Biden administration commits to limiting use of land mines

Last updated on July 4, 2022

The White House announced Tuesday it will commit to limiting the use of anti-personnel land mines in most places around the world, putting an end to a Trump-era expansion of the policy that President Joe Biden had vowed to reverse.

Anti-personnel land mines, designed for use against humans, have a “disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped,” the White House said in a statement on Tuesday. In addition to curtailing the use of land mines, the United States will continue working to clear existing land mines and explosives leftover from war.

The Biden administration noted that the use of anti-personnel land mines will continue on the Korean Peninsula because of the “unique circumstances” there and the United States’ commitment to defend South Korea against North Korea.

The new policy change, excluding the Korean Peninsula, aligns with requirements posed in the Ottawa Treaty, which prohibited the use, stockpiling, and transfer of anti-personnel landmines worldwide in 1997. According to the statement, the United States will not develop, produce, or acquire anti-personnel land mines; export or transfer land mines unless necessary for destroying; encourage or assist anyone outside of the Korean Peninsula to use land mines; and commit to destroying all land mines.

All of the anti-personnel land mines on the peninsula are owned by South Korea, Stanley L. Brown, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, said in a call with reporters Tuesday morning.

“We have a responsibility for the defense of Korea,” Brown said when asked to clarify the United States’ reasoning for excluding the peninsula from the policy. “We cannot meet the treaty obligations there due to the defense requirements.”

Brown also told reporters that the U.S. would explore alternatives to anti-personnel land mines but referred questions on how far along those explorations might be to the Defense Department.

“I can tell you that it’s being worked on,” he said.

Anti-personnel land mines were last used extensively in battle during the Gulf War in 1991, Brown said. There was a single case of a mine being used in Afghanistan in 2002, but they haven’t been used in “any significant way” in more than three decades, he said.

More than 160 countries, including all other NATO nations, already follow the Ottawa Treaty’s guidelines, the statement said.

The policy is “in sharp contrast” to Russia’s involvement in Ukraine, where there’s evidence that the country has used anti-personnel landmines that have caused “extensive damage” to civilians and infrastructure, Brown said. He declined to say whether the war in Ukraine provided the impetus for the administration’s move, emphasizing that the policy has been under review since January 2021 and was recently concluded.

The policy change aims 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 land mines, the statement said.

Currently, the United States has about 3 million land mines in its stockpile, Brown said. Last year, the stockpile was the fifth-largest in the world.

In January 2020, then-President Donald Trump reversed an Obama administration commitment to curb the use of land mines worldwide, excluding the Korean Peninsula. Biden, then the president-elect, vowed to “promptly roll back this deeply misguided decision.”

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the chair of the House Armed Services Committee, said Biden had made “the right decision” in a tweet Tuesday morning.