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U.S. soldiers collect land mines in Mosul, Iraq on January 8, 2005. (Photo: Mauricio Lima/AFP via Getty Images)

As Biden Reverses Trump Land Mine Policy, US Urged to Join Global Ban Treaty

"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," argues Sen. Patrick Leahy.

Brett Wilkins

Campaigners on Tuesday welcomed an announcement that the United States military would end anti-personnel land mine use in most of the world, while pushing the Biden administration to go further and join the international treaty prohibiting the deployment of weapons that kill and maim thousands of people every year.

"Inherently indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians have no place in the 21st century."

Acknowledging that mines have a "disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped," the White House said that "after conducting a comprehensive policy review, the United States is joining the vast majority of countries around the world in committing to limit the use of anti-personnel land mines."

The new policy reverses former President Donald Trump's 2020 rollback of restrictions on the use of weapons that U.S. officials say kill around 7,000 people a year, the vast majority of them civilians.

Notably, the shift does not apply to the Korean Peninsula due to what the administration calls the "unique circumstances" of the U.S. obligation to help defend South Korea from potential invasion by North Korea. Under the new policy, any of the approximately three million U.S. mines deemed not needed to defend South Korea will be destroyed.

Mary Wareham, arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL)—which led to the landmark 1997 Mine Ban Treaty—called the new U.S. policy "a positive step forward," while warning that it "doesn't go far enough."

Wareham added that "the U.S. should get rid of the Korean exception to its policy banning land mines and accede now to the international Mine Ban Treaty."

The U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines-U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition said in a statement that "while this new anti-personnel land mine policy is an important step, the USCBL-USCMC reiterates our call for President Biden to ban the use of anti-personnel land mines without geographic exceptions, including the Korean Peninsula."

"The mines on the Korean peninsula continue to cause ongoing harm and serve as a barrier to peace," the coalition continued. "Additionally, the mines on the Korean peninsula are no longer under U.S. responsibility, having been turned over to the South Korean armed forces, meaning these mines should not and do not prevent the U.S. from joining the Mine Ban Treaty."

"Through this new policy, the United States is once again moving toward the global consensus against the use of anti-personnel land mines," USCBL-USCMC said. "Today, 164 countries are party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention, representing over 80% of the world's states and all U.S. NATO allies."

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined campaigners in welcoming the policy shift, asserting in a statement that "inherently indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians have no place in the 21st century, and those who use them—like Russia in Ukraine today—should be universally condemned."

"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 added. "Neither of these indiscriminate weapons, the horrific consequences of which we are seeing in Ukraine today, belong in the arsenals of civilized nations."

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