The Trump administration is expected to loosen restrictions on the US military’s ability to use landmines in the coming days, weapons that have been banned by more than 160 countries due to their history of killing and wounding civilians, multiple Defense Department officials tell CNN.
The move represents a major reversal from the approach of the Obama administration which in 2014 committed the US to largely adhering to the 1997 Ottawa Convention, the international agreement which banned the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel landmines. The Obama policy committed to replacing landmines in the US stockpile after they expire and directed the destruction of stockpiles not required for the defense of South Korea.
In an exception to the Ottawa convention, the Obama policy allowed the US military to continue to use landmines on the Korean Peninsula where some 28,000 US troops are stationed across the de-militarized zone from North Korea’s military of one million troops. That exception was criticized by some non-government organizations.
President Donald Trump is expected to rescind Obama’s 2014 order in the coming days, delegating landmine policy to the secretary of defense, thereby bringing it in line with weapons policies other than nuclear weapons.
The change was recommended following a Pentagon review. The Defense Department did not immediately provide comment on the new proposed policy.
In a response to a question on CNN’s reporting at a briefing on Thursday morning Defense Secretary Mark Esper said ,”There will be a change coming out, I’m not going to comment on it until it is.”
The easing of restrictions on the use of landmines was criticized by lawmakers and anti-landmine campaigners.
“Reports that the White House intends to roll back the policy on anti-personnel landmines are of great concern. As far as I am aware, no Member of Congress has been consulted about this imminent announcement. I have today asked the Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to hold off on any decision until we have an opportunity to discuss it,” Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said in a statement.
“The current policy, limiting the use of this inherently indiscriminate weapon to the Korean Peninsula, is the culmination of nearly 30 years of incremental steps, taken by both Democratic and Republican administrations after extensive analysis and consultation, toward the growing global consensus that anti-personnel mines should be universally banned,” Leahy, a long-time campaigner against landmines, added.
Decision is the result of a Pentagon review
Pentagon officials tell CNN the Trump administration’s decision came about following a review launched in 2017 by then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, which found that the previous prohibition on landmines outside of Korea “increased risk to mission success” and could increase the chances of US personnel suffering casualties.
The new policy recommended by the Pentagon is expected to permit the operational use of landmines only if they have a 30-day self-destruction or self-deactivation feature, a design feature seen as helping to prevent civilian casualties. The new policy would also allow for the development, production and procurement of landmines only if they have these features.
Many of the civilian deaths caused by landmines have taken place years after the end of the conflict in which the weapons were first employed. Their widespread use, particularly in several Africa-based conflicts, helped drive a global movement calling for the removal and banning of landmines during the 1990s.
The Clinton Administration ordered the clearing of the US military’s last minefield during the late 1990s, clearing the landmines that had been placed around the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to defend that installation against Communist Cuban troops.
The Ottawa Convention, also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, states that the treaty’s signatories were “determined to put an end to the suffering and casualties caused by anti-personnel mines, that kill or maim hundreds of people every week, mostly innocent and defenseless civilians and especially children, obstruct economic development and reconstruction, inhibit the repatriation of refugees and internally displaced persons and have other severe consequences for years after emplacement.”