Trump Administration Eases U.S. Restrictions on Use of Land Mines – The Wall Street Journal

Members of a demining team looking for landmines in Quang Tri province, Vietnam. Photo: nhac nguyen/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration said it is reversing an Obama-era ban on certain kinds of land mines, adopting a new policy in an effort to expand military weaponry.

The move, announced Friday by the White House and at the Pentagon, partially overturns a policy put into place in 2014 to prevent the acquisition and use of land mines by the U.S. military.

The reversal opens the Trump administration to criticism from human-rights groups and others who believe the administration is returning to weapons that other countries view as illegal to achieve battlefield goals.

Senate aides said the administration didn’t brief lawmakers on the policy change ahead of the announcement.

The reversal ordered Friday limits the use of mines to those which aren’t considered persistent and have the capability to self-destruct or be deactivated within 30 days, minimizing dangers to civilians, officials said.

“We’re not talking about what you see on TV, the legacy land mines you see that have really wreaked havoc,” said Vic Mercado, the top Pentagon policy official overseeing the policy.

The new policy emphasizes avoiding civilian casualties and requires the use of mines to be approved by the secretary of defense.

The Obama White House in 2014 had directed the Pentagon to study alternatives that would comply with a 1997 international treaty, signed by 160 countries, that banned the weapons altogether. The U.S., which still uses land mines on the Korean Peninsula, wasn’t a signatory to the treaty.

Jim Mattis, secretary of defense from 2017 to 2018, ordered a Pentagon analysis on the use of nonpersistent land mines against enemy forces.

Mr. Mercado said the new mines would give commanders a form of deterrence against enemy fighters without the same level of risk to civilians. Mines also give military commanders the capability of denying opposing forces access to an area or forcing them to slow a movement on the battlefield, he said.

“We can actually now shape the battlespace,” he said. “We can create areas for the enemy to avoid, before they did not have before they did not have that capability.”

Humanitarian groups have long opposed the use of such weapons, saying many are planted along national boundaries and left, unmarked, for civilians to stumble across. Mark Hiznay, an associate director of the arms division at Human Rights Watch, said mines are outdated and irrelevant to the current battlefield situations.

Write to Gordon Lubold at Gordon.Lubold@wsj.com

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