2015 To Walk the Earth in Safety: The United States' Commitment to Conventional Weapons Destruction

Bureau of Political-Military Affairs

Advancing Conventional Weapons Destruction

Around the world, stockpiles of excess, poorly-secured or other-wise at-risk conventional weapons remain a serious challenge to peace and prosperity. In the wrong hands, small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) fuel political instability and violence, while more advanced conventional weapons, particularly MANPADS, pose a serious threat to commercial aviation. Degrading stockpiles may explode without warning, devastating nearby population centers. Meanwhile, hazards from landmines and UXO, including cluster munition remnants, artillery shells, and mortars, continue to kill and maim people long after conflicts have ended. They prevent the safe use of land, which suppresses economic development and prevents displaced persons from returning home.

The U.S. CWD program embodies our commitment to reduce these threats worldwide. The United States is the world’s leading financial supporter of CWD, providing nearly $2.5 billion in assistance to more than 90 countries since 1993. The CWD program helps foreign governments destroy excess stockpiles of conventional arms, better secure the stockpiles they retain, and clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war. Our efforts reduce the likelihood that weapons will fall into the wrong hands, and protect innocent populations from deadly hazards. By alleviating these threats to civilian security, this program demonstrates core U.S. values that respect the dignity of every human being.

The Evolving Nature of CWD

Thanks to combined efforts from the United States and the international community, the threat from landmines continues to decline. Annual casualty figures have dropped from nearly 10,000 in 1999 to less than 4,000 in 2013. In recent years, Burundi, Albania, Nicaragua, and Jordan have declared themselves mine impact-free, while Mozambique is the first severely-impacted state to make significant progress toward this milestone. In Sri Lanka alone, U.S.-funded projects cleared approximately 28,000 anti-personnel landmines in 2014, representing the most landmines removed from any single country over a one-year period. Still, challenges remain. At least 56 countries remain landmine-affected, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, and UXO threats persist after every conflict.

As the threat from landmines declines, poorly-secured and otherwise at-risk conventional weapons continue to imperil our collective security interests. Illicitly proliferated arms from insecure stockpiles in the Middle East and North Africa are particularly troubling. For example, according to a 2014 UN report, weapons from Libya’s massive Qadhafi-era stockpiles have flowed into 14 countries, enhancing the operational capacity of terrorists and insurgents in already unstable areas. Whether in the Middle East/North Africa region or elsewhere, illicit trafficking of conventional weapons presents a danger to vulnerable civilians and threatens to embroil the international community in numerous conflicts.

In particular, the illicit availability of MANPADS to terrorists, extremists, and other non-state actors poses a serious threat to commercial aviation, humanitarian aid, and military aircraft, and is a major U.S. national security concern. MANPADS have downed more than 50 civilian aircraft since the 1970s. In response, the U.S. Interagency MANPADS Task Force coordinates counter-MANPADS efforts by the Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other relevant stakeholders, and helps partner nations eliminate or better secure MANPADS at risk of falling into the wrong hands.

The U.S. Government’s Collaborative Approach

Confronting CWD challenges requires an integrated approach between governmental, private, and nongovernmental organizations. The Department of State, Department of Defense, and USAID work together with foreign governments, private companies and nongovernmental organizations to implement humanitarian mine action programs, reduce SA/LW and conventional munitions stockpiles (including MANPADS), and improve physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) practices at conventional weapons storage sites.

Within the U.S. government, the Department of State, through the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement (PM/WRA), funds and manages CWD programs—including landmine and UXO clearance, SA/LW stockpile reduction, and PSSM—in more than 40 countries. The Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Training Center (HDTC) trains deminers, ammunition handlers, and stockpile managers from partner countries. The Department of Defense Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program (HD R&D) improves CWD technologies, enhancing the efficiency and safety of humanitarian demining operations around the world. USAID assists landmine and UXO survivors, including medical and rehabilitative care, through its Leahy War Victims Fund.

Department of State Support for CWD

The Department of State is committed to mitigating the serious risks that indiscriminately-used, poorly-secured, and otherwise at-risk conventional weapons pose to civilian security. The Department of State—through PM/WRA—has provided more than 60 percent (over $1.5 billion) of the United States’ nearly $2.5 billion contribution to CWD since 1993.

PM/WRA’s CWD program objective is three-fold:

1. To enhance regional security by curbing illicit trafficking and the availability of arms (including MANPADS) to terrorists, insurgents, and other non-state actors;

2. To remediate landmine and UXO contamination, returning land to safe and productive use; and

3. To promote U.S. foreign policy interests by broadening support for U.S. CWD efforts.

PM/WRA advances these objectives by helping partner countries reduce conventional weapons stockpiles in excess of actual defense needs, securing at-risk or abandoned munitions, and enhancing conventional arms stockpile management practices. PM/WRA funds humanitarian mine action operations, including hazard area surveys, landmine and UXO clearance, risk education for vulnerable populations, and limited medical rehabilitation and vocational training for landmine and UXO survivors. PM/WRA also educates the public (both domestically and abroad) about the risks that poorly-secured stockpiles, landmines and UXO pose to civilian security. PM/WRA strives to ensure that its CWD efforts meet the needs of all members of affected communities, regardless of gender or age.

Date: 2015 Description: Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rose Gottemoeller, visits a survey and clearance project conducted by MAG in Quang Tri Province, Vietnam. © Photo courtesy of MAG

PM/WRA partners with nongovernmental organizations, international organizations, educational institutions, and private sector contractors to implement its CWD programs. With more than three dozen implementing partners, PM/WRA draws on a wealth of experience, local and operational expertise, and additional funding that implementers secure from other donors. Robust project performance standards, enhanced monitoring and evaluation strategies, and a complex program planning process guide PM/WRA’s resource allocation decisions and hold implementing partners accountable.


With support from the United States and other international donors, global efforts to reduce landmine and UXO casualties have been successful. According to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, casualty rates are at a 15-year low, with a nearly two-thirds reduction in daily incidents since 1999. In total, U.S. efforts have helped 15 countries declare themselves mine-free, the most recent being Burundi in 2014.

Collectively, U.S. CWD efforts are essential to saving lives, creating lasting peace, and ensuring a more secure and prosperous future for all. Thanks to our CWD programs, the world is a safer place today and will continue to be a safer place in the years to come.