The Biden administration was accused Tuesday of holding an "indefensible" position after the Pentagon said landmines "remain a vital tool" in the U.S. military's arsenal.
"This is the wrong approach," tweeted the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines (USCBL).
The group said President Joe Biden "should be moving away from landmines, not embracing their use," the group said, and pointed to the president's campaign vow to undo the Trump administration's widely condemned rollback of landmine restrictions.
The criticism Monday followed a tweet from Daily Beast reporter Spencer Ackerman in which he wrote that "Biden's Pentagon is going to keep the Trump Pentagon's policy of embracing landmines" and shared a screenshot of a Defense Department spokesperson describing the department's landmine policy as "unchanged since January 21, 2020."
"Landmines, including anti-personnel landmines, remain a vital tool in conventional warfare that the Unites States military cannot responsibly forgo," the statement read. The department also asserts U.S. landmines "have self-destruct capability and self-deactivate features" that curb "the risk of unintended harm to civilians."
Biden’s Pentagon is going to keep the Trump Pentagon’s policy of embracing landmines. “A vital tool in conventional warfare,” they call an indiscriminate weapon that kills and maims civilians & whose alleged “self-deactivation” mechanisms can fail. pic.twitter.com/II6j7kdZHw— Spencer Ackerman (@attackerman) April 6, 2021
The Trump administration announced in January of 2020 that it was rescinding former President Barack Obama's 2014 order limiting U.S. landmine use to the Korean Peninsula. Among those expressing outrage at the time was, Michael Payne, with Physicians for Human Rights, who rejected the assertion that "advanced" landmines would spare civilians harm.
"Despite any purported technological advancements, landmines are still capable of causing indiscriminate harm and egregious injury and suffering," he said at the time.
In response to the Pentagon's statement Tuesday, the USCBL expressed grave concern.
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Jeff Meer, steering committee chair for the USCBL-Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), said landmines should not be considered "conventional" weaponry.
"When 164 countries have banned antipersonnel landmines, then this weapon, which hungers for civilians, becomes nothing but 'unconventional,'" said Meer, who also serves as the executive director of Humanity & Inclusion, a Nobel Prize-winning human rights group.
"The decision to continue the development and deployment of landmines is deadly and dangerous."
—Adotei Akwei, Amnesty International USA The new statement also sparked criticism from Adotei Akwei, advocacy director at Amnesty International USA. "It is hard to imagine a policy more outdated and destructive than United States policy on antipersonnel landmines."
"The decision to continue the development and deployment of landmines is deadly and dangerous," said Akwei, urging Biden to "immediately reverse this decision" and join the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty.
Also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the treaty bans the use, stockpiling, and transfer of the weapons and requires the destruction of such weaponry.
"President Biden has an opportunity right now to make a move that the world has been waiting for the U.S. to take since the 1990s: join the Mine Ban Treaty," said Steve Goose, Human Rights Watch's Arms Division director, in a statement Tuesday.
The Pentagon statement came two days after the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action and a call from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for all nations to join the treaty "without delay."
In a statement last month urging the U.S. to join the global pact, USCBL-CMC said, "While the [U.S.] policy claims that 'non-persistent' mines minimize civilian harm, the Mine Ban Treaty rejects the use of such mines and the faulty premise underpinning them. Decades of efforts to enhance the 'safety' of landmines have failed."
"No matter the technology, landmines are indiscriminate weapons," the group said. "Regardless of their lifespan, they are victim-activated and do not distinguish between a combatant or a civilian while active, rendering them incompatible with international humanitarian law."