Report of the ICRC for the review conference of the 1980 UN conventions on Prohibitions or restrictions on the use of certain conventional weapons which may be deemed to be excessively injurious or to have indiscriminate effects
30-04-1994 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 299
ANNEX II : Symposium of military experts on the military utility of anti-personnel mines
One of the recommendations of the April 1993 Symposium was the convening of a meeting of military experts in order to study the military use of anti-personnel mines and possible alternatives.
The ICRC hosted a Symposium for this purpose on 10- 12 January 1994. The topics covered were as follows:
The military utility of anti-personnel mines:
- their use across the spectrum of conflict
- their military and cost effectiveness
- their means of delivery
- the military implications of marking/recording minefields.
- what alternative systems exist
- whether they meet military requirements
- their likely cost-effectiveness
- any other implications of their use.
- self-destruct versus self-neutralizing mechanisms
- suitable delay times prior to self-destruction or self-neutralization in different scenarios
- the likely cost penalty and whether it can be offset by increased effectiveness
- detectable versus non-detectable mines.
The majority of the participants in this meeting were professional military combat engineers familiar with current tactical doctrine and trends within their own armed forces. They drafted the fol lowing report during the Symposium.
Results of the symposium
1. Military utility of anti-personnel mines
Mines are used in different types of armed conflict. Accordingly, these weapons are also used in different ways. The experts felt that there was a need to distinguish between conventional warfare, which is generally carried out in international armed conflicts where classical contemporary military doctrine prevails and where trained and disciplined soldiers are engaged, and civil war and counter-insurgency operations, where these conditions are seldom met.
Mines should be distinguished from unexploded ordnance, which was not considered by the experts as it is an entirely different entity. It is nevertheless a dangerous, uncontrollable and long-lived battlefield hazard.
(ii) Conventional situations
Landmines and anti-personnel (AP) mines in particular are to be seen as an integral part of a combined military plan. By combining the effects of artillery, direct fire weapons and electromagnetic warfare with shaping of the terrain through the use of mined obstacles, the maximum synergistic effect is achieved. A combination of AP mines, anti-tank mines and other appropriate weapons systems therefore increases cost-effectiveness over what is achievable if one weapons system is used alone. Mines thus enhance the effectiveness of other weapons systems across the spectrum of military operations and cannot be considered on their own.
Purpose of the use of mines
The military engineer supports his higher commander by altering or moulding the terrain in a manner that is synchronized with the commander's plan for conducting the operation. Mines are used in the defence to deny access to areas, to encourage the enemy to focus its movement into areas where it can be attacked effectively, and to restrict the enemy's mobility while being attacked. Mines are used in the offence to prevent the enemy from manoeuvring through an area to attack the flank of an advancing force and can be used to block an enemy retreat. Furthermore, mines can be used to hinder logistic traffic and create confusion among headquarters elements.
Military utility and cost-effectiveness of mines
Mines are very effective and efficient. Manpower employed in laying mines produces much more effect on the battlefield than manpower attempting to mould the terrain in other ways. Very little equipment is required in addition to that normally carried by soldiers. The main purpose of mines is to canalize and delay the enemy; but they have the added advantage of inflicting casualties. This inherent ability to inflict casualties also has a powerful demoralizing effect on the enemy soldier. Forces are likely to avoid areas where there is even a reasonable possibility of encountering mines.
There are two basic types of mines. Anti-personnel mines attack the enemy soldier on foot, while anti-tank mines attack mounted enemy and other vehicular platforms such as tanks. The enemy threat usually dictates what type of mine is needed. Anti-personnel mines are used to deny access to friendly positions, to help protect anti-tank minefields from being breached and to attack enemy footsoldiers accompanying mechanized forces through such anti-tank minefields.
Mines can also reinforce existing natural and man-made obstacles. This type of use compels the enemy to deploy multiple means to overcome the obstacle, thus delaying him in his planning and in his ability to overcome the obstacle.
