When the Trump administration announced plans earlier this year to reintroduce antipersonnel landmines into the U.S. inventory of weapons, it triggered a predictable reaction across the political spectrum.
Supporters hailed the move as a necessary step to enhance force protection, particularly in an era that sees China and Russia re-emerging as strategic adversaries. Detractors question the need for a weapon system that addresses a threat that could be confronted in other ways, which also could harm the innocent years after hostilities end.
While the directive effectively reverses a policy put in place by President Barack Obama, the Pentagon's related official statement says the change does not end U.S. compliance to the 1996 United Nations disarmament treaty known as Certain Conventional Weapons Amended Protocol II.
On Jan. 31--one day after the White House made the change public--the Pentagon issued guidelines to each service and combatant commands. The use of antipersonnel landmines would be used "only if they have compliant self-destruction mechanisms and self-deactivation features, and they are detectable by commonly available mine-detection equipment." Moreover, these mines would be designed to self-destruct within 30 days or less.
Exactly how the process of bringing antipersonnel landmines back into use would progress remains to be seen. Their manufacture and acquisition ended in 2014 and the existing inventory--some 3 million antipersonnel mines--is aging and will likely be useless within the next decade to 15 years. Meanwhile, the decision has launched a groundswell of activity among activists and organizations that are hard set against the resumption of their use.
"I don't understand why the Trump administration would do this, because we haven't been using them anyway," said Ken Rutherford, a political science professor at James Madison University and co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network. "We don't have landmines in the United States. It's not our kids, our civilians, who are getting hurt by these things."
Likewise, the decision has its supporters.
"The previous [Obama administration] U.S. policy on landmines went against the advice of the military, and not for military reasons," said Theodore Bromund, senior fellow for Anglo-American relations at the Heritage Foundation. "The Trump administration has now reverted that policy to that of the George W. Bush administration, and that policy was correct."
Their use dates back at least as far as the Napoleonic Wars. Landmines have...