[5] Senator Leahy described the review as “cursory and half-hearted” and the decision not to join as “a default of US leadership and a detour from the clear path of history.”[6]

The following day, the announcement was reversed with a declaration that the landmine policy review was still ongoing.[7] According to a statement provided to the media by the US Department of State spokesperson, “The administration is committed to a comprehensive review of its landmines policy. That review is still ongoing [and is] going to take some time” to complete.[8] 

Officials later said that discussions up to that point had focused on whether the US should attend the Second Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty which took place in Cartagena, Colombia from 29 November–4 December 2010. One US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration had conducted only an interim review in advance of the Second Review Conference, and decided the old policy should remain in force so long as the “broader review” continued.[9]  

Though somewhat overshadowed by the controversy, the US had in fact decided to participate formally in the Second Review Conference.[10] This marked the first time the US formally attended an annual Meeting of States Parties or a Review Conference of the ten-year-old treaty.[11] 

A ten-person US delegation participated, engaging not only in the official sessions, but also in side events and meetings with landmine survivors and other campaigners. During a session on universalization of the treaty, the head of the US delegation delivered a statement:

The Administration’s decision to attend this Review Conference is the result of an on-going comprehensive review of US landmine policy initiated at the direction of President Obama. This is the first comprehensive review since 2003. As such, it will take some time to complete, given that we must ensure that all factors are considered, including possible alternatives to meet our national defense needs and security commitments to our friends and allies to ensure protection of US troops and the civilians they protect around the world. The Administration applauds the significant accomplishments to date by the Convention in addressing the harmful effects of indiscriminate landmines and is committed to a continued US leadership role in humanitarian mine action.[12]

On 2 December 2009, the US abstained from voting on UN General Assembly Resolution 64/56 calling for universalization and full implementation of the Mine Ban Treaty, as it had in previous years. It was one of only 18 nations to abstain.

In a letter sent to President Obama on 18 May 2010, 68 Senators expressed strong support for a ban on antipersonnel mines noting, “We are confident that through a thorough, deliberative review the administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Convention and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible.”[13] An identical letter was sent to President Obama on 18 May 2010 by members of the House of Representatives.[14]

The Senate letter with 68 signatories is particularly significant because in order for the US to join an international treaty, two-thirds of the 100-member Senate must “provide their advice and consent.”

The letters addressed two issues that have often been cited as reasons the US cannot join the treaty.[15] One is whether landmines would have to be removed from the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). The letters note that the antipersonnel mines there are the responsibility of South Korea, not the US, and therefore would not have to be cleared. The US would be able to maintain its military relationship with, and troop deployment in, South Korea, though it would not be able to assist South Korea with the use, production, stockpiling, or transfer of antipersonnel mines. 

The other issue is whether mines would have to be replaced with some other weapon. The letters note that “our NATO allies have addressed their force protection needs in accordance with their obligations under the Convention.” US military allies that joined the Mine Ban Treaty did not find it necessary to develop new weapons as alternatives to mines, but instead made changes in doctrine and tactics.

On 1 March 2010, the 11th anniversary of the entry into force of the Mine Ban Treaty, the ICBL launched an outreach campaign to encourage US accession to the treaty.[16] Campaigners requested visits with over 60 US embassies worldwide, resulting in 37 meetings between US officials and ICBL representatives.[17] 

On 22 March 2010, the leaders of 65 US NGOs wrote a letter to President Obama urging that the policy review conclude with a decision to join the Mine Ban Treaty and urging the President to submit the treaty to the Senate for consent before the end of 2010.[18] Less than two months after its international launch on 20 May 2010, an online petition to President Obama urging US accession to the Mine Ban Treaty had secured 183,000 signatures.[19]

From April to June 2010, the Department of State coordinated a series of at least ten interagency meetings with representatives of civil society in the US and internationally (including with landmine survivors and demining NGOs), the ICRC, UN agencies, and other international organizations, as well as former Clinton and Bush administration officials responsible for landmine policy.

