President Donald Trump’s administration has reversed an Obama-era regulation that severely restricted the acquisition, production, storage, and use of anti-personnel landmines by the U.S. military, the Associated Press reports.
News that Trump would be rolling back the 2014 policy came via a State Department cable that was first obtained by Vox on Thursday, according to The Hill. The White House said Friday that the change will help ensure “[U.S.] forces are able to defend against any and all threats,” the AP noted.
The use of landmines in military conflicts is decidedly unpleasant, and according to Vox, at least 160 nations have signed on to a 1997 Mine Ban Treaty that prohibits the production, transfer, storage, and use of such deadly weapons, which kill or maim thousands every year, many of whom are innocent civilians.
The U.S. never signed on to that treaty, but former President Barack Obama all but copied it with his directive in 2014 that barred the use of landmines outside of the Korean Peninsula — and significantly restricted it there — in an effort “to reduce humanitarian harm,” according to The Hill. (Such weapons can be used by U.S. and South Korean forces in the Peninsula’s demilitarized zone as an effective deterrent against a North Korean invasion.)
In a statement Friday, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said the Department of Defense (DOD) had “determined that [these] restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama administration’s policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries.”
“The president is unwilling to accept this risk to our troops,” she added, according to CNBC. Vox reported that the “U.S. will continue to ‘prohibit the use of any ‘persistent’ landmines’ that don’t have a self-destruct or self-activate function.”
Will it make a difference?
But while Vox called it a “dramatic policy change,” it is unclear if the Trump administration’s move will actually have any effect on the ground. According to The Hill, “the U.S. has not used land mines in a new military theater in nearly three decades,” anyway.
Still, Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters on Friday that the policy shift gives the military an “important” tool “that our commanders need to have available to them on the battlefield to shape the battlefield and to protect our forces.”
“At the end of the day, we want to make sure that we have all the tools in our toolkit that are legally available and effective to ensure our success and to ensure the protection of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines,” he said, according to the AP.
Esper also addressed concerns Friday from those worried about civilian safety in the wake of the policy change. According to Vox, “the International Committee of the Red Cross reports that ‘war surgeons consider [landmine wounds] among the worst injuries they have to treat.'”
But the Defense secretary said Trump’s administration has “taken great care and consideration” when it comes to keeping civilians out of harm’s way.
“In everything we do, we also want to make sure that these instruments — in this case, landmines — also take into account both the safety of employment and the safety to civilians and others after a conflict,” Esper said Friday, according to the AP.