At the Second Review Conference of the CCW and the First Session of the GGE, the Chinese Delegation put forward its positions on the issue of anti-vehicle landmines (AVLs). The following are some further thoughts on certain technical elements concerning anti-vehicle landmines.
In theory, the installation of self-destruction and self-deactivation devices in AVLs could help address the humanitarian concerns caused by AVLs. However, it requires great financial support and sufficient time. The proposed technical specifications for AVLs are actually based on those of the existing equipment of a few developed countries, which would cause unbalance in terms of obligations for different countries, especially heavy burdens for developing countries.
It should be pointed out that we couldn't simply take the AVL issue as something related only to the weapon itself or assume that it will only cost 20 or 30 US dollars to retrofit an AVL. As a category of weapon, landmine is a combating system. Changes to the landmine can not simply be regarded as changes to landmine itself. It will affect all elements of the whole system, including redesigning, manufacturing, and operation of landmine and its remote-delivery system, and equipping and training of the armed forces. The remote delivery of AVL with self-destruction and self-deactivation devices relies on a complex platform which usually consists of delivery and launching systems (e.g. rocket mine-lain system and scatter-dropping mine system), commanding system, communication system, self-defense fire system as well as necessary supportive facilities. Therefore, technologically speaking, retrofitting or transforming AVL is not only about the landmine itself, but also involves the whole launching system, necessary supporting facilities, and even the production, maintenance and operation of the system. The process will be very costly and time-consuming. In addition, there are many technical problems to be resolved.
If developing countries accept the proposed AVL Protocol, the first difficulty they are going to face in implementing their obligations would be the financial burdens.
For most countries, in order to meet the technical criteria for self-destruction and self-deactivation proposed in the draft protocol on AVL, they will have to give up all the existing stocks of the cheap old AVLs and their supporting systems. This is because the cost of retrofitting an AVL system is even higher than that of purchasing a new one, thus making it not cost-effective to do.
AVL is an important defensive weapon system. For most developing countries, if they accept the proposed protocol, they have to carry out an overall project and put great financial investment in producing and equipping new AVL systems and their supporting facilities to ensure their conventional defensive capability. New AVL systems are much more expensive than the old ones. As for China, the cost of this kind of landmines would include that on design, technical appraisement, material, processing, purchasing, transportation, maintenance, management and surcharges, etc. Thus the cost of a single new landmine would amount to about 500 to 800 yuan (RMB), which is approximately 60 to 90 US dollars, and the expenditure on launching system is not included yet. Moreover, the life span of new AVLs is much shorter than that of the old one. As a result, the frequency of purchasing new AVLs would have to be increased to meet the need of a stable stock. For most developing countries, it would be difficult to afford such a large scale of expenditure on purchasing.
In terms of time and technology, for developing countries, improving overall technical performance of AVL and fostering effective defense capability is a complicated and systemic process. It involves a series of sectors in equipping and managing, such as R&D, testing, production, purchasing, transportation, stockpiling, maintenance, as well as related supporting systems including combating, commanding, teaching and training, etc. Therefore, it cannot be achieved in a short period of time.
Most AVLs possessed by developing countries are old type of remote-scattered AVLs with mechanical fuses. To achieve self-destruction and self-deactivation functions for these types of AVLs, their mechanical fuses must be changed into electronic ones. However, it is hard to achieve the compatibility between the new material and the old one in terms of technology. Even if retrofitting is eventually attainable, the technical process is still too complicated. It is even more difficult to retrofit the electronic systems and launching systems of the AVL delivery units.
For a long period of time, developing countries would be confronted with the problems posed by the lack of technology resources, such as shortage of technical talents, relatively backward R&D means, poor production skills, limited supporting capabilities and weak tactical operations. Whether it is the retrofitting or rebuilding of production lines, or the training of professionals, or even the amendment of related textbooks and equipment for teaching and training, none of them could be achieved in a short period of time. As a consequence, the proposed AVL Protocol would undermine the overall defense capability of these countries.
In conclusion, the key to the issue of AVL lies in the effective implementation of the existing international legal instruments, instead of negotiating new protocols. The pressing task is to encourage more countries to join the amended Protocol II to CCW to increase its universality. Those countries that are capable to do so are welcomed to take the lead in adopting the proposals unilaterally as well as provide necessary financial and technological assistance to the developing countries, thus making concrete contributions to solve the AVL issue.