Mines can be emplaced by hand. This is a very slow and deliberate process that offers the possibility of the most accurate recording. Soldiers laying mines by hand can emplace several per hour. The rate for vehicles laying mines by mechanical means is several hundred per hour per vehicle. Anti-tank mines can also be mechanically laid on the ground or even ploughed into the soil. Mines may also be scattered by artillery, aircraft or vehicle; these are known as scatterable or remotely delivered mines. Scatterable mines systems are technically capable of dispensing thousands of mines per hour but usually operate for very short periods of time. Scatterable mines are the most difficult to record and mark.
With the advent of scatterable mines the commander has more flexibility in employing minefields. A force can now employ mines over a greater distance in relatively short periods. It is, of course, still necessary to ensure that mine warfare is synchronized and complementary to other weapon systems on the battlefield. There is also the need to plan the logistics involved. Generally, once authorized by the overall commander, scatterable mines greatly enhance flexibility.
There are certain hazards associated with all minefields. The most immediate is the potential danger to friendly forces. Uninformed individual soldiers can wander into minefields, and routes needed for counterattack or resupply can be closed off by uncoordinated mining. This hazard can increase with the use of scatterable mines if they are not the type that self-destruct or self-neutralize.
Military doctrine requires that landmine warfare operations are highly controlled. Commanders of manoeuvre formations must give positive approval for subordinate units to lay mines. Only commanders have this authority, which is usually held at the formation or general -officer level. Small units may lay cornmand-detonated mines for immediate perimeter security. These will be recovered when the unit moves.
During operations all feasible precautions should be taken to protect civilians from the effects of mines. In particular military units should:
- report intention, initiation and completion of minefields;
- record details of minefields;
- pass records of minefields on to other units that later become responsible for the terrain;
- mark and fence minefields, with the exception of protective minefields and air/ artillery/rocket-delivered minefields.
The experts recognized that in practice precautions may be difficult to take in all circumstances, e.g. in surprise enemy contact or retrograde operations.
In summary, forces that properly integrate mine warfare with other systems to maximize weapons effects are capable of quick, decisive victory. Forces that report and record minefields properly enhance the safety of their own soldiers and of non-combatants.
(iii) Use of mines in internal and unconventional armed conflict
The experts thought that it would be useful to analyse the use of mines by insurgent forces in internal and internationalized guerrilla armed conflict. This analysis also includes the response by conventional forces engaged in counterinsurgent warfare in such situations.
Just as in conventional doctrine troops use mines to stop, delay and create psychological trauma among the opposition, insurgent forces use them to target the opposition not only to weaken its military capability, but also to weaken its economic and sociopolitical infrastructure.
Insurgents rely o n mines to a great degree for the following reasons:
- their limited financial and material resources lead them to place greater reliance on mines, which are relatively cheap and are seen as force and matériel equalizers;
- mines are effective in spreading terror in order to influence the population for political gain.
Insurgent forces have no incentive to use detectable rather than non-detectable mines, as the latter may be perceived as being more effective in further slowing down the opposition military and creating more casualties.
As the availability of funds to insurgent forces is limited, the perceived utility of mines increases and therefore more are used as a substitute for other more expensive systems.
With regard to the means of delivery of mines used by insurgent forces, their typical lack of resources means that they rely on hand emplacement or at most scattering from vehicles. It is highly improbable that they would be able to use artillery or aircraft scattering systems.
With regard to marking minefields, insurgent forces almost never do so as they consider this as risking loss of effect against the opposition military.
On the other hand, they are more likely to keep records of minefields for their own use, but as there is usually a low level of training, expertise and discipline, this is frequently not done. Further, it is questionable whether such forces have an adequate infrastructure for the recording of minefields and the passing on of this information to their own troops or possibly to the civilian population as a warning.
Conventional forces engaged in counterinsurgency
Conventional forces are able to apply conventional doctrine in deploying landmines in coun terinsurgency operations to stop, delay and create psychological trauma among the opposition forces. The casualties resulting from the use of landmines are particularly effective as opposition forces lack the medical infrastructure to care for their wounded.
Mines are also used by the conventional military to protect their own positions, as well as national assets and other installations and infrastructure such as power lines, water treatment plants, bridges and airports from interference by guerrilla fighters.
