Citing humanitarian concern, the Biden administration has ordered the Pentagon to ban the use of most anti-personnel land mines.
The largely symbolic decision is just the latest example of Biden reversing a policy supported by his predecessor, Donald Trump, Politico reported.
Biden reverses Trump policy on land mines
The White House said Tuesday that land mines have a “disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped.” The ban was first enacted by President Obama, then lifted by Trump in 2020, a move Biden called “reckless.”
Biden’s top generals supported keeping Trump’s policy, which gave military commanders discretion over land mine use, the Washington Post reported. The Pentagon said at the time that mines have legitimate combat uses and that prohibiting their use would jeopardize troops’ safety.
“Withholding a capability that would give our ground forces the ability to deny terrain temporarily and therefore shape an enemy’s movement to our benefit irresponsibly risks American lives,” the Pentagon said.
But Biden’s restoration of the ban appears to be a largely symbolic gesture, as the United States military hasn’t made significant use of land mines since the 1991 Gulf War, and despite Biden’s decision, the U.S. is still not in compliance with the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning the weapons.
Biden’s ban leaves an exception for defending South Korea, a U.S. ally. Biden’s order requires any mines in America’s stockpile of 3 million that aren’t necessary to defend South Korea to be destroyed, but it remains to be seen if there will be any meaningful follow-through.
Biden pushed to go further
The U.S. does not currently have land mines on South Korea’s border with North Korea, the Washington Post reported.
“We are still out of step with most of the world,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said. “The administration needs to move more quickly to bring us in line.”
The U.S., China, India, Pakistan and Russia are among the major nations that have not signed the Ottawa Treaty. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) called Biden’s decision “long overdue” but joined humanitarian groups in pushing Biden to go further.
“As welcome as this step is, the White House needs to put the U.S. on a definitive path to join the treaties banning anti-personnel mines and cluster munitions,” Leahy said in a statement.
“Neither of these indiscriminate weapons, the horrific consequences of which we are seeing in Ukraine today, belong in the arsenals of civilized nations,” Leahy said.