Devious devices

Since the signing of the Ottawa Treaty on landmines in December 1997, the big ‘G8’ countries and their arms-manufacturing companies have been seeking to circumvent it. Research published in a new report from the charity Landmine Action* has revealed the continued manufacture and use of anti-vehicle mines fitted with anti-handling devices or sensitive fuses. These modified weapons can be accidentally detonated by civilians and so act like powerful anti-personnel mines.

One example is the German AT-2, a scatterable anti-vehicle mine equipped with an anti-handling device and magnetic fusing. It is sensitive enough to be detonated by someone stumbling over it or even by their proximity. As a result, the Italian Government destroyed all its AT-2 mines in 1997. The British Ministry of Defence continues to hold an estimated 100,000 AT-2s in its stocks.

BAE Systems, Hunting Engineering, Marconi, GEC Avionics and Hughes Microelectronics are all part of a European consortium that developed the MLRS artillery launcher that can dispense AT-2 mines.

‘At the time the Ottawa Treaty was signed it was recognized that all landmines which could be set off by a person should be banned,’ says Richard Lloyd, director of Landmine Action.

‘But what has happened since is that more countries are producing anti-tank mines with sensitive fuses to replace anti-personnel mines. It is a devious way to circumvent the treaty.’ The Ottawa Treaty defines anti-personnel landmines by their design, not by their effect. This means that manufacturers can escape liability by arguing that a weapon was designed for another purpose – the fact that it has an anti-personnel effect then becomes immaterial. It is this loophole that is allowing companies to build bigger and more lethal landmines than ever before.

Research and development funds are also pouring into ever-more-lethal anti-personnel devices. The Taser Area Denial Device shoots electrical darts carrying up to 50,000 volts. Victims remain conscious but are unable to control their muscles. The Taser has already been identified as one of the US Army’s favoured alternatives to anti-personnel mines, says the Landmine Action report.

Other methods of ‘area denial’ under development include microwave devices which create fields with graduated layers of pain for the victims, and tranquillizing chemicals that can cause temporary blindness and extreme anxiety. Acoustic weapons vibrate inside the human body to stun, nauseate and – in the words of a Pentagon official – liquefy their bowels.

Rather than act in the spirit of the Ottawa Treaty to clear the world of anti-personnel landmines, governments and arms companies have busied themselves finding ways to profit from new, ever-more lethal technology. Effective campaigning evidently demands more than signatures on pieces of paper.

_Alternative anti-personnel mines: the next generation_, Landmine Action,

Landmine Action

New Internationalist issue 334 magazine cover This article is from the May 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription. Get a free trial »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop