Biden maintains Trump’s policy of keeping landmines in the US arsenal, for now

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WASHINGTON – The Defense Department announced on Tuesday that it would uphold the Trump administration’s policy and keep landmines in its arsenal, reserving the right to use them in wartime.

In a statement, Mike Howard, a Pentagon spokesperson, called these weapons a “vital tool in conventional warfare” that the military “cannot responsibly relinquish, especially when faced with threats. substantial and potentially overwhelming enemy forces in the early stages of combat. “

The announcement drew swift condemnation from human rights groups. Pentagon press secretary John Kirby then took up the issue with reporters, saying Mr. Howard’s comments were “correct and factual,” but added that the landmine policy was being developed. revision.

The current policy dates back to January 31, 2020, when Mark T. Esper, Secretary of Defense to President Donald J. Trump, announced a major change in Pentagon policy on anti-personnel landmines, the small explosive weapons that are buried underground or posed. on the surface and intended to kill or maim people. Their use was permitted as long as the weapons had self-destruct characteristics or could self-deactivate.

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Mr. Esper’s move follows Mr. Trump’s cancellation of a presidential directive signed by President Barack Obama in 2014 that restricted the use of so-called persistent mines, which remain lethal indefinitely, to the Korean Peninsula.

“We are analyzing Secretary Esper’s decision, his January 2020 policy,” Kirby told reporters on Tuesday. “When we have completed this analysis of this decision, we will be able to have a better idea of ​​whether or not we need to reconsider our landmine policy.”

Older types of anti-personnel mines can be lethal for many decades and are banned by 164 countries. Their use has been doomed due to the indiscriminate way they operate: most will explode when trampled, whether by an enemy combatant or a non-combatant.

Anti-tank landmines, which contain larger explosive charges and are designed to deactivate or destroy armored vehicles, are not prohibited under international law.

In 1997, a treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines was opened for signature in Ottawa, Canada, and entered into force in March 1999. Often referred to as the Ottawa Convention, it prevents country parties from using or to develop landmines intended to harm the population, and urges these countries to destroy their existing stocks. The United States refused to sign the treaty, along with China, India, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, Pakistan and Iran, among others.

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The fact that President Biden could continue to support the use of landmines was a disappointment for many human rights groups, who expected him to sign the treaty, based on the comments he made during the election campaign.

“This landmine policy clearly sets the United States apart from its allies,” Amnesty International’s Adotei Akwei said. “It is in direct opposition to President Biden’s aspirations to become a world leader in human rights – for the United States to truly be a leader, it must change its landmine policy as soon as possible.”

For decades, Democratic lawmakers like Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California have opposed Pentagon support for arms.

“I have spoken to President Biden about this for many years, and I have no doubts that his administration will do the right thing and give up these blind weapons which have no place in the arsenal of civilized nations,” he said. said Mr. Leahy.

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At the United Nations, where the Mine Action Service plays an important role in clearing landmines from former war zones, the Defense Department’s reiteration of Trump-era policies seemed surprising.

United Nations spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said he had no immediate comment. But his response was emphatic when asked if the United States and other countries that had not signed the treaty banning landmines should do so.

“The money that is spent on cleaning them up, the damage left by the landmines that remain, the children that are killed, the land that cannot be used because the landmines continue to be there, our position against them. landmines has been very clear and will remain so, ”he said.

John Ismay reported from Washington and Rick Gladstone from New York.

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