The United States Government has announced a decisive change in its policy regarding antipersonnel mines, by banning their manufacture and use throughout the world, with the sole exception of the Korean peninsula. The decision reverses the doctrine in this regard of the Donald Trump Administration and is aligned with that of the rest of the NATO member countries, as well as with the majority of the rest of the world, the more than 160 signatories of the Ottawa Convention, an international treaty of 1997 that prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. Washington’s step supports the main requirements of the Convention, but does not imply ratifying the treaty. China, India and Russia are also not part of it.
With this change, Washington finally assumes the “disproportionate impact” that this type of weaponry has on the civilian population, something that would have been evident in the “brutal” offensive launched by Russia on Ukraine. “The Administration’s actions today are in stark contrast to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, where there is compelling evidence that Russia is using explosive munitions, including landmines, irresponsibly,” said State Department’s Stanley Brown. “Russia’s use of explosive ordnance is causing extensive harm to civilians and damaging vital civilian infrastructure,” the official added.
In addition to the exception of South Korea, where there will be no changes given its “unique circumstances”, Washington reserves the possibility of exporting and transferring this type of weapon “when necessary for activities related to the detection and removal of mines”. In this sense, the US authorities are committed to intensifying their demining work and attention to the victims. The White House recalled in the statement that, since 1993, the United States has provided aid worth 4,200 million dollars (almost 4,000 million euros) to more than a hundred countries for demining and destruction of artifacts.
The spokeswoman for the National Security Council of the United States, Adrienne Watson, has underlined for her part that the Joe Biden Administration is committed with this step to consolidate the role of the United States “as a world leader in limiting the harmful consequences of anti-personnel landmines around the world. “We will continue with this important work while we take another step to recover American leadership on the world stage,” Watson concluded, recalling those 4.2 billion dollars, provided to more than a hundred countries, to “promote international peace and security through conventional weapons destruction programs.
During the Cold War, the US placed thousands of mines in the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, the buffer zone that has divided the two countries since the end of the war, in 1953, as a deterrent effect against a possible ground invasion from the north. The Seoul government, one of Washington’s staunchest allies in Asia, took over control of the minefields in 1991.
Biden thus fulfills one of his election campaign promises, by undoing a Trump-era policy that he once described as “reckless.” The measure effectively returns to the guidelines established in 2014 by the administration of Barack Obama, also a Democrat, which prohibited the use of anti-personnel landmines except in the defense of South Korea. The Trump administration relaxed those restrictions in 2020, citing a new focus on “strategic competition with major powers with large militaries,” an obvious allusion to China.
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International human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch have hailed Washington’s decision as an appropriate, albeit insufficient, step in the right direction. The International Campaign to Ban Anti-Personnel Mines has denounced in recent years a worrying trend in the use of this type of weapon, which not only poses an immediate threat but also in the medium and long term, since many of them remain abandoned, undermining farmland, passageways and civilian use areas, and therefore continue to kill many years after the conflict has ended, as evidenced by the more than 7,000 deaths and injuries in 54 countries and territories in 2020. At least half of these victims were children.