Biden restricts landmine use in reversal of Trump-era policy

Trump lifted United States restrictions on anti-personnel landmine use, which had been banned in almost all of the world.

Children play near a landmine warning and a Buddhist shrine in New Village Border, Cambodia [File: David Longstreath/The Associated Press]

United States President Joe Biden has set new rules for the military’s use of anti-personnel landmines, reversing a move by former President Donald Trump that allowed the weapons to be used anywhere in the world.

The White House on Tuesday said the US would closer align with key criteria of the 1997 Ottawa Convention, “the international treaty prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines”.

The move, which returns US rules on landmines to those in place prior to Trump, reflects Biden’s belief that landmines “have a disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped”, the White House said in a statement.

It also makes good on Biden’s campaign promise to reverse Trump’s policy, which he had previously called “reckless” and “unnecessary”. Several groups had condemned Biden’s failure to fulfil that pledge during his first year in office.

In a statement, National Security Council Spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown the “devastating impact that anti-personnel landmines can have”, adding “Russian forces’ use of these and other munitions have caused extensive harm to civilians and civilian objects”.

The new policy maintains a long-standing exception that permits anti-personnel landmine use on the Korean peninsula, which the White House said is needed for the unique circumstances there and for the US commitment to defending South Korea. The US is not known to currently have placed any landmines on the peninsula. US military officials admitted in 2014 that the US had placed one anti-personnel landmine in Afghanistan in 2002 but other than that has not used anti-personnel landmines since 1991.

Refusal to completely ban the use of anti-personnel landmines prohibits the US from joining the Ottawa Convention, a treaty to which 164 countries are currently signatories.

The new policy bans the use of anti-personnel landmines beyond the Korean peninsula. It also pledges to “undertake to destroy” all landmine stockpiles “not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea”.

The US will also not “develop, produce, or acquire” anti-personnel landmines or “export or transfer” the weapons unless related to the Korean peninsula, the White House said.

More than 7,000 people died from anti-personnel landmines in 2020, according to the United Nations-backed Landmine Monitor. People were killed and injured in 54 countries during that year, and about half of the victims were children.

Source: Al Jazeera