Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
July 1, 2012

The United States' Commitment to Conventional Weapons Destruction

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Date: 2008 Description: Improperly stored ammunition in Southeastern Europe - 2008.  © Photo courtesy of Defense Threat Reduction Agency Improperly stored ammunition in Southeastern Europe – 2008. Photo courtesy of Defense Threat Reduction Agency/ USSTRATCOM Center for Combating Weapons of Mass Destruction (DTRA/SCC-WMD).

Landmines, explosive remnants of war (ERW), and small arms and light weapons (SA/LW) can affect the civilian population in countries recovering from conflict long after the conflict ends. The hazards from landmines and ERW are well known. These dangerous items can kill or permanently injure those who encounter them while farming, collecting water, or simply walking to work or school. They bar access to land and infrastructure, affecting the lives and livelihood of the local population and impeding sustainable economic development for the country.

Alongside these hazards, excess, loosely secured, or otherwise at-risk stockpiles of conventional weapons present additional threats to security. Unstable or improperly maintained conventional munitions can spontaneously detonate, spreading explosive material and unexploded ordnance (UXO) far and wide—creating a problem similar to ERW. Unsecured weapons depots can result in the illicit proliferation of SA/LW, such as man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), and pose grave risks to global security. To address these challenges, the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs (PM/WRA) has merged its humanitarian mine-action activities into its overall Conventional Weapons Destruction (CWD) program. This assistance helps to overcome threats from landmines, ERW, and at-risk weapons and munitions around the world.

Hazards of Conventional Weapons

Post-conflict communities may face a range of hazards related to the presence of various types of conventional weapons—landmines buried in roads and near infrastructure, fields littered with UXO, and abandoned caches of weapons and munitions. Additionally national stockpiles may contain excess munitions or weapons that are poorly secured in the aftermath of the conflict. Whether abandoned or inadequately secured, stockpiles and conventional weapons pose a proliferation risk. Found and pilfered munitions are available for terrorists, insurgents and other criminals to create improvised explosive devices, which perpetuate instability. SA/LW flow into the black market, arming these same groups. Of particular concern are MANPADS, which in the wrong hands threaten global aviation and thereby the world economy.

The risks associated with improper storage of munitions are not limited to post-conflict zones. On 11 July 11 2011, 98 shipping containers holding gunpowder exploded at the Evangelos Florakis naval base on Cyprus. The blast killed 13 people and injured 61 others. Additionally, the blast damaged the Vasiliko power plant, causing widespread rolling power outages. These containers had been sitting out in the open for more than two years. Over this period, fluctuations in temperature caused the material to degrade and eventually explode. Incidents such as this are occurring with increased frequency and the threat from deteriorating munitions is emerging as a challenge on par with that posed by landmines and UXO.

U.S. CWD Program

A state may face one or all of these challenges. The threat could be the result of a recent armed conflict or the residue of a long past war or, as in the case in Afghanistan, the cumulative impact of decades of war. The CWD program merges previously separate programs in order to increase effectiveness by creating a flexible and comprehensive approach to addressing these various threats. Under this program structure, the United States can fund mine and UXO clearance, secure or destroy abandoned caches, destroy excess and aging stockpiles, provide risk education, fund survivor assistance or support physical security upgrades for national stockpiles from a unified budget based on the most urgent requirements. In a dynamic post-conflict environment, U.S. program managers can work with the host nation and other relevant stakeholders to prioritize resources to the greatest need and address multiple threats at the same time without being constrained by a mine-action or SA/LW mandate.

Beginning with the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) program in 1993 and evolving to today’s CWD program, the United States has delivered nearly $2 billion in aid to help overcome threats from landmines and ERW, as well as the destruction of or improved security for at-risk weapons and munitions in more than 90 countries. These efforts have been led by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), in close partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and a host of experts from across the U.S. Government, nongovernmental arena, and private sector, making it truly a pioneer in “smart power.” U.S. efforts have enabled many countries to reduce the impact of landmines and UXO and have contributed to dramatically reducing the worldwide annual casualty rate from these threats.

While the United States has consistently remained the world’s largest donor to HMA, it is also a global leader in combating the illicit trafficking of SA/LW, including MANPADS, and conventional munitions. By assisting states in improving their export-control practices, providing physical security and stockpile management (PSSM) for at risk arms and munitions depots, and destroying excess weapons and munitions around the world, the United States continuously works to enhance global and national processes for controlling weapons. Furthermore, the United States supports U.N. initiatives and efforts by international and regional organizations to mark and trace SA/LW and to strengthen regulations on arms brokering.