As the level of conflict grows, however, and the insurgents gain increased territorial control, the actual theatre of combat is extended and frequently encompasses the entire national territory. As this situation develops, the use of landmines by the counterinsurgent forces increases. This has the effect of placing economic and sociopolitical pressure on the insurgent forces, and the large numbers of mines also have dire effects on the local population. This situation is therefore worse for the civilian population than conventional warfare.
II. Alternative systems
In order to assess the viability of alternatives to anti-personnel mines, the experts first reviewed the utility of anti-personnel mines and identified alternative military systems. The alternative systems were then assessed against the military attributes of anti-personnel mines. The results of the assessment were incorporated into an evaluation of the general effectiveness and/or contribution of alternative systems in terms of the following:
a. fulfilment of military requirements
b. military cost-effectiveness
c. post-conflict implications.
(ii) utility of mines
Purpose of laying mines
- Delay the enemy
- Canalize the enemy
- Disrupt the enemy
- Inflict casualties
- Divert enemy resources/effort
- Protect own positions
- Reinforce terrain/obstacles.
Desired military effects of mines
- Psychological effect of maimed casualties
- Surprise the enemy
- Enhance other weapons
- Flexibility of use and application.
(iii) Assessment of alternative systems
The alternatives to anti-personnel mines identified by the experts were assessed in terms of their ability to achieve the purposes of anti-personnel mines.
The conclusions are summarized in a Table (see page 177).
The use of anti-personnel mines calls for considerable resources to procure and store systems, to transport items to the battlefield and then to deploy and arm the mines. These demands are acceptable in view of the ease of deployment and the effects of mines on the enemy.
Anti-personnel mines are very effective in creating delay and in canalizing and disrupting the efforts of the enemy. Military experience is that the use of mines in defence reduces the number of casualties to own troops. Studies and war-game modelling support these findings.
A further important impact of anti-personnel mines is the psychological effect on soldiers of seeing their comrades injured and the logistic burden involved in treating casualties. Particular advantages of anti-personnel mines are tha t they are not affected by weather, they need no maintenance or logistic support once laid, they are constantly alert and are unaffected by morale. However, the laying of anti-personnel mines must be recorded accurately and the information disseminated widely to prevent own troops taking casualties on their own mines during operations. The major disadvantage of anti-personnel mines is their existence after hostilities and their possible effects on the returning civilian population.
Some of the effects of mines may be achieved using wire obstacles, but the disadvantages to the military are the costs involved in purchasing and transporting the materials, plus the intensive manpower effort required to build the obstacle. Wire has little impact after hostilities other than a nuisance effect.
These can only partly replace mines. They are costly in terms of the time and machine effort required for construction.
The experts were unanimous in their view that if anti-personnel mines are not available to combatants, the latter will improvise and make alternative exploding devices during hostilities with the armaments and equipment available. The cost of such devices will be greater in terms of the time and manpower required to make and lay them.
Improvised devices will be difficult to neutralize and lift as they will not be of standard design. Military casualties could be higher with " field-made " devices because of the excessive amounts of explosives used (e.g., improvised 155 mm shell mines). Ale need to construct such devices in the field could. on the other hand, reduce the overall number deployed.
Flooding can be highly cost-effective, but it is not reliable or flexible. Moreover, it is very difficult to control and may place the civilian population at risk. After hostilities there could be long-term effects on agriculture, especially when sea-water is involved.
While land force fire can achieve the desired effects of anti-personnel mines, it is costly in terms of maintaining alert troops and the amount of ammunition involved. It is also limited by weather and visibility. Artillery fire can increase the incidence of unexploded ordnance on the battlefield if it is used to compensate for the lack of mines.
Air-delivered weapons are extremely flexible and have considerable range. However, their accuracy is not sufficiently good for use near to own troops and they are costly in terms of skilled manpower and maintenance. If air-delivered weapons are used to replace anti-personnel mines, the occurrence of unexploded ordnance would increase.
The experts took note of research into new devices, such as glues, foam, infrasound, etc., but had little information on such devices and saw no indication that they would achieve the military objectives of mines. The possible collateral effects of novel devices, such as toxicity and the effect of weather, plus the side- effects of countermeasures, are unknown.
