There are two main types of land mines: antitank (AT) and antipersonnel (AP). AT mines are large and heavy. They are triggered when vehicles such as tanks drive over or near them. These mines contain sufficient explosives to destroy or damage the vehicle that runs over them. They also frequently kill people in or near the vehicle. AT mines are laid in locations where enemy vehicles are expected to travel: on roads, bridges, and tracks.
AP mines are triggered much more easily and are designed to kill or wound people. They may be laid anywhere and can be triggered by various means: stepping on them, pulling on a wire, or simply shaking them. AP mines may also be rigged as booby traps to explode when an object placed over them is removed. Generally speaking, AP mines contain small amounts of explosives. They are therefore smaller and lighter than AT mines. AP mines may be as small as a packet of cigarettes. They come in all shapes and colors and are made from a variety of materials.
Mines are normally laid in groups to form minefields. There are several types of these fields. Defensively, the hasty protective minefield provides local, close-in security protection for small units. This minefield employs no standard pattern in laying the mines. An example of a hasty protective minefield would be placing mines to cover a likely avenue of approach by an enemy force. A second type is the point minefield. It is utilized primarily to reinforce other obstacles, such as road craters, abatis, or wire obstacles not associated with hasty protective minefields. A third type is the tactical minefield. Its primary use is to arrest, delay, and disrupt an enemy attack. The field may be employed to strengthen defensive positions and protect their flanks. A fourth type is the interdiction minefield. It is utilized to trap or harass an enemy deep in his own territory, assembly areas, or defensive positions. Scatterable mines are ideal for this type of minefield.
Modern land mines date from the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905, but World War I witnessed continuous use of land mines to protect trench lines. Land mines continued to play an important role during World War II. Two important developments took place in land-mine warfare during that conflict in the appearance of AT mines and the introduction of AP mines employed against infantry and to protect AT mines from detection and removal.
Many current AT mines are derived from those of World War II. For example, the TMM1, produced in the former Yugoslavia, and the PT Mi-Ba, produced by the Czech Republic and Slovakia, are descendants of the German AT Tellermine 43 and 42. The American designs are the M-15 and M-21 series, while the Russians produce a similar mine, the TM-46, the Italians the M-80, and the Chinese the Type 72. These are canister-shaped mines that are buried using tilt-rod fusing and pressure fusing. They range from 10 to 30 inches in diameter and 3 to 7 inches in height. They contain between 7 and 15 pounds of high explosive. Another popular design is the square-shaped AT mine such as the American M-19, Italian VS-HCT2, and Belgian PRB-ATK M3. They are approximately 10 inches square and 4–5 inches high with 5–25 pounds of explosives. Many of these are magnetic-influence mines with pressure as a backup fusing system.
AP mine models introduced during World War II are still in service, with only minor modifications. Examples are the Russian AP mine POMZ (and the later model POMZ-2M, a stake mine consisting of a wooden stake with a cast iron fragmentation body). The Russian PDM-6 AP mine is basically the wooden-cased mine used during the Russo-Finnish War of 1939–1940. Its successors, the PDM-7, PDM-7ts, and PDM-57, are employed worldwide. There are also bounding mines similar to the U.S. M16 series and the Russian OMZ (fragmentation obstacle AP mine, or Bouncing Betty)—canister mines topped with a pressure fuse. Such mines stand 5–7 inches tall (including the fuse) and are 3–4 inches in diameter, with approximately 1 pound of explosives. The improvised version of these AP mines consists of an artillery shell or a mortar bomb buried nose down in the ground. It is similar to IEDs used in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
After World War II, the trend in land mines has been toward miniaturization and substitution of metallic parts with those of plastic. For example, the American M14 series first used in Vietnam and the Russian PFM-1 and PFM-1S AP mines first used during the Israeli-Syrian conflict of October 1973 and massively by Soviet troops in Afghanistan are small air-delivered plastic weapons with a low metallic signature. Other common AP mines with low metallic content are the Type-72 series (People's Republic of China, PRC), encountered throughout Southeast Asia, and the PMN (Russia) present in Asia (Afghanistan, China, Iraq, and Vietnam) and in southern Africa, where it is known as the Black Widow. These are all small canister-type mines 2.5–4 inches in diameter and 1.5–4.5 inches in height. They all use pressure fusing and carry 1–4 ounces of explosives.