Interagency Cooperation

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Date: 2012 Description: A Canadian and a Sudanese explosive-ordnance disposal and demining expert employed by MAG (Mines Advisory Group), and funded by PM/WRA, move a batch of explosive remnants of war to a demolition pit behind them for destruction.  - State Dept Image A Canadian and a Sudanese explosive-ordnance disposal and demining expert employed by MAG (Mines Advisory Group), and funded by PM/WRA, move a batch of explosive remnants of war to a demolition pit behind them for destruction. Photo courtesy of John Stevens, PM/WRA, U.S. Dept. of State.

Cooperation among U.S. interagency partners is essential to the overall success of the United States’ assistance. In humanitarian demining, partnership between DOS and DOD bridges an important gap, allowing DOS-managed programs to complement training carried out by DOD. DOD’s Humanitarian Demining Training Center is able to train host-nation forces to build capacity and conduct demining operations in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. DOD’s Humanitarian Demining Research and Development Program supports DOS projects through testing new technologies intended to increase the scope and efficiency of clearance operations.

On survivor assistance, USAID’s Bureau for Democracy leads U.S. efforts to assist states to reduce the risks and reinforce the capabilities of communities and governments to provide services and protection for vulnerable groups through its Special Programs to Address the Needs of Survivors (SPANS). The Leahy War Victims Fund, one of the five SPANS activities, focuses on assistance to improve the health, mobility and social integration of disabled civilian victims of conflict. The CDC’s International Emergency and Refugee Health Branch’s technical and financial support is provided to nongovernmental organizations and United Nations’ agencies. This support often backs public-health projects and activities related to surveillance for ERW related injuries, mine-risk education, and survivor-assistance activities.

Interagency partnership is not limited to humanitarian mine action. PM/WRA and the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) work closely with nations requesting help to secure and manage their stockpiles. DTRA provides valuable technical expertise on PSSM issues, through assessments of host-nation stockpiles and seminars to orient host-nation representatives to international best practices on PSSM at both the technical and executive level. Similar to the partnership on mine action, PM/WRA is often able to work with the host nation to provide funds to implement DTRA’s recommendations.

While this process is relevant to all SA/LW and conventional munitions, it is a particularly valuable part of U.S. MANPADS threat reduction efforts. Often referred to as shoulder-launched surface-to air missiles, MANPADS are generally small, lightweight weapons that are easy to transport and conceal. Assessments of total global MANPADS production to date exceed one million; thousands of which are thought to be outside of government control. According to DOS records, more than 40 civilian aircraft have been hit by MANPADS since the 1970s, causing about 28 crashes and more than 800 deaths around the world. The November 2002 attempted shoot down by terrorists of a civilian airliner in Mombasa, Kenya, served as wake-up call to the international community. Since that time, the United States has stepped up its efforts to keep MANPADS from falling into the wrong hands, launching an initiative to prevent the illicit acquisition and use of MANPADS by terrorists and other non-state actors.

Because countering the proliferation of MANPADS is an overriding U.S. national security priority, the White House directed that a specific MANPADS interagency task force be created in 2007. This task force, chaired by DOS, coordinates the international efforts of DOS, DOD, the Department of Homeland Security, and other federal agencies and organizations to increase the effectiveness of the U.S. multipronged approach to reducing this threat. As such, the task force implements the United States International Aviation Threat Reduction Plan—a component of the broader National Strategy for Aviation Security—to protect global aviation from MANPADS attacks.

An Ongoing Commitment

In summary, the U.S. CWD program has achieved much since 1993:

• Nearly $2 billion donated for CWD, mostly for humanitarian mine action;

• More than 90 landmine or ERW-affected countries assisted;

• Nearly 33,000 MANPADS safely disposed of worldwide (since 2003);

• Approximately 1.6 million SA/LW and over 90,000 tons of munitions destroyed in 38 countries;

• Emergency assistance provided in the removal or mitigation of conventional weapons, landmines, and other UXO in over a dozen countries by the State Department-funded Quick Reaction Force; and 20 countries declared mine-impact free with U.S. assistance.

All these actions contribute to global security. In spite of the significant progress made to reduce these threats, armed conflict continues to affect the lives of civilians. The United States is committed to ensuring that everyone is able “to walk the Earth in safety.”