printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

2009 To Walk the Earth in Safety: Special Reports

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
July 7, 2009


U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program

Formally established in 1993, the interagency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program is the largest and one of the world’s oldest such programs. Consisting of various U.S. agencies, the program operates worldwide to clear landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW), provide mine-risk education (MRE), provide survivor assistance, further develop mine-clearance technology, train deminers in affected countries, and support foreign health and rehabilitation/reintegration projects related to survivors assistance.

The United States remains the world’s top contributor to humanitarian mine action (HMA), contributing tens of millions of dollars annually to rid the world of landmines, the majority of which have been manufactured and employed by other countries and foreign combatants. In fiscal year 2008, the United States spent $123.1 million on these efforts.

Agencies Involved

The HMA Program involves the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Department of Defense (DoD), and the Department of Health and Human Services through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The mission of PM/WRA is to develop policy options, implement arms destruction and mitigation programs, and engage civil society in a synergistic effort to reduce the negative effects generated by the indiscriminate use of persistent landmines and illicit/ abandoned conventional weapons of war. Among its responsibilities, PM/WRA oversees day-to-day management of bilateral mine-action assistance programs and encourages the participation of civil society in mine action through its Public-Private Partnership program (

USAID promotes sustainable development by providing humanitarian services in post-conflict situations. Its Bureau of Humanitarian Response’s Office of Transition Initiatives connects emergency assistance and long-term development by supporting organizations and people in emergency transitional positions in conflict-prone countries. USAID’s Leahy War Victims Fund improves the mobility, health and social integration of the disabled, including landmine survivors. Typically, USAID works through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to develop a country’s capacity for sustainable services for conflict survivors.

DoD manages a Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program that is improving the technologies and means to detect and clear landmines and explosive remnants of war. One of its recent projects has been the development and deployment of the Handheld Standoff Mine Detection System (HSTAMIDS), a combination ground-penetrating radar and metal-detecting machine.

DoD also manages the Humanitarian Demining Training Center, in which U.S. military forces train foreign deminers in humanitarian mine action to International Mine Action Standards. In some situations, DoD funds a mine action program’s start-up costs, with PM/WRA providing subsequent funds to procure the necessary equipment, provide training, and supply continued support until the program reaches the U.S. government’s end state.

The CDC provides technical and financial support to several NGOs and United Nations agencies for public-health projects related to survivor assistance. These projects include direct support to survivors, as well as science-based assistance in identifying new survivors and assessing their health needs.

Peace, Safety and Stability

Date: 07/01/2009 Description: A woman and her son coming back from the market in Hudur town, the capital of the Bakol region in southern Somalia.  Pascal Bongard, Geneva Call
A woman and her son coming back from the market in Hudur town, the capital of the Bakol region in southern Somalia.
Attempts to eradicate persistent landmines, ERW, aging munitions, abandoned ordnance, and surplus conventional weapons support the U.S. goals to improve regional stability, enable development and promote global peace. These efforts aim to reverse the socioeconomic effects of such weapons, promote stability through the use of HMA, and build confidence among affected regions, which benefits society by reducing civilian casualties, allowing refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes, and enhancing political and economic stability. A typical U.S. humanitarian mine-action program consists of funding clearance operations, assisting an affected country in establishing a mine-action center or demining office, establishing a mine-risk education and demining training program, and securing funding for mine and ER W clearance. As the country solidifies its demining capabilities, the U.S. relinquishes its role to the host nation.

Due to the impossibility of clearing every landmine in every affected country or region, the United States believes that humanitarian mine action should focus on making the world “mine-impact free,” or free from the humanitarian impact of landmines. It is more practical, feasible, and cost-effective to clear mines that have a humanitarian impact, and available funds are devoted to clearing areas where landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) pose a grave threat to the civilian population.

Pillars of Mine Action

The U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program focuses on three major “pillars:” mine detection and clearance, mine-risk education, and survivor assistance. Depending on the needs of a country, the United States may assist with financial support in one, two, or all three pillars.

Mine detection and clearance. Before clearance can begin in an affected country, a Landmine Impact Survey (LIS) is conducted to determine the specific nature and extent of landmine contamination. The LIS identifies broad areas where mines exist and estimates the impact these mines have on local communities. Although mine clearance and mine-risk education must often begin before the survey is complete, the LIS provides mine-action authorities with an important tool for development planning.

