US President Donald Trump’s administration on Friday lifted US restrictions on landmines and said that new technology made them safer, outraging campaigners for the abolition of the explosives.
In a recent reversal of a policy of his predecessor Barack Obama, Trump gave the green light to a new generation of “non-persistent” landmines that can be switched off or destroyed remotely rather than staying active in the ground forever.
The decision reverses a 2014 Obama administration ban on the use of such weapons, which applied everywhere in the world except for in the defence of South Korea.
The US administration said that the former president’s policy could put troops “at a severe disadvantage”.
Thousands of people are injured and killed by landmines every year.
US forces will now be free to use the weapons across the world “in exceptional circumstances”, the White House said.
“The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama administration’s policy could place them at a severe disadvantage during a conflict against our adversaries,” a White House further said in a statement.
Obama in 2014 banned the use of anti-personnel landmines with the exception, under pressure from military planners, of the Korean peninsula where the explosives dot the last Cold War frontier with North Korea.
Obama also ordered the destruction of anti-personnel stockpiles not designed to defend South Korea and said the United States would not cooperate with other nations in developing landmines.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the United States took into account the safety of civilians but considered landmines among the “important tools” for the military.
Representative Jim McGovern, a Democrat active on human rights issues, fired off a letter to the Pentagon voicing alarm at the change.
Any self-destructing mines need to have humans in control, considering that modern battlefields and civilian populations move so quickly, he said.
“I am proud that the United States is no longer a source of injuries and deaths caused by this indiscriminate weapon. The world is better for it,” he wrote.
Senior military commanders believed the effect of these weapons – denying an area to enemy advance – could be replicated by other weapons less dangerous to civilians once a conflict was over.
Now landmines will be more widely available to US commanders, the argument being that their absence leaves them at a disadvantage in relation to likely adversaries – perhaps a reference to the fact that neither Russia or China have banned or placed any restrictions on such weapons.
More than 160 countries, including most of the Western world, are party to the 1999 Ottawa Convention that aims to eliminate anti-personnel mines. Major outliers include the United States, Russia and China, as well as India and Pakistan.
The United States has not deployed anti-personnel mines in any significant way since the 1991 Gulf War.
In 2018, only one country — Myanmar –, as well as a small number of non-state armed groups, used landmines, according to the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which researches an annual report for a pressure group.
(With inputs from agency)