Weapons Law Encyclopedia

Anti-personnel landmines

The exact origin of the anti-personnel mine is the subject of debate. A 1998 publication, The History of Landmines, argues that modern landmines ‘trace their lineage from non-explosive predecessors such as the spikes and stakes that were employed by ancient armies.’Mike Croll, The History of Landmines (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1998), p. ix; see also pp. 1–8. In the Middle Ages, the so-called ‘mine’ was a common feature of medieval siege warfare.... The besieger removed as much earth as he could carry away from beneath some exposed corner of the fortifications, and shored up the hole with beams. He then filled the space between the beams with straw and brushwood, and set fire to it. When the supports were consumed, the wall crumbled downwards into the hole, and a breach was produced.... Over time, gunpowder and explosives took the place of fire, but the essentially medieval technique was retained, and was used as recently as the First World War.Paul Cornish, Anti-Personnel Mines, Controlling the Plague of ‘Butterflies’ (London: Royal Institute for International Affairs, 1994), 18, citing C. Oman, The Art of War in the Middle Ages, Volume One: 378–1278AD (London: Greenhill, 1991), 133.

The first-known explosive mine can be dated back to at least the eighteenth century, when a German military historian referred to the use of a fladdermine (literally, a flying mine). This consisted of a ceramic container with glass and metal fragments embedded in the clay containing two pounds of gunpowder, buried at a shallow depth in the glacis of a fortress and activated by the pressure of a footstep or disturbance of a low-strung wire.F. von Flemming, The Perfect German Soldier, 1726, cited by Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 10; see U. Kreuzfeld, in T. N. Dupuy (ed.), The International Military and Defence Encyclopaedia (London: Brassey’s, 1993), pp. 1757–8. Yet in April 2001, archaeologists in northern China reported the discovery of more than 20 ancient ‘landmines’ dating back more than 600 years.‘600-Year-Old Mines Unearthed in Inner Mongolia’, Xinhua Press Agency (Hohhot, Mongolia, 11 April 2001).

It is claimed that a Russian engineer designed an anti-personnel fragmentation mine in 1855.Association of Military-Political and Military-Historic Research, ‘The Position of Russia as Regards the Problem of Use of Anti-Personnel Mines Considering the Conferences in Brussels and Oslo’ (Moscow, 1997), It is further asserted that ‘Russian troops used shrapnel mines ... very similar to their modern successors’ when defending Port Arthur in 1905 (ibid.). But modern explosive landmines, or ‘torpedoes’ as they were initially termed, are more often said to be the invention of the American Civil War.See generally M. F. Perry, Infernal Machines: The Story of Confederate Submarine and Mine Warfare (Baton Rouge, La.: Louisiana State University Press, 1985). In the spring of 1862, when commanding a garrison of 2,500 men at Yorktown, Virginia, Gabriel Rains, a Brigadier-General in the Confederate Army, ordered his troops to prepare artillery shells so that they could be exploded by pulling tripwires or by being stepped on. The first casualties of these early anti-personnel mines were reported on 4 May 1862; even some of the Confederate troops deemed the devices ‘barbaric’ and Rains’s commanding officer forbade their further use, declaring them neither a ‘proper nor effective method of war’.Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 16. Yet, despite concerns on both sides, use of the weapons continued and in 1864 at Fort McAllister, near Savannah, mines killed 12 men and wounded 80 others during the Union assault. It was following this battle that the commander of the Union Army, General William T. Sherman uttered his now famous dictum that the use of mines ‘was not war, but murder’.Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 18.

Anti-personnel mines were not widely deployed on the battlefields of Europe during the 1914–18 war. Tripwire-activated mines were reportedly laced within wire entanglements early in the war but they were often as dangerous to the side that had laid them as they were to the enemy and this use was quickly phased out.School of Military Engineering, The Work of the Royal Engineers in the European War 1914–19 (Chatham: SME, 1924), p. 257. However, a number of anti-personnel mines and booby-traps were laid in abandoned positions in anticipation of an enemy advance. These weapons were adapted from artillery shells, with specially designed fuses screwed into the bottom of the shell.Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 26; see also pp. 27–8.

In contrast, in the 1939–45 War both anti-personnel and anti-vehicle (then referred to more commonly as anti-tank) mines were both used on a huge scale.According to McGrath, the first widespread use of anti-personnel mines on their own (distinct from anti-tank mines) was probably in the war between Finland and Russia. R. McGrath, Landmine and Unexploded Ordnance: A Resource Book (London: Pluto Press, 2000), p. 4. Landmines were a key factor during the battles at El Alamein and Kursk, among others.According to Croll, by the end of the war, the Germans had manufactured 16 different types of anti-tank mine, 10 different types of anti-personnel mine, and used many different types of improvised devices and captured mines. This included the development and incorporation of anti-handling devices, and the first use of an aerially delivered scatterable anti-personnel mine. Towards the end of the war, the Germans experimented with magnetic-influence, vibration-sensitive, radio-controlled and frequency-induction fuses. Chinese records of their Japanese occupation place great stress on the role played by ‘mines’ in their resistance against the Japanese. It is claimed that one German anti-personnel mine, the Schrapnellmine 35 or S mine as it was later called, ‘was probably the most feared device encountered by Allied troops in the war’.Lt.-Col. C. E. E. Sloan, Mine Warfare on Land (London: Brassey’s, 1986), p. 36. Following the end of the war, demobilized soldiers introduced the term ‘minefield’ into everyday parlance, meaning a situation beset with problems.Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 53.

