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Biden Bans Most Antipersonnel Land Mine Use, Reversing Trump-Era Policy

WASHINGTON — The United States on Tuesday restricted the use of landmines by its military worldwide, except on the Korean peninsula, to fulfill President Biden’s campaign promise to reverse a Trump-era policy he called “reckless” had mentioned.

The move effectively returns a 2014 policy enacted by the Obama administration that banned the use of anti-personnel landmines except in defense of South Korea. The Trump administration has eased those restrictions in 2020, citing a new focus on strategic competition with major powers with large armies.

Human rights groups have long condemned anti-personnel mines — small explosive weapons that typically detonate after an unsuspecting victim steps on them — as a major 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 Tuesday the move would put the United States back among “the vast majority of countries around the world that commit to restricting the use of anti-personnel landmines” and align U.S. policy closely with a 1997 treaty signed by 133 countries to ban the weapons completely. The United States never signed the treaty, known as the Ottawa Convention, and the White House did not say it would try to join the pact.

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

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

Those proponents had hoped for quicker action on Mr Biden’s campaign promise, which was held up over a Pentagon policy review dated at least April 2021. In 2020, Mr Biden’s campaign told Vox that he would “immediately reverse this very misguided decision”.

Last June, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, sent a letter to Mr Biden to ask him to reintroduce the 2014 policy as a first step to completely abandon arms everywhere and accede to the Ottawa Treaty.

“The Department of Defense must be instructed to act swiftly in fully implementing and institutionalizing the policy,” Leahy said in a statement emailed to reporters Monday. “This is the long-awaited recognition that the grave humanitarian and political costs of using these weapons far exceed their limited military utility.”

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

In a news briefing to reporters on Tuesday, Stanley L. Brown, one of the deputy assistant secretaries of the State Department’s Office of Political-Military Affairs, said the United States currently has about three million antipersonnel mines in its inventory and all those would destroy. 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 “has caused extensive damage to civilians and civilian objects,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council. said in a statement on Tuesday.

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

The United States last used these types of mines extensively 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 – a so-called pursuit deterrent ammunition – on a mission.

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

The move was “an important step,” the group said in a statement on Tuesday and reiterated his call on the president to “ban the use of anti-personnel landmines with no geographical exceptions, including the Korean peninsula.”

“The mines on the Korean Peninsula continue to cause ongoing damage and serve as a barrier to peace,” the group said.

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