Following the LIS, a technical survey is conducted to document specific details of the landmine contamination. Mined areas are demarcated, and the number and types of mines and ERW are recorded.

International law requires that those who lay mines identify the types of landmines emplaced, and map their locations for removal at the end of hostilities; however, insurgent groups and nations have ignored international law, emplacing mines without marking or recording their use or location. Natural events pose another obstacle, as mines tend to migrate from their original locations as a result of shifting desert sands or heavy rains in tropical areas that wash away topsoil.

U.S. law states: “As a matter of policy, U.S. Forces shall not engage in physically detecting, lifting, or destroying landmines, unless it does so for the concurrent purpose of supporting a U.S. military operation; or provides such assistance as part of a military operation that does not involve the armed forces.” U.S. military personnel, therefore, use a “train-the-trainer” approach to assist affected countries. These U.S. forces, who have graduated from DoD’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center, educate an initial team of host-nation deminers in mine-clearance techniques and procedures; this team then trains others until enough of the country’s nationals are competent to mark and clear mines safely and effectively.

Mine-risk education. The majority of mine casualties are young men who encounter mines during daily activities such as farming or shepherding animals. Adult males are generally hurt trying to disarm mines and UXO to sell them as scrap metal; children are typically hurt by playing with mines and UXO or simply by running across an open space near their homes. Women become casualties while gathering firewood or water, or while working in their gardens. Various NGOs, often supported by the U.S. and other donors, provide MRE to at-risk populations. Teaching people how to recognize landmines and explosive remnants of war, and to inform demining authorities of the presence of such hazards, reduces casualties. U.S.-funded nongovernmental organizations and international organizations create MRE materials and tailor them to be sensitive to cultural mores. U.S. military personnel go through cultural training and learn native languages before MRE is deployed.

Survivor assistance. Survivor assistance requires a long-term commitment not only to landmine survivors but also to their families. Treating initial injuries is not enough because as the wounds heal, new prostheses to fit the growing or wilting limb are needed. Physical and educational training, such as relearning personal care and income-producing skills as well as psychological care involving overcoming feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness, are needed to regain a productive life. This is why mine-action programs encourage a holistic approach to providing assistance to landmine survivors.

Small Arms/Light Weapons Destruction

The United States is a global leader in fighting the illicit trafficking of conventional weapons and munitions of all calibers. Many countries have stockpiles of conventional weapons and aging, often unstable, munitions dating back to the Cold War (or even earlier) that are no longer needed for their national security.

These stockpiles and weapons frequently pose a major public-safety hazard in populated areas as well as create an environmental threat. Since they are often poorly secured, these munitions and conventional weapons are easy targets for terrorists, criminals, and insurgent groups.

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs helps develop and implement U.S. policies regarding conventional weapons and munitions. While acknowledging the legitimacy of the legal trade, manufacture, and ownership of arms, the U.S. works to improve global and national mechanisms for controlling conventional weapons by assisting states in improving their export control practices, providing physical security and stockpile management for at-risk arms and munitions depots, and destroying excess weapons around the world.

These efforts include supporting initiatives of the United Nations and other international and regional organizations to address illicit transnational arms transfers through the marking and tracing of small arms and light weapons (SA/LW), and strengthening controls on arms brokers. PM/WRA also establishes U.S.-funded destruction operations within a host country, taking into account factors such as regional stability, counter-terrorism and force protection, and mitigation of the humanitarian impact of illicit SA/LW and abandoned ordnance.

PM/WRA SA/LW Program Funding

PM/WRA and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) work closely with the host nation to offer technical assistance on physical security and stockpile management issues, develop and execute cost-effective projects that meet the needs of the requesting government, and promote regional security. Destruction programs have taken place bilaterally or through regional organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Regional Centre on Small Arms (Nairobi, Kenya), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. Since the program’s inception in 2001 through the end of 2008, more than 1.3 million weapons and approximately 50,000 tons of munitions have been destroyed. PM/WRA has implemented SA/LW destruction programs in the following countries with their cooperation: Afghanistan, Albania, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Burundi, Cambodia, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nicaragua, the Philippines, the Republic of the Congo, Romania, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Serbia, Somalia, Sudan, Suriname, Tajikistan, and Ukraine.