Anti-personnel mines were used widely in the wars in Korea and Vietnam, with landmines accounting for slightly less than 5% of US troop casualties in Korea.Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 97. As a result of experiences during the Korean War, in particular following human-wave attacks against United Nations positions, the United States of America (USA) developed the M18 Claymore directional fragmentation mine. When detonated, either by tripwire or by electric command wire, hundreds of steel ball bearings are expelled in a 60-degree arc; the lethal radius is around 50 metres. The Vietnam War saw the first widespread use of remotely delivered or ‘scatterable’ mines by US forces seeking to stop the flow of men and material from North to South Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia.Aerially delivered anti-personnel mines had a number of obvious advantages over their manually emplaced counterparts: they could be deployed rapidly, required little logistic support, and could be laid deep within enemy-held territory, causing disruption in troop movements and supply lines, all with minimal risk to the aircrews. But at the same time, they represented a substantial danger to advances by friendly forces unless equipped with an effective self-destructing or self-neutralizing mechanism. It is reported that between 1966 and 1968, the US Department of Defense procured more than 114 million anti-personnel mines for use in the Vietnam war. Cornish, Anti-Personnel Mines, p. 7. Based on its experiences in Vietnam, the USA committed considerable resources to the development of anti-personnel mines that would self-destruct within a pre-set time (usually 4–48 hours).Following the difficulties encountered in clearing mines left over from the battles in North Africa in the 1939–45 war, a British report entitled ‘Engineer Lessons from the North African Campaign’ recommended the design of a new form of mine capable of ‘self-destroying after a certain period to avoid the need for lifting’. Croll, The History of Landmines, p. 65. It also developed landmines that could serve as chemical weapons, each mine containing a quantity of VX nerve gas.On 30 November 2000, the Department of Defense reported the successful destruction on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific of more than 13,000 landmines filled with VX gas. ‘Chemical Weapons Destruction Complete on Johnston Atoll’, Press Release No. 715-00, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) (Washington, 30 November 2000).

Yet, while mine technology advanced rapidly, the typical use of landmines involved the manual emplacement of ‘long-duration’That is, mines not equipped with self-destruct or self-neutralization devices or a self-deactivation feature. Such mines are sometimes referred to as ‘dumb’ or ‘persistent’ mines. A self-destruct mechanism is, as the name suggests, an automatically functioning timing device incorporated into the mine that causes it to explode after a pre-set period of time; self-neutralization, on the other hand, uses an automatically functioning timing device to render the mine inert. Self-deactivation is not a device, but rather a process by which an essential component of the mine, usually the battery, exhausts itself in a predictable time. anti-personnel mines in internal armed conflicts by both government armed forces and armed opposition groups.The increasingly widespread use of anti-personnel mines was not, though, limited to armed forces and groups, given that by the 1990s, civilians in many countries were laying mines for their own purposes. In Angola, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nicaragua, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, and many other war-torn nations, anti-personnel mines were widely used as part of military strategy or simply to terrorize civilians or control their movements. Proliferation was fuelled by low cost and ready availability, with average prices ranging from US$3–15 per mine.See, e.g., UN Department for Humanitarian Affairs, ‘Fact Sheet on Manufacturing and Trade’ (New York: UN, 1996). Hi-tech mines are, however, considerably more expensive. And as the Soviet Union collapsed, bitter conflicts in the Caucasus and the former Yugoslavia, which included some of the world’s leading landmine producers, saw widespread and often indiscriminate use of anti-personnel mines.

Since the adoption of the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, anti-personnel mine use has generally declined significantly. Use does, though, continue. In November 2013, Landmine Monitor reported that anti-personnel landmines had been laid in large numbers, apparently by government forces, in Yemen at two locations in 2011 in violation of Yemen's treaty obligations under the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. Additionally, 'lingering and new allegations' of use in three other states parties--South Sudan, Sudan, and Turkey--'warrant further investigation.' Government forces in non-party states Syria and Myanmar were also reported to have used anti-personnel mines in 2012 and 2013.Landmine Monitor, Landmine Monitor Report 2013, Geneva, November 2013, p. 1.

Among non-state armed groups, Landmine Monitor reported that:

Forces in the internationally unrecognized breakaway area of Nagorno-Karabakh emplaced new antipersonnel mines in 2013. Non-state armed groups used antipersonnel mines or victim-activated improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan, Colombia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Syria, Thailand, Tunisia, and Yemen. ... With the addition of Syria and Tunisia, the number of countries where non-state armed groups have used mines has reached its highest level in five years.Landmine Monitor Report 2013, p. 1.

Last updated on: 15 August 2017

Applicable international, regional & national law

1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention

The 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention prohibits the use, development, production, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel mines and requires the destruction of stockpiles within four years for each state party.

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1996 Amended Protocol on Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices

Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) was adopted to further restrict, in particular, the use of anti-personnel mines.

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1980 Protocol on Mines, Booby-Traps and Other Devices

The 1980 Landmines Protocol (Protocol II) restricted the use of anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines on the basis of customary international humanitarian law rules. It has largely been superceded by the Amended Protocol II adopted in 1996.

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