The United States said on Tuesday it would return to banning landmines anywhere other than the Korean Peninsula, reversing former President Donald Trump’s course, as it contrasted with Russia’s use of explosives in Ukraine. .
President Joe Biden’s administration has said it will end the use and production of antipersonnel landmines, which kill thousands of civilians every year.
He said he would destroy the US stockpile of three million mines unless deemed necessary in Korea.
“The administration’s actions today stand in stark contrast to Russia’s actions in Ukraine,” senior State Department official Stanley Brown told reporters.
In Ukraine, “there is compelling evidence that Russian forces are using explosive ordnance, including landmines, irresponsibly, causing widespread harm to civilians and damage to vital civilian infrastructure there,” he said. he declared.
The policy change brings the United States closer to compliance, but still outside the 1997 Ottawa Convention that banned anti-personnel landmines – a treaty rejected by American adversaries Russia and China, as well as by the historical enemies, India and Pakistan.
The Biden administration reverted to a policy of former President Barack Obama and reversed the position of Trump, who in 2020 again gave the green light to the use and production of landmines, saying that states States had put themselves at a competitive disadvantage.
The changes reflect Biden’s “belief that these weapons have a disproportionate impact on civilians, including children, long after the fighting has ended,” according to a White House statement.
Adrienne Rich, spokeswoman for the National Security Council, said the United States had invested more than $4.2 billion since 1993 to destroy landmines and other conventional weapons.
“We will continue this important work as we take another step to reclaim American leadership on the world stage,” she said in a statement.
The main exception is on the Korean peninsula, where many of North Korea’s 1.2 million troops are stationed near the demilitarized zone just 50 kilometers (30 miles) north of Seoul, the South’s capital and a center global economy.
“The unique circumstances on the Korean Peninsula and the United States’ commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea prevent the United States from changing antipersonnel landmine policy on the Korean Peninsula at this time,” the House said. White.
The United States does not actively control the peninsula’s minefields as it has transferred control to South Korea, which is not a party to the Ottawa Convention.
The Trump administration has argued that the United States could develop smarter landmines that could be disabled remotely.
But anti-mine activists – including the famous Princess Diana – have long highlighted the death and maiming of civilians years after the conflicts.
In 2019, landmines killed at least 2,170 people and injured 3,357 others, nearly half of whom were believed to be children, according to the annual Landmine Monitor surveyed by non-governmental groups.
The non-governmental group Humanity and Inclusion welcomed Biden’s change but called on the United States to join the Ottawa treaty.
“Civilians can breathe a little easier today, because the chief of one of the largest armies in the world has just promised to avoid the use of these weapons outside the Korean peninsula in the future,” he said. said Jeff Meer, the group’s US executive director.
But the US refusal to join the treaty – even though it has not used landmines since the 1991 Gulf War – “is an ironic and historic oddity” that “leaves thousands of lives at risk “, Meer said.
Mining in Ukraine
Human Rights Watch in a recent report said Russia has deployed at least seven types of mines in Ukraine since its invasion, including new types making their battlefield debut.
The landmines include booby traps set during retreating Russian forces that are triggered by casualties, he said.
The mines have prevented Ukrainian civilians – whose own country is a party to the Ottawa Convention – from accessing homes and fields, he said.
The United States shipped Claymore mines – designed to ambush enemy infantry – to Ukraine.
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