Archived page: may contain outdated information!
  • Send page
  • Print page

Anti-personnel mines: not an indipensable weapon of high military value

28-03-1996 News Release 96/10

Geneva (ICRC) - There is no clear evidence that anti-personnel landmines are indispensable weapons of high military value. On the other hand, their use in accordance with military doctrine is time-consuming, expensive and dangerous and has seldom occurred under combat conditions. These are some of the main conclusions of the study " The Military use and effectiveness of anti-personnel mines " commissioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which was released today. The conclusions, based on a survey of the actual use and effectiveness of these weapons in conflicts over the past 55 years, were drawn up by Brigadier Patrick Blagden, a former combat engineer and weapons researcher with the British Royal Army, and a group of high ranking military experts from eight countries.

The military use of anti-personnel mines in actual conflict has so far received almost no attention in published military studies. Therefore the ICRC took the initiative to commission an expert study that presents a compelling set of conclusions on the actual use of anti-personnel mines since 1940. These conclusions were unanimously supported by senior commanders with broad experience in landmine warfare at an ICRC expert meeting in February 1996 and are being endorsed by a growing number of senior military officers from around the world.

The ICRC study concludes that properly establishing and maintaining an extensive border minefield is time consuming, expensive and dangerous and has rarely occurred in actual conflicts. In order to have any efficacy at all they need to be under continuous observation and direct fire, which is not always possible and is often not done. Under battlefield condit ions the use, marking, and mapping of mines in accordance with classical military doctrine and international humanitarian law is extremely difficult, even for professional armed forces.

The commanders who have endorsed this report found that the use of anti-personnel mines in accordance with the military doctrine which has justified their use has occurred infrequently and only when certain conditions were met: (a) both parties to the conflict were disciplined professional armies with high sense of responsibility and engaged in a short - lived international conflict; (b) the tactical situation was fairly static; (c) forces possessed adequate time and resources to mark, monitor and maintain minefields in accordance with law and doctrine, (d) mined areas were of sufficient economic or military value to ensure that mine clearance occurred and (e) sufficient political will existed to implement the above conditions.

The ICRC study points out that the emerging generation of remotely delivered anti-personnel landmines are not solely defensive weapons but will probably be used in huge quantities to saturate targets which are likely to include civilian areas. Even so, the mobility of professional armies will not be significantly hindered. Remotely delivered anti personnel mines are likely to cause vastly increased civilian casualties, even if such mines are designed to be self-destructing. This is so for several reasons: e.g. they will be dangerous during their intended active life, the reliability of self-destructing devices is unlikely to be verified and is likely to be insufficient and it is virtually impossible to map and mark remotely delivered mined areas.

In addition to examining the use and effectiveness of anti-personnel mines in 26 conflicts the ICRC study also considers an often overlooked aspect of landmine warfare: the cost and dangers to forces using these mines. The study suggests that the cost to forces using a nti-personnel mines, in terms of casualties and limitation of tactical flexibility, is higher than has been generally acknowledged. The implications of technological innovations in landmine design, which could have a dramatic effect on future mine warfare and on the level of civilian casualties, are examined from both military and humanitarian viewpoints. Possible alternatives to anti-personnel mines, including a number which are already in use among armies in both developed and developing countries, are also considered.

The results of this study confirm the ICRC's position that the military value of anti-personnel mines is far outweighed by their human and social costs and reinforces both its call for a ban and its world-wide campaign against this weapon.