This edition of To Walk The Earth In Safety includes current conventional weapons destruction projects funded wholly or in part by the United States through PM/WRA in fiscal year 2008. For more recent updates on all PM/WRA activities, visit

Physical Security and Stockpile Management

Date: 07/01/2009 Description: Stockpiled weapons. State Dept Image
Stockpiled weapons.
Physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) is quickly becoming one of the most pressing threat-reduction issues that the United States and other countries must address. Aging stockpiles of conventional weapons and increasingly unstable munitions from the Cold War or earlier pose a serious threat in many countries that no longer need them for national security.

These stockpiles pose dual threats of illicit proliferation and accidental explosion. Poorly secured weapons and munitions stockpiles are often attractive targets for terrorists, criminals, and insurgent groups. The weapons may spread rapidly, destabilizing individual countries or the region as a whole. The munitions sometimes explode, causing humanitarian disasters that create a major public-safety hazard in populated areas as well as an environmental threat. The world has sadly watched stockpiles detonate, at times due to poor handling practices, causing large numbers of casualties and significant damage that displaces many civilians. In one recent example, 26 people were killed and many more injured and displaced when a stockpile exploded at an ammunition dismantling factory in Gërdec, Albania in March 2008.

To help prevent illicit proliferation and accidental explosion, governments must maintain high standards of security and management for state-controlled stockpiles of man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), other small arms and light weapons (SA/LW), and related ammunition. Governments must see PSSM as an on-going effort that requires frequent monitoring, regular training of qualified experts, and long-term planning for factors like infrastructure and resources. Implementing such standards helps ensure security, enhance stability and enable prosperity.

The Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA) in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs assists countries with essential pieces of the PSSM puzzle: safely reducing excess stockpiles of weapons and munitions, and improving security and safety infrastructure for retained stocks. Coordinating with the U.S. Embassy in the host country and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, PM/WRA works with governments to assess needs and devise a comprehensive and efficient plan that addresses both destruction of excess stocks and projects to improve PSSM infrastructure.

While the U.S. is one of several countries that will provide assistance with stockpile reduction and security infrastructure, numerous multilateral organizations have established mechanisms to help governments implement these commitments. The United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe are among the organizations that have established venues where states can collaborate to improve PSSM procedures.

The Menace of MANPADS

Man-portable air-defense systems, or MANPADS (also referred to as shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles), are small, light, and easy to transport and conceal. Estimates of total global MANPADS production to date exceed one million, with thousands believed to be outside government control. The U.S. Department of State estimates that since the 1970s, MANPADS were employed against more than 40 civilian aircraft, resulting in at least 28 crashes and over 800 deaths worldwide.

The U.S. Department of Defense provides expertise to other countries on the proper management and control of MANPADS through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and enforces stringent physical security and accountability for MANPADS in U.S. possession. In 2001, the Department of Defense established the Golden Sentry program to monitor end-use sales of MANPADS through foreign military sales to ensure that they are not diverted for illicit use. The Defense Security and Cooperation Agency administers the Golden Sentry program, with support from U.S. military services and Security Cooperation Offices around the world.

After the November 2002 attempted shoot-down of a civilian airliner in Kenya with MANPADS, the United States redoubled its already considerable efforts to keep these weapons from falling into the wrong hands. Countering the proliferation of MANPADS is an overriding U.S. national security priority. At the direction of the White House, a MANPADS interagency task force was created in 2007 that coordinates the efforts of the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies and organizations. Within the Department of State, the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM) and the Bureau for International Security and Nonproliferation (ISN) have responsibility for the MANPADS security situation.

The international Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations, the G-8, the Wassenaar Arrangement, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Organization of American States, and other international and regional organizations have recognized the MANPADS threat and have encouraged steps to reduce the number of these weapons available on the black market. ISN’s Office of Conventional Arms Threat Reduction works to prevent transfers of MANPADS—and the technology to produce them—to undesirable end-users through bilateral and multilateral engagement, with an emphasis on responsible export controls. PM’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement has helped fund the destruction of over 27,000 excess, loosely secured, or otherwise at-risk MANPADS missiles in 27 countries since 2003.

Date: 07/01/2009 Description: An SA-7 MANPADS shows Launch tube: Thermal Battery, Grip Stock; Missile: Infared seeker, Warhead, Internal eject motor, Control section, Flight motor. U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.