The review has also included outreach to US political and military allies, including States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, with requests for input into the policy review. In May 2010, Jordan’s Prince Mired Raad Zeid Al-Hussein, serving in his capacity as “Special Envoy on the Universalization” of the Mine Ban Treaty, met with numerous officials in Washington, DC, to encourage accession. In June, he reported back to States Parties on the mission and urged them to contact the US at the highest level to urge it to join.[20]

The US is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) and its Amended Protocol II on landmines. It submitted an annual national report on 11 November 2009, as required under Article 13. The US ratified CCW Protocol V on explosive remnants of war on 21 January 2009, but has yet to submit its initial national annual report as required by Article 10, which was due on 17 January 2010.

Use, transfer, production, and stockpiling

The last known use of antipersonnel mines by the US was in the first Gulf War in 1991.[21] 

There have been reports in 2009 and 2010 of US forces in Afghanistan using Claymore directional fragmentation mines.[22] However, these munitions are not prohibited under the Mine Ban Treaty if used in command-detonated mode. [23]

On 26 December 2007, the comprehensive US moratorium on the export of antipersonnel mines was extended for six years until 2014.[24] US law has prohibited all antipersonnel mine exports since 23 October 1992, through a series of multi-year extensions of the moratorium.

The US has not produced antipersonnel mines since 1997. It is one of just twelve countries left in the world that either actively produces the weapon or reserves the right to do so.[25] However, the US currently has no plans to produce antipersonnel mines in the future. There are no victim-activated munitions being funded in the procurement or the research and development budgets of the US Armed Services or Department of Defense. 

Two programs that once had the potential for victim-activated features (thereby making them antipersonnel mines as defined by the Mine Ban Treaty), but that are now solely “man-in-the-loop” (command-detonated, and therefore permissible under the treaty) are being funded: XM-7 Spider Networked Munition and IMS Scorpion.[26]

In light of the termination in 2008 of the War Reserve Stocks for Allies, Korea (WRSA-K) program, and the US policy of prohibiting use of non-self-destructing antipersonnel mines in Korea after 2010, it appears that the approximately half a million mines stored in South Korea will be removed and destroyed.[27]

Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor has been reporting, based on official 2002 data, that the US has a stockpile of approximately 10.4 million antipersonnel mines.[28] However, knowledgeable sources have indicated to Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor that the current active stockpile is far smaller, and that millions of stockpiled mines have been removed from service and have been or will be destroyed.

[1] See, US Department of State, “Fact Sheet: New United States Policy on Landmines: Reducing Humanitarian Risk and Saving Lives of United States Soldiers,” Washington, DC, 27 February 2004, www.fas.org.

[2] As a Senator, Barack Obama co-sponsored legislation introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy and Sen. Arlen Specter to prohibit future procurement of victim-activated landmines.

[3] Letter from Gen. James L. Jones, US Marine Corps (Ret.), National Security Advisor, to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, 26 March 2010. He also stated they were reviewing “all mission requirements for which mines may still have a doctrinal utility. Our review seeks to determine whether each of those missions and tasks can be accomplished without the use of mines, whether through operational adaptation, the use of existing alternative systems, or the development of new technologies.”

[4] Specifically, the Department of State spokesperson said in a media briefing that “this Administration undertook a policy review and we decided that our land mine policy remains in effect.… We made our policy review and we determined that we would not be able to meet our national defense needs, nor our security commitments to our friends and allies if we sign this convention.… The policy review resulted in a recommendation to maintain the policy towards land mines, towards the convention.” Ian Kelly, Department Spokesperson, “Daily Press Briefing,” Department of State, Washington, DC, 24 November 2009, www.state.gov.

[5] See, Human Rights Watch (HRW), “US: Obama Rejection of Mine Ban Treaty ‘Reprehensible,’” 25 November 2009, ww.hrw.org; and ICBL, “ICBL Condemns US ‘Closed Door’ Renewal of Landmine Policy,” Press release, 25 November 2009, www.icbl.org.

[6] Sen. Patrick Leahy, “Leahy Hits US Refusal To Join Landmine Treaty,” Press release, 25 November 2009, leahy.senate.gov.

[7] US Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL), “U.S. Reacts to Civil Society Outcry Corrects Position and Announces Comprehensive Landmine Policy Review,” Press release, 1 December 2009, www.banminesusa.org.

[8] David Alexander, “U.S. landmines policy still under review,” Reuters (Washington, DC), 25 November 2009.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ian Kelly, “Daily Press Briefing,” Department of State, Washington, DC, 24 November 2009, www.state.gov.

