Biden administration to reverse Trump-era rules on landmines

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The Biden administration bans US use of landmines in most of the world, in a move that overturns Trump-era rules allowing greater use of weapons that are blamed for killing thousands of people. civilians per year – most of them children.

The move, announced by the White House on Tuesday, caps a thorough internal review of a policy adopted in early 2020 that authorized military commanders to use mines globally in certain situations. It allows the US to use the weapons along South Korea’s allied border with North Korea, although US mines are not currently placed there.

Officials said the new policy reflects the Biden administration’s belief that human rights must be an important factor in determining when to use weapons or supply them to other countries.

“The United States’ new antipersonnel landmine policy is people-centered,” Bonnie Jenkins, undersecretary for arms control and international security, said by phone.

US officials say landmines used by various countries kill around 7,000 people a year, the vast majority of whom are non-combatants. At least half of the victims are believed to be children. In places like Afghanistan and Yemen, landmines have remained a hidden peril in the wake of conflict, seeding farmland or mountain trails with unseen and lasting danger.

Humanitarian advocates point to the lasting and deadly impact of landmines used by Russia in Ukraine, including those prohibited by international law. (Video: Leila Barghouty/The Washington Post)

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, an advocacy group, welcomed the new policy but said the United States must take the necessary steps to join the Ottawa Convention, a 1997 treaty that prohibits participating countries from using, transferring or stockpiling categorized weapons. as anti-personnel mines.

“We’re still out of step with most countries in the world,” Kimball said. “The administration needs to move faster to get us online.”

With the United States still ineligible to join the Ottawa treaty due to its refusal to renounce the use of landmines entirely, US officials say they hope to do so if alternative weapons can be found. developed to protect the border between South Korea and North Korea.

The new policy will bring the United States into compliance with most aspects of the treaty, prohibiting the production and purchase of the mines, and prohibiting their export and transfer, except where necessary for their destruction. The regulations also commit the United States to destroying American mines that are not deemed necessary in South Korea.

The US stockpile includes approximately 3 million anti-personnel mines, all of which have self-destruct or self-deactivation functions. The United States has used landmines once since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, in Afghanistan.

As a presidential candidate, Biden vowed to reverse what he called President Donald Trump’s “reckless” stance on mining. Officials defined the policy, which is identical to Obama administration rules, as further evidence of the Biden administration’s commitment to civilian welfare and human rights. The United States is also the biggest supporter of efforts to destroy conventional weapons, including landmines and other unexploded ordnance.

Critics say the Biden administration’s actions have not matched its rhetoric in other human rights areas, including its support for leaders who have overseen widespread abuses. The new policy comes ahead of Biden’s planned meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) urged the Department of Defense, where senior officials have expressed support for the use of landmines, to quickly implement the new policy.

“It is a long overdue recognition that the grave humanitarian and political costs of using these weapons far outweigh their limited military utility,” said Leahy, who has long advocated for an end to the use of landmines. , in a press release.

Annie Shiel, head of the Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), said the task ahead was now a total ban on weapons “without exception”.

“Landmines are indiscriminate weapons that cause devastating harm to civilians for decades after their use,” Shiel said.

The new rules strip the Pentagon of its authority on the matter, giving control to the White House.

When the 2020 regulations were unveiled, the Pentagon called mines valuable for preventing troops from being overrun or funneling enemy forces into areas where they can be attacked. This policy allowed military commanders to order the use of certain landmines in combat as long as they had a self-destruct or self-deactivating function.

“The United States will not sacrifice the safety of the American military,” a senior Pentagon official said at the time.

Military leaders have also backed the use of mines since Biden took office. In April, General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called mines an important tool in wartime.

“Anti-tank or anti-personnel mines are a very effective use in combat,” he said, stressing the need to ensure that weapons do not remain active after conflicts.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the policy ahead of its release, said Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during the review process “had the opportunity to raise the need they felt to have landmines with the White House and talk about their operational effectiveness, but that was the decision.

The Biden administration has highlighted the toll of landmines in the war in Ukraine, where officials say Russia laid mines indiscriminately. While Russia is not a party to the Ottawa Convention, Ukraine is a signatory.

Karen Chandler, acting deputy undersecretary of state, said there was “no credible evidence that Ukraine is using [anti-personnel mines]currently or during Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine in 2014.”

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