Biden bans most antipersonnel landmines, reversing Trump-era policy

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday restricted the use of landmines by its military anywhere in the world except the Korean Peninsula, honoring President Biden’s campaign pledge to rescind a Trump-era politics which he described as “reckless”.

The move effectively reverts to a 2014 policy established by the Obama administration that banned the use of antipersonnel landmines except for the defense of South Korea. The Trump administration eased those restrictions in 2020, citing a new emphasis on strategic competition with major powers with large militaries.

Human rights groups have long condemned anti-personnel landmines – small explosive weapons that typically detonate after an unsuspecting victim steps on them – as a leading cause of preventable civilian casualties. Landmines kill thousands of people every year, many of them children, often long after conflicts have ended and ammunition has been forgotten.

A Statement from the White House said on Tuesday that the move would place the United States among “the vast majority of countries in the world that are committed to limiting the use of antipersonnel landmines” and bring U.S. policy closely into line with a 1997 treaty signed by 133 countries to completely ban guns. The United States never signed the treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, and the White House refrained from saying it would seek to join the pact.

One reason is that the Biden administration maintains an exception for the use of landmines along the Demilitarized Zone, the 2.5-mile-wide buffer zone that has divided North Korea and South Korea ever since. 1953. The United States placed thousands of mines there during the Cold War. to help deter a crushing ground invasion from the North.

South Korea took custody of the minefields in October 1991, according to a spokeswoman for US Forces Korea. But some proponents of the landmine ban say that if the United States were a party to the Ottawa Convention, it would face restrictions on its cooperation with the South Korean military because of the presence of mines in it. the region.

These defenders had hoped for faster action on Mr Biden’s campaign promise, which was delayed due to a Pentagon Policy Review dating back to at least April 2021. In 2020, Mr. Biden’s campaign said to Vox that he would “quickly reverse this deeply flawed decision”.

Last June, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, sent a letter to Mr. Biden asking him to reinstate the 2014 policy as a first step towards total renouncement of arms everywhere and adherence to the Ottawa Treaty.

“The Department of Defense should be tasked to move quickly in the full implementation and institutionalization of the policy,” Leahy said in a statement emailed to reporters on Monday. “It is a long overdue recognition that the grave humanitarian and political costs of using these weapons far outweigh their limited military utility.”

The senator also urged the White House to take further steps to put the United States on track to join treaties banning landmines and cluster munitions. “None of these indiscriminate weapons, whose horrific consequences we see today in Ukraine, belong to the arsenals of civilized nations,” he said in the statement.

At a press briefing to reporters on Tuesday, Stanley L. Brown, principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said the United States currently has approximately three million antipersonnel mines in their inventory and destroy any that were not needed to defend South Korea.

Biden administration officials took the opportunity to condemn Russia’s use of landmines in Ukraine, where the munitions “have caused extensive harm to civilians and civilian property”, Adrienne Watson, door -speaker of the National Security Council, said in a press release tuesday.

In early April, evidence surfaced Russian use of a new type of anti-personnel landmine in the city of Kharkiv, eastern Ukraine, which launches an explosive warhead when it detects people nearby. In Bezruky, a town north of Kharkiv, The New York Times documented Russia’s use of anti-tank landmines which can explode if picked up by humans, meaning they would be banned under international law.

The United States last used this type of large-scale mine during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In a single episode in 2002, US Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan used a small mine configured as a hand grenade – called a pursuit deterrent munition – on a mission.

The US Campaign to Ban Landmines – Cluster Munition Coalition, an advocacy group that lobbied the White House to join the Ottawa treaty, welcomed news of the Biden administration’s policy shift.

The move was ‘an important step’, the band said in a report on Tuesday, reiterating his call on the president to “ban the use of antipersonnel landmines without geographical exception, including the Korean peninsula.”

“Mines on the Korean Peninsula continue to cause ongoing damage and obstruct peace,” the group said.

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