Having considered alternative systems and analysed their utility and short-comings, t he following assessment was made:
Do alternative systems meet military requirements?
No alternative meets military requirements in the way that anti-personnel(AP) mines do. The improvised explosive device (IED) comes closest to replacing the AP mine. If AP mines were not available, such devices would proliferate. Although there would be fewer of them than AP mines, the casualty effect of each IED could be very great, and post-war problems of clearance would remain.
The AP mine is the most cost-effective system available to the military. The alternatives require more resources and are less effective. In particular, land force fire and air power would never be available in adequate quantities and would be extremely expensive. Their effectiveness is also subject to the weather and visibility.
AP mines create the worst post-war effects unless they have self-destructed, self-neutralized or been removed. Massive demining operations are required to render areas safe for the civilian population and for agricultural use. IED would pose a similar problem, although there should be fewer of them. As for air power and land fire, the problem of unexploded ordnance (UXO) would significantly increase, as approximately 20 to 30 percent of the munitions would not function on use. UXO would also have to be removed from the battlefield to make the area safe for civilian use. All other alternatives are safe in this respect as they have practically no post-war implications.
In summary, the military do not regard alternative systems as being viable.
III. Control measures
This subject comprises four specific issues that were treated separately by the experts:
- self-destruct versus self-neutralizing mechanisms;
- suitable delay times prior to self-destruction or self-neutralization in different scenarios;
- the likely cost penalty and whether it can be offset by increased effectiveness;
- detectable versus non-detectable mines.
The experts began by observing that mines used in an armed conflict situation cause considerable civilian casualties both during the conflict itself and for many years thereafter. It is regrettable that at times mines are intentionally employed against civilians, even though such use is illegal. The experts then defined the two categories of mines involved.
Anti-personnel mines are small, autonomous, victim-initiated explosive devices, usually designed to wound rather than kill. They may be point detonating, directional fragmentation (e.g. Claymore), or jumping fragmentation mines. They may be scattered from vehicles, artillery or aircraft, or hand-emplaced.
Anti-tank mines are larger, and normally require heavy pressure to set them off, although other means of initiation exist. Anti-tank mines can be fitted with anti-handling devices, designed to deter hand-clearance. They can also be modified and misused so that a man rather than a vehicle can initiate them . This practice was not considered further by the working group because it represented gross and uncontrollable misuse.
(ii) Self-destruct versus self-neutralizing mechanisms
Self-destruct mines (SD) contain an integral system that causes the mine to be spontaneously destroyed at the end of a predetermined period of time.
Self-neutralizing mines (SN) neutralize themselves so that they cannot be victim-initiated after a predetermined period of time.
With SD, there is nothing left after detonation. Therefore, should any mines fail to go off, they can be treated as live and dealt with accordingly. There is some danger when the mines detonate, but this was considered acceptable by the working group. The disadvantage with SN mines is that it is difficult to determine whether the system has functioned or not, resulting in no real danger but necessitating some form of clearance.
(iii) Economic aspects
The experts also discussed the possible reuse of scatterable SN mines for economic reasons, and concluded that this was too dangerous to be a viable option because failure of the self-neutralizing system might have catastrophic results if the mines were being carried in vehicles or kept in storage bunkers.
(iv) Failure rates
With modem electronic fusing, it should be possible to bring failure rates down to between one in a thousand and one in a million for both SD and SN, and to design the system in such a way that the mechanism becomes harmless after failure. Mechanical pressure fuse systems can use air or gas generators to initiate SD or SN with varying degrees of reliability. In the future, chemical or other forms of degradation may be possible.