[11] The last time the US had attended even an informal Mine Ban Treaty-related meeting (intersessional Standing Committee meeting) was in June 2005.

[12] Statement of the US, Second Review Conference, Cartagena, 1 December 2009.

[13] The Senate letter was organized by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D–VT) and Sen. George Voinovich (R–OH). Letter to President Barack Obama from 68 US Senators, 18 May 2010.

[14] The House of Representatives letter was organized by Rep. Jim McGovern (D–MA) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R–CA). Letter to President Barack Obama from 57 members of the House of Representatives, 18 May 2010.

[15] HRW, “US: Two-Thirds in Senate Back Landmine Ban,” 8 May 2010, www.hrw.org.

[16] ICBL, “Time for United States to Join the Mine Ban Treaty,” Press release, 1 March 2010, www.icbl.org. The campaign included online outreach through Twitter, Facebook, and other social networking sites. See HRW, “#banminesusa,” 1 March 2010, www.hrw.org.

[17] Zach Hudson, “US Landmine Policy Review Moving Forward,” ICBL News, July 2010, www.icbl.org.

[18] Letter to President Barack Obama from 65 NGO leaders, 22 March 2010. See also, USCBL, “Civil Society Leaders Issue Letter to President Obama Urging U.S. to Join Mine Ban Treaty,” Press release, 22 March 2010, Washington, DC, www.banminesusa.org.

[19] Avaaz, “World to Obama: Ban Landmines,” www.avaaz.org. The signatory total was 183,614 as of 27 August 2010. 

[20] Prince Mired Raad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan, “Report of the President’s High Level Envoy on the Universalization of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention,” Standing Committee on the General Status and Operation of the Convention, Geneva, 21 June 2010.

[21] The US last used mines in 1991 in Iraq and Kuwait, scattering 117,634 of them mostly from airplanes. US General Accounting Office, “GAO-02-1003: MILITARY OPERATIONS: Information on US use of Land Mines in the Persian Gulf War,” September 2002, Appendix I, pp. 8–9.

[22] See for example, C.J. Chivers, “Turning Tables, U.S. Troops Ambush Taliban with Swift and Lethal Results,” New York Times, 17 April 2009, www.nytimes.com; and “Taliban displays ‘US weapons’,” Aljazeera, 10 November 2009, english.aljazeera.net.

[23] The use of Claymore mines in command-detonated mode, usually electrical detonation, is permitted by the Mine Ban Treaty, while use in victim-activated mode, usually with a tripwire, is prohibited. For many years, US policy and doctrine has prohibited the use of Claymore mines with tripwires, except in Korea. See Landmine Monitor Report 2000, p. 346.

[24] Public Law 110-161, Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Section 634(j), 26 December 2007, p. 487.

[25] The Bush administration landmine policy announced in February 2004 states, “The United States will continue to develop non-persistent anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines.” See, US Department of State, “Fact Sheet: New United States Policy on Landmines: Reducing Humanitarian Risk and Saving Lives of United States Soldiers,” Washington, DC, 27 February 2004, www.fas.org.

[26] For background on Spider and IMS, and the decision not to include victim-activated features, see Landmine Monitor Report 2009, pp. 1,131–1,132, Landmine Monitor Report 2008, pp. 1,040–1,041, and earlier editions of Landmine Monitor.

[27] For more details, see the Country Profile for South Korea, www.the-monitor.org.

[28] For details on stockpiling, see Landmine Monitor Report 2009, pp. 1,132–1,133. In 2002, the US stockpile consisted of: Artillery Delivered Antipersonnel Mine/ADAM (8,366,076); M14 (696,800); M16 (465,330); Claymore (403,096); Gator (281,822); Volcano/M87 (134,200); Ground Emplaced Mine Scattering System/GEMSS (32,900); Pursuit Deterrent Munition/PDM (15,100); and Modular Pack Mine System/MOPMS (8,824). Information provided by the US Armed Services in spring/summer 2002, cited in US General Accounting Office, “GAO-02-1003: MILITARY OPERATIONS: Information on US use of Land Mines in the Persian Gulf War,” September 2002, Appendix I, pp. 39–43.