This article originally appeared on The Daily Signal.
By: Dakota Wood
The Biden administration last week announced it would dramatically limit the use of anti-personnel land mines by U.S. forces and destroy the entire U.S. inventory of such land mines, except for a limited number associated with defending South Korea.
Although the decision no doubt will be welcomed by the more progressive elements of the president’s party, experts know that this blatant virtue signaling not only could cause the unnecessary deaths of U.S. military personnel, but defeat in battle.
Despite military leaders’ repeated testimony that such land mines represent a useful military capability, the White House seemingly chose political expediency over warfighting.
Why else would President Joe Biden appear to place so little value on the lives of the men and women serving in our military? It seems no one in the White House has the ability, or perhaps desire, to differentiate the rightness of America’s defending itself and rendering assistance to friends facing the predatory behavior of Russia or Iran or China.
The Biden administration correctly notes that other countries have used land mines in reckless ways that harm civilian populations and pose threats to local communities long after a conflict has ended. But to imply that U.S. forces operate just as irresponsibly is insulting.
Again, as noted by the administration, the U.S. should take pride in the assistance provided to others around the world in humanitarian demining efforts. It is the right thing to do.
But it is a tragic mistake to say that, because mines have caused problems in other settings, U.S. forces should not be allowed to use mines to protect themselves and make it harder, rather than easier, for an enemy to prevail.
This is like saying that because criminals use weapons to commit crimes, police should be disarmed to set the example that leads us to a gun-free world. The whole notion is absurd.
In saying that the U.S. will align its policy with that of other countries forswearing the use of mines, Biden effectively has placed the nation on the same footing as Palau, Liechtenstein, and Cape Verde, all signatories to the Ottawa Convention.
This ignores the fact that America has vastly different interests and obligations, and that U.S. forces should be equipped to serve them accordingly. Russia, China, and Iran, which are not signatories, meanwhile are arming themselves to the teeth and repeatedly have shown little regard for the responsible use of the tools of war.
The framers of this policy appear to assume that the U.S. never will be in a war where there is a need to deny key terrain or routes to the enemy. Anti-personnel land mines force an enemy to slow down, thus giving friendly forces time to react.
These mines can overcome a relative lack of forces on the part of the U.S. by forcing an enemy off certain routes and areas. They simplify the dispersion of U.S. forces, enabling a smaller contingent to control a larger area and preventing it from being overwhelmed by an enemy that otherwise would be able to attack from many different directions.
Do the mines pose dangers post-conflict? Yes, but no different than any battlefield littered with the debris of unexploded ordnance from mortars, artillery, rockets, bombs, grenades, and missiles that did not perform as designed. This is an ugly aspect of war.
Another ugly reality is that war demands tools that kill the enemy while preserving one’s own people and combat power. Does anyone doubt that the Ukrainians want to have as many tools as possible to frustrate Russian advances across their country? They willingly will shoulder the burden of removing mines and other dangerous remnants of war once they have defeated the enemy trying to destroy them.
Biden’s policy to “not develop, produce, or acquire” anti-personnel land mines means that U.S. forces will not have this capability when the next war comes along—as history, unfortunately, suggests it will. Prohibiting the use of this capability is akin to fighting with one arm behind your back.
It also follows a troubling pattern in which this administration seemingly places more emphasis in the areas of climate change, diversity and equity, and extremist witch hunts than actual warfighting capability.
In short, the Biden plan to destroy America’s inventory of mines and to renounce their use will place our military in the greatest danger at the time of greatest need.
Biden effectively is sacrificing our men and women on the altar of progressive fantasy on the false premise that our enemies will observe the niceties of proper conduct on the next battlefield.
Good luck with that idea.
Dakota Wood is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense and editor of Heritage’s Index of U.S. Military Strength. Previously, he served for two decades in the U.S. Marine Corps.