United States President Donald Trump on Friday lifted restrictions on the use of anti-personnel mines since 2014, authorizing the use of a new generation of these supposedly capable devices to save civilian populations.
“This new policy will allow military commanders to use, in exceptional circumstances, advanced, non-permanent antipersonnel mines specifically designed to reduce injuries to civilians and partner forces,” the White House said in a statement.
Trump is reversing his predecessor Barack Obama’s decision to partially comply with the 1997 Ottawa Antipersonnel Mine Ban Treaty, which has been ratified by 164 states worldwide and which prohibits the use, stockpiling, production or transfer of anti-personnel mines, those buried mines that explode when walked on.
The United States is not a signatory to this convention, and the United States has not used this type of mine since 1991 with one exception: in Afghanistan in 2002. But Mr. Obama had decided to approach it significantly by prohibiting the use of anti-personnel mines except on the Korean peninsula, where the American army reserved the right to place them.
“The Department of Defense has determined that restrictions imposed on American forces by the Obama administration can seriously disadvantage them during a conflict,” said the White House statement. “The president refuses this risk for our troops”.
Pentagon chief Mark Esper welcomed the new policy on Friday, which leaves it up to the military to decide whether they want to use the mines more widely around the world.
“Anti-personnel mines are an important tool that our forces must have at their disposal to ensure the success of their mission,” he told reporters.
With these mines equipped with new technologies, “I think you will be convinced that we have given a lot of consideration to the way they will be used and to what will happen to them after a conflict,” added the American Minister of Defense.
The new “advanced” mines that the US military can now use anywhere in the world are activated remotely and are supposed to self-destruct if they are not activated after a certain period of time.
The deadline for self-destruction is 30 days, but it can be reduced to 48 hours, or even two hours if necessary, assured the press the head of the Pentagon responsible for the development of this reform, Vic Mercado. According to him, there is only 6 chances in a million that the self-destruct system does not work.
Since belligerents generally leave their antipersonnel mines behind when they leave a theater of war, they continue to kill and maim long after the end of a conflict. In general, a mine explosion kills or injures one or more people – often children – and has lifelong consequences.
The new American policy, whose announcement was expected, immediately aroused indignation.
“Trump’s announcement on anti-personnel mines is a death sentence for civilians,” said Anne Hery, director of advocacy for Handicap International, the Nobel Peace Prize winner for her fight on the subject.
“The idea that so-called” smart “landmines will be safer than the old ones is preposterous,” she added. “Who will explain to the mother of a victim girl that 20 days were not enough before playing football on an empty farm?” The only safe mine is the one we don’t produce! “
For the main American anti-gun lobby Arms Control Association, the new American policy is a “dangerous mistake”.
“The world has rejected anti-personnel mines because they do not discriminate and disproportionately injure civilians,” said Jeff Abramson, one of the officials in the lobby.
According to Handicap International, the Ottawa Convention has cut the annual number of victims of anti-personnel mines by 10 in 15 years: from 30,000 per year in the early 1990s, the number of victims fell to 3,330 in 2013.
But since 2014, the use of mines has increased with the multiplication of attacks by jihadist groups. At least 7,200 people were killed or injured by these weapons in 2017.
“The world has turned the page on anti-personnel mines,” said Abramson. “The United States should do the same.”