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Biden bans most anti-personnel landmines, reversing Trump policy

U.S. Army Soldiers of the 789th Ordnance Company prepare a cache of landmines near Baghdad, Iraq, April 13, 2008. (Defense Imagery Management Operations Center photo/Released)
June 23, 2022

President Joe Biden’s administration announced on Tuesday it will ban the use of anti-personnel landmines (APL) outside of the Korean peninsula, reversing a policy under President Donald Trump’s administration that allowed the weapons to be employed more widely around the world.

On Tuesday, the Biden White House issued a statement detailing the new policy on the use of landmines. The policy states that the U.S. will:

  • Not develop, produce, or acquire APL;
  • Not export or transfer of APL, except when necessary for activities related to mine detection or removal, and for the purpose of destruction;
  • Not use APL outside of the Korean Peninsula;
  • Not assist, encourage, or induce anyone, outside of the context of the Korean Peninsula, to engage in any activity that would be prohibited by the Ottawa Convention; and
  • Undertake to destroy all APL stockpiles not required for the defense of the Republic of Korea.

The new Biden administration policy comes more than two years after the Trump administration announced it had itself reversed a policy put in place by President Barack Obama’s administration in 2014, which limited the use of APLs to the Korean Peninsula. The APLs are widely employed along the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea. The Trump-era White House said, “The Department of Defense has determined that 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.”

The Trump-era policy “authorize(d) Combatant Commanders, in exceptional circumstances, to employ advanced, non-persistent landmines specifically designed to reduce unintended harm to civilians and partner forces.”

In 1997, several United Nations member states created the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction, otherwise known as the Ottawa Convention or Ottawa Treaty. The treaty currently prohibits the use of anti-personnel landmines, but permits the use of anti-tank mines and remotely activated directional claymore mines. The U.S. is one of several nations that has not joined onto the Ottawa Convention.

“The United States will undertake diligent efforts to pursue materiel and operational solutions to assist in becoming compliant with and ultimately acceding to the Ottawa Convention, while ensuring our ability to respond to contingencies and meet our alliance commitments,” the Biden White House stated. “The new policy announced today represents a further step to advance the humanitarian aims of the Ottawa Convention, and to bring U.S. practice in closer alignment with a global humanitarian movement that has had a demonstrated positive impact in reducing civilian casualties from APL.”

While the U.S. is not a member of the Ottawa Convention, the Biden White House said the U.S. has provided more than $4.2 billion to help countries dispose of APLs and other conventional weapons and helped 17 countries become free of landmines, making the U.S. “the world’s single largest financial supporter of steps to mitigate the harmful consequences of landmines.”