US Declares an Exception to Its New Policy Against the Use of Landmines

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) — The anti-landmine treaty, which came into force in 1999, has more than 160 signatories who pledged to ban the use of these weapons, along with the destruction of remaining stocks, and clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims.

But at least seven key countries—including the US, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea and North Korea —opted out of the treaty, also known as the Ottawa Convention.

The treaty was officially called the Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and Their Destruction. (

And on June 21 the US broke ranks—not to pledge an outright ban, but “to limit the use” of these deadly weapons in military conflicts— reserving its right to use them specifically in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the Korean Peninsula.

Stan Brown, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Political and Military Affairs, told reporters that after conducting a comprehensive policy review, the administration has announced a new U.S. policy to limit the use of anti-personnel landmines and align the United States’ policy and practice with key provisions of the treaty for all activities “outside the context of the Korean Peninsula”.

As a result of the decision, he said, the United States will not develop, produce, or acquire anti-personnel landmines, not export or transfer antipersonnel landmines except when necessary for activities related to mine destruction or removal and for the purpose of destruction.

The US also pledged not to use anti-personnel landmines outside the Korean Peninsula while it “will not assist, encourage, or induce anyone outside the context of the Korean Peninsula to engage in activity that would be prohibited by the Ottawa Convention, and undertake to destroy anti-personnel landmines and their stockpiles not required for the defense of the Korean Peninsula”.

Taking a passing shot at Russia, Brown said the Biden administration’s actions are in sharp contrast to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, “where there’s compelling evidence that Russian forces are using explosive munitions, including landmines, in an irresponsible manner which is causing extensive harm to civilians and damage to vital civilian infrastructure there”.

Asked for his comments, Steve Goose, Arms Director at Human Rights Watch, told IDN the US policy announcement is good, “but not good enough”.

President Biden, he pointed out, is putting the US back on the path toward eliminating antipersonnel landmines, but greater ambition is needed to get there sooner.

“The new landmine policy puts the US closer in synch with its allies who rejected these indiscriminate weapons decades ago.” 

“The US needs to accept that the international ban on landmines applies in all circumstances, without geographic exception,” said Goose.

“Acceding to the international ban on landmines would help the US to strengthen the norm against these weapons and prevent them from being used in the future,” he declared.

According to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA), landmines come in two varieties: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Both have caused great suffering in the past decades.

And “its positive impact includes a marked reduction of casualties, an increased number of mine-free States, destroyed stockpiles and improved assistance to victims”.

Asked about the Korean exception, Brown told reporters “that’s owing to our specific defense responsibilities there, and our defense partnership”.

But first of all, he said, the United States does not maintain any minefields in Korea or on the DMZ. They’re all owned by the Republic of Korea.

“We have a responsibility for defense of South Korea. With the requirements of the Ottawa Convention, where we can’t assist, encourage, or induce anyone to use landmines, we cannot meet the treaty obligations there due to those defense requirements. So, in that regard, we are basically falling back to the Obama administration policies to make sure that we can meet our requirements with Korea.”

He also pointed out that the United States last used anti-personnel landmines in 1991 during the Gulf War. There was one single incident of one munition being used in the 2002 timeframe in Afghanistan.

“But otherwise, the United States has not used landmines in—anti-personnel landmines in any significant way since 1991”.

The Pentagon said that these changes in US policy reflect President Biden’s belief that “these weapons have disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after fighting has stopped, and that we need to curtail the use of anti-personnel landmines (APL) worldwide”.

They also complement longstanding US leadership in the clearance of landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

The United States claims it is “the world’s single largest financial supporter of steps to mitigate the harmful consequences of landmines and explosive remnants of war around the world, including through land clearance and medical rehabilitation and vocational training for those injured by these weapons”.

Since the US Humanitarian Mine Action Program was established in 1993, the United States has provided over $4.2 billion in aid to over 100 countries for conventional weapons destruction programs, according to the State Department.

Through this assistance, the United States has helped 17 countries become free from the danger of landmines.

The US has also provided assistive devices and other rehabilitation services to over 250,000 people in 35 countries through the US Agency for International Development-managed Leahy War Victims Fund.

“This vital U.S. assistance has helped post-conflict countries consolidate peace and set the stage for reconstruction and development. Clearance efforts and victim assistance programs return land and infrastructure to productive use and assist in the rehabilitation and reintegration into society of survivors of mine and explosive remnants of war incidents.”

Meanwhile, in a statement released June 21, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said due to their indiscriminate nature and the human suffering caused by the use of antipersonnel landmines, 164 countries have joined the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively bans the weapons and requires the destruction of stocks, clearance of mined areas, and assistance to victims.

The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force on March 1, 1999, and includes all NATO member states except the US, all European Union member states, and US allies such as Australia, Japan, and Ukraine.

The US tried to get an exception for Korea during the Mine Ban Treaty negotiations in 1997 and was strongly rebuffed by its allies. Numerous retired US military officers, including those who commanded forces in South Korea, have said that using antipersonnel mines there is of little or no military value, HRW said.

“The US landmine policy reinstates the prohibitions on landmine production and use that were rolled back by a Trump administration policy directive issued on January 31, 2020.”

HRW also said the Trump policy undid years of incremental steps by the US government to align its policy and practice with the Mine Ban Treaty, which the US participated in negotiating in 1996-1997.

“The US last used antipersonnel mines in 1991, has not exported them since 1992, or produced them since 1997.”

Over the past 30 years the US has fought a range of conflicts—both high and low intensity—in a variety of environments and has demonstrated that it can employ alternative strategies, tactics, and weaponry without resorting to antipersonnel mines.

It has spent more than $1 billion on the development and production of systems that could be considered alternatives to antipersonnel mines, HRW said. [IDN-InDepthNews – 25 June 2022]

Image: Swedish FFV 028 anti-tank mines of the German Bundeswehr (inert versions). CC BY-SA 4.0

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