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Today marks 100 days of stonewalling by the Secretary of Defense. On May 6, more than one hundred members of Congress sent a letter to Secretary Esper seeking clarification on the new U.S. landmine policy. Secretary Esper has not answered a single question.

In 2018, civilians accounted for 71 percent of landmine casualties, with children making up the majority of civilian casualties

On January 31, the White House announced a new landmine policy that allows the U.S. military to employ, develop, produce, or otherwise acquire landmines. The new policy runs counter to the global consensus prohibiting the use of landmines, enshrined in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty signed by 164 countries. It reverses decades of work by U.S. civil society organizations and their supporters. In response to this sudden reversal of policy, 107 members of Congress, led by Rep. Jim McGovern (MA-02) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (VT), wrote to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper expressing their disappointment and asking over two dozen questions on the policy.

Landmines are indiscriminate weapons that pose a serious risk to civilians. In 2018, civilians accounted for 71% of landmine casualties, with children making up the majority of civilian casualties. In announcing this dramatic policy shift, the Department of Defense claimed that it intends to limit “the risk of unintended harm to non-combatants” through the development and use of “non-persistent” landmines. However, the Government Accountability Office documented that such “non-persistent” landmines deployed in the Gulf War failed at a rate 150 times higher than the Department of Defense had initially reported.

The Pentagon’s silence shows a deeply troubling lack of concern for public accountability and raises serious questions about the rationale for the policy change.

Given the outsized threat these munitions pose for civilians and the technology’s documented past failures, the Pentagon should welcome the opportunity to further elaborate its justification for this reversal of policy to members of Congress and the public.

However, a hundred days later, the Department of Defense continues to frustrate congressional oversight by refusing to provide answers. The Pentagon’s silence shows a deeply troubling lack of concern for public accountability and raises serious questions about the rationale for the policy change. Congress and the public have a right to know why the Pentagon finds it necessary to use these indiscriminate munitions and reject the global consensus banning landmines. By blatantly ignoring Congress’s constitutional oversight role, the Pentagon is threatening the foundational principle of civilian oversight of the U.S. military. Secretary Esper must answer the questions before him.

Ursala Knudsen-Latta

Ursala Knudsen-Latta

Legislative Representative, Peacebuilding
Ursala is the Legislative Representative for Peacebuilding. Ursala lobbies Congress to change U.S. foreign policy from an overly militarized and security-driven approach to one that prevents, mitigates, and transforms violent conflict and builds sustainable peace.

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