Anti-personnel mines vary in design but have one aim: to maim and wound rather than kill. They are armed with shrapnel, or ball-bearings, and some leap out of the ground before exploding to maximize casualties. The object can be to demoralize the enemy and involve four extra soldiers in carrying off a wounded comrade, so taking five of the enemy out of battle rather than one. In fact it is more likely the civilians who suffer. In North Africa people are still being killed by land mines made in the second World War.
Since World War II most of the conflicts in the world have been internal conflicts. The weapon of choice in those wars has all too often been landmines – to such a degree that what we find today are tens of millions of landmines contaminating approximately 70 countries around the world. The overwhelming majority of those countries are found in the developing world, primarily in those countries that do not have the resources to clean up the mess, to care for the tens of thousands of landmine victims.
Over 48 countries make and sell 340 different models of anti-personnel mines (totalling more than 500,000 units a year), with China, Italy, Russia and Brazil the leading exporters, but guerrilla and insurgent forces that do not sign international conventions can also produce their own. France has ended the sale of mines. Belgium has forbidden transfer in and out of the country. The USA, with 46 other nations, has proposed a global moratorium (although itself so far only provided a one-year moratorium on production and use).
The US State Department estimates that there are between 85 and 90 million anti-personnel mines hidden in the ground, left over from recent wars. The UN believes there are even more, possibly 200 million. Another 100 million are stockpiled ready for laying in new wars yet to begin. Worst affected from uncleared minefields are the poor and pastoral societies in greatest need of the land to rebuild their countries from the devastation of wars. In many countries, to start ploughing or re-stocking land is to risk being maimed.
The Land Mine Protocol has been in force since 1983 but is regarded by many as a dismal failure. To date only 36 States have ratified the Protocol and its related Convention on Weapons with Excessively Injurious or Indiscriminate Effects. These agreements bar the use of land mines against civilians, forbid distribution of "remotely delivered" mines planted by planes unless records are kept on where they are sown, and requires record-keeping of all mine placement, and urges parties to make a commitment to destroy them once the conflict ends.
A second international convention – the (Ottawa) Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production, and Transfer of Anti-personnel Mines and on their Destruction, obliges nations to begin destroy stockpiles, prohibit production and trade, and improve services for victims. It became effective on 1 March 1999 and shortly afterwards had been ratified by 68 countries. Pope John Paul II called on all nations to sign the treaty.
The Vienna negotiations on control of land mines in 1995 was debating the issue of personnel mines that self-destruct after a certain time limit after planting, or neutralize their charge by switching off -- so-called "smart mines". These would be far more expensive than £1.50 or so that the existing cheapest mines cost.
In 1995, 20 nations joined the USA in declaring a temporary moratorium on exports of anti-personnel mines. The USA seeks the moratorium to provide time in order to negotiate a permanent ban on production, stockpiling and export of certain classes of anti-personnel mines. The USA does not seek a ban on mines that deactivate after a brief time.
The US never signed the 1999 accord on anti-personnel landmines, wishing to support South Korea’s use of such mines in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) with North Korea. Nevertheless, the US follows the accord outside of the DMZ.
The laws of war must be changed to restrict the ways in which landmines can be used and to extend the restrictions to cover civil war as well as international conflict. This would reduce the risks to civilians considerably.
Anti-personnel mines are a poor man's weapon against which the best equipped soldier has few defences.