U.S. Forswears Landmines Except in Korea

By Daryl G. Kimball

The United States announced on Sept. 23 that it would not use anti-personnel landmines (APLs) “outside the unique circumstances” of the Korean peninsula and would not “assist, encourage, or induce others to use, stockpile, produce or transfer” APLs anywhere beyond the peninsula. 

According to the State Department, the decision opens the way for the destruction of a significant portion of the estimated U.S. stockpile of 3 million APLs, except for those deemed necessary for the defense of South Korea. U.S. forces are stationed there to help guard against a North Korean attack. 

The newly announced measures “represent a further step to advance the humanitarian aims of the Ottawa Convention and to bring U.S. practice in closer alignment with a global humanitarian movement that has had a demonstrated positive impact in reducing civilian casualties” from APLs, the White House said in its Sept. 23 statement. The 1997 Ottawa Convention bans the use, development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, or transfer of APLs, as well as assisting or encouraging other states in those activities.

The announcement comes on the heels of a June statement in which the United States said it will not produce or otherwise acquire any anti-personnel munitions that are not compliant with the Ottawa Convention, including replacements for such munitions as they expire in the coming years. (See ACT, July/August 2014.) During a Sept. 23 telephone briefing, a senior administration official said the policy applies to all parts of the word, including the Korean peninsula.

According to the White House statement, the United States will continue to look for ways to “be compliant with” and “ultimately” to accede to the convention while ensuring that it can meet its defense commitments to South Korea. Officials speaking during the Sept. 23 briefing said that the Defense Department has been asked to produce a study on options to accomplish this.

Mine-ban advocates, including the United States Campaign to Ban Landmines, welcomed the announcement. In a Sept. 23 statement, the campaign called it a “positive step.” 

In a Sept. 23 press release, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called the announcement “a crucial step that makes official what has been de facto U.S. practice for a decade and a half. The White House has recognized what our NATO allies declared long ago: These inherently indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians have no place in the 21st Century, and those who use them should be condemned.”

Leahy said the decision “brings U.S. policy closer to the international landmine ban treaty. It mirrors my legislation in 1997, cosponsored by 57 U.S. senators, including key Democratic and Republican leaders in the Senate today.”