On Monday, President Joe Biden announced the reinstatement of US restrictions on the use of landmines in combat zones, reversing a policy decision made by Donald Trump in 2020.
The National Security Council (NSC) confirmed the move, which will reintroduce restrictions on the production, transportation, and sale of anti-personnel landmines in the United States. Under the new order, the United States will align its policies with a 1997 treaty that it did not sign, which restricted the use of land mines globally.
It does not outright prohibit the use of landmines in the United States; only anti-personnel mines are covered by the Ottawa Treaty. The treaty makes no mention of anti-vehicle mines or other types of explosive traps.
The White House justified the decision by citing the “devastating impact that anti-personnel landmines can have in the context of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine.”
“Today, the Biden-Harris Administration announces an important step toward limiting the use of anti-personnel landmines in the United States.” According to the statement, “the United States will align its policy regarding the use of these weapons outside of the Korean Peninsula with key provisions of the Ottawa Convention, the international treaty prohibiting the use, stockpiling, production, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines.”
“Additionally, the president will prohibit the development, production, and acquisition of anti-personnel landmines prohibited under the Ottawa Convention, and will direct the Department of Defense to pursue alternatives to anti-personnel landmines that would be compliant with and eventually allow the United States to accede to the Ottawa Convention, while ensuring our continued ability to respond to global contingencies,” the statement continued.
The use of anti-personnel land mines in combat zones is a contentious practice that renders areas uninhabitable and extremely dangerous for civilians and military personnel alike until they are time-consuming and expensively removed. Many abandoned mines have been blamed for horrific accidents in areas repopulated by civilians after the war.
In January 2020, just a year before leaving office, Donald Trump’s administration moved to reverse a decision made by Barack Obama to bring the US largely in line with the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, which prohibited the use of mines and directed nations to destroy their stockpiles within four years. At the time, the White House claimed that eliminating the use of anti-personnel landmines would disadvantage US troops. The White House stated at the time that it would allow the use of landmines that could be deactivated remotely once their usefulness had expired.
“The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama administration’s policy could place them at a significant disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries,” a White House statement declared in January of 202, adding that their use would be permitted only in “exceptional circumstances.”
The order issued by the Biden administration includes a notable exception for the Korean Peninsula, where anti-personnel landmine use will continue to be permitted in accordance with US police policies pursued by the Obama administration. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating North and South Korea remains one of the world’s most heavily mined areas.