(v) Suitable delay times prior to self-destruction or self-neutralization in different scenarios
a. The delay time is the time that a mine is on the ground and active and therefore capable of being victirn-initiated. The term " delay time " does not relate to the time a mine can be kept in storage prior to use, nor th e time between emplacement and the mine becoming active. After discussion, the experts agreed that the delay time was dependent on the tactical scenario.
b. Scatterable mines. In a tactical situation where scatterable mines are likely to be employed, the majority of military experts felt that at the most a 12-month delay time would be acceptable. This delay time would be programmable at time of launch and would be selected by the formation commander depending on his appreciation of the military situation. This would generally be considerably less than 12 months, but adoption of a compulsory shorter delay time-frame would be militarily unacceptable. This is because should mines be required for longer periods (i.e. up to the full year) they would have destroyed themselves and would have to be replaced at great economic and military cost. A minority of military experts expressed the view that the maximum delay time should not be specified but left to individual nations to decide.
c. Hand-emplaced mines. Hand-emplaced AP mines fall into two categories for the purpose of this paper: those deployed for relatively short periods of time, i.e. tactical; and those needed for an indefinite period of time, possibly many years, i.e. strategic, usually barrier minefields.
- AP mines used in a tactical scenario are not needed for long periods and should be SD with a limited, timed life. They would thus represent a hazard to innocent civilians for only a limited amount of time, even in the event of illegal misuse.
- Strategic AP mines guarding international borders or sensitive military sites will be required to remain active for many years. These cannot SD for military and economic reasons but must therefore always be subject to tight control, recording and marking. This may require international verification systems.
(vi) The likely cost penalty and whether it c an be offset by increased effectiveness
It was recognized that any additional feature, such as SD capability, fitted to a mine will cost money without any direct increase in the military performance of the mine. It will, however, allow flexibility in military operations by aiding future mobility. Developments in technology and the inevitable reduction in cost of mass- produced electronics will bring down the cost of SD, but today that cost may be prohibitive to many nations. On the other hand, SD will reduce demining expenses should the mines ever be used in the future. However, as the acquisition costs of a mine system are critical to most nations, the possibility of saving money in the future may not be a compelling argument, particularly if the price is double or triple for a SD mine. Future developments may reduce this cost so as to make SD acceptable to all. Once the heavy initial cost of an electronic fuse is accepted, various features such as SD, SN, etc. are relatively cheap.
The experts did recognize that if humanitarian considerations and the enormous cost of mine removal are considered, a self-destruct capability becomes highly desirable and ultimately cost-effective.
(vii) Detectable versus non-detectable mines
Recent AP mines are made of plastic for cheapness, ease of manufacture and resistance to the effects of weather. Concealment is therefore not the main reason for the use of plastic in manufacture. In certain countries, mine doctrine requires that all anti-personnel mines be fitted with a metallic ring to allow detection by current electronic metal-seeking mine detectors. It is almost inevitable that electronic fuses will be detectable anyway. However, some participants felt that, from an operational point of view, non-detectability by electronic mine detectors played a crucial role in internal conflicts, as detectable mines could be recovered and used by other partie s. They also considered that non-detectable mines offered an increased surprise factor. Other participants observed that " non-detectable " mines could be detected by other methods, such as prodding. Where minefields are covered by fire, the value of non-detectability of mines is drastically reduced.
From a humanitarian point of view, delectability by electronic metal-seeking devices is crucial to the whole process of mine clearance, and it was generally felt by the majority of participants that such delectability in mines would have few negative consequences.
(viii) Recommendations with regard to Protocol 11 of the 1980 Weapons Convention
a. All scatterable mines should self-destruct; however, it is highly recommended that even in the case of self-destruct mines the general area of their use be recorded in accordance with existing law and military doctrine, and that where possible they be used in fenced or marked areas.
b. At the end of hostilities, self-destruct times should be declared to all parties, together with all other minefield information.
c. For the foreseeable future there will be a military need for some forms of hand-emplaced mines that will not self-destruct, for use in long-term and barrier minefields, but they must be used in tightly controlled circumstances.
d. The experts acknowledge that directional fragmentation mines, such as Claymore mines, will not necessarily be fitted with a SD mechanism, because they are principally designed for reuse. It is suggested that jumping mines be either SD or SN after a timed life, as they are too difficult and dangerous to reuse.
e. Despite the increased acquisition costs, future AP mines should self-destruct, except in the circumstances already mentioned in these recommendations, thereby reducing the tragic post-conflict toll of human lives and social, economic, medical and mine clearance costs.
f. In the future, all AP mines should be detectable.
1. These are the results of the Symposium as drafted by the military specialists during the meeting.