The Korean War (1950–1953) saw widespread use of mines, particularly in the intense, largely static warfare of the second half of the war following the entry of the PRC in the fighting. The demilitarized zone (DMZ) across Korea remains one of the most heavily mined areas in the world. The Vietnam War of the 1960s and 1970s saw an increase in the use of AP mines, offensively as part of ambushes with the American M18 Claymore and with its twins, the Soviet MON 50 and Chinese Type 66. These mines are generally command-detonated. They are all of curved rectangular shape, about 1 inch thick, 3.5 inches tall, and 8–12 inches long, filled with 1.5 pounds of explosives with a layer of metal balls (similar to 00 shotgun shells) faced toward the target area. These mines are never buried but rather are positioned on bipod legs that allow aiming. They were employed in Vietnam offensively but were also defensively employed around firebases (for U.S. and Allied forces) and sanctuaries (for communist forces).
The United Nations (UN) estimates that 24,000 people are killed and at least 10,000 are maimed each year as a result of active and inactive minefields. A high percentage of these casualties are children. The present method for clearing mines involves painstaking detection and careful destruction of the devices. In 2004 the UN listed thirty-five countries with minefields of more than 1,000 mines. Egypt leads the list with 23 million mines planted, followed by Iran with 16 million; Angola with 15 million; and Afghanistan, the PRC, and Iraq with an estimated 10 million each. It can take one person eighty days to clear 2.5 acres.
Those who clear the mines, known as deminers, are at great risk of becoming victims themselves. More than eighty deminers died in mine-clearing operations in Kuwait following the 1991 Gulf War. French deminers still clear mines and unexploded artillery shells from as far back as the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871 and World War I. It is estimated that worldwide up to 85 million AP mines await clearance. In 2004 the UN estimated the cost of laying a single mine at less than $10 but its removal at $1,800.
In 1991, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals began discussions regarding a ban on AP land mines. In October 1992 the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was formed with the following groups as its founding organizations: Handicap International, Human Rights Watch, Medico International, Mines Advisory Group, Physicians for Human Rights, and Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation. The ICBL called for an international ban on the production, stockpiling, transfer, and use of AP land mines and for increased international resources for mine clearance and mine victim assistance programs.
An international treaty, often referred to as the Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, was negotiated in 1997. It is formally named the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction. Among the first governments ratifying the treaty were Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The treaty went into effect in March 1999. In recognition of its achievements, the campaign was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997. Signatories to the treaty include all Western Hemisphere nations except the United States and Cuba, all North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) states except the United States and Turkey, all of the European Union (EU) except Finland, forty-two African countries, and seventeen nations in the Asia-Pacific region, including Japan. Important military powers not ratifying the treaty include the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and North and South Korea.
The treaty binds states to destroy their stockpiled AP mines within four years, and those already in the ground must be removed within ten years. In addition to comprehensively banning AP mines, the treaty requires signatories to perform mine clearance and urges mine victim assistance programs. Despite the treaty, mines continued to be laid in nations such as Angola, Cambodia, Senegal, and Sudan.
Davies, Paul. War of the Mines: Cambodia, Landmines and the Impoverishment of a Nation. London: Pluto, 1994.; Heyman, C. Trends in Land Mine Warfare: A Jane's Special Report. London: Jane's Information Group, 1995.; Matthew, Richard, Bryan McDonald, and Ken Rutherford, eds. Landmines and Human Security: International Politics and War's Hidden Legacy. New York: State University of New York Press, 2004.; McGrath, Rae. Landmines: A Resource Book. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000.