Overnight Defense

Defense & National Security — Biden shakes up land mine policy

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced that it would limit the U.S. military’s use of land mines.  

We’ll break down the policy, plus talk about Attorney General Merrick Garland’s unannounced visit to Ukraine.   

This is Defense & National Security, your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. For The Hill, I’m Jordan Williams. A friend forward this newsletter to you? Subscribe here.

Biden moves to limit use of land mines

The Biden administration on Tuesday moved to limit the U.S. military’s use of land mines, reversing a Trump-era policy that loosened restrictions on anti-personnel land mines. 

Under the new policy, the Biden administration said the U.S. will not develop, produce, acquire, export or transfer anti-personnel land mines and will not use them, with the exception of along South Korea’s border with North Korea.   

  • The White House said Biden had directed the U.S. to align its policy on land mine use with provisions of the Ottawa Treaty, a 1997 treaty with the goal of eliminating the use of anti-personnel land mines around the world, with the exception of around the Korean Peninsula.   
  • A White House fact sheet cited the “unique circumstances” on the Korean Peninsula in explaining the exemption for the new policy.  

Additionally, the White House said Biden would order the Pentagon to work to find “alternatives” to such land mines that would allow the U.S. to join the Ottawa Convention, which the U.S. cannot join because of its current policies. 

Why this change? The White House cited the disproportionate impact of land mines on civilians and children in announcing the new policy, which came after an extensive review. 

“The world has once again witnessed the devastating impact that anti-personnel landmines can have in the context of Russia’s brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine, where Russian forces’ use of these and other munitions have caused extensive harm to civilians and civilian objects,” White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement. 

“President Biden is committed to continuing the United States’ role as the world’s leader in mitigating the harmful consequences of anti-personnel landmines worldwide,” she said. 

Backstory: The Trump administration relaxed a ban on the use of land mines in early 2020, saying that the Obama-era prohibition put U.S. troops at a disadvantage. The Trump-era policy allowed U.S. military commanders to order the deployment of land mines in “exceptional circumstances” around the globe. That policy had been under review by the Biden administration since at least last spring.   

Biden as a Democratic presidential candidate vowed to roll back the Trump-era policy, calling it reckless and saying it put civilians at unnecessary risk.   

Read the story here. 

Garland makes unannounced visit to Ukraine

Attorney General Merrick Garland made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Tuesday to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart to discuss the prosecution of war crimes in the Russian invasion.  

While there he announced the creation of a “War Crimes Accountability Team” to centralize the department’s work in holding accountable those who have committed war crimes.

Why Garland went: Garland met with Ukrainian Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova to reaffirm the United States’s commitment to identify, apprehend and prosecute those who have taken part in war crimes during the Russia-Ukraine conflict, according to a tweet from Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley.  

  • Garland said in a video Coley posted that he came to Ukraine to continue the discussions he has had with Venediktova on how the U.S. can assist and is assisting Ukrainian officials in holding individuals responsible for the “atrocities the world has seen.” 
  • “The United States is sending an unmistakable message: there is no place to hide,” he said. “We and our partners will pursue every avenue available to make sure that those who are responsible for these atrocities are held accountable.” 

Behind the war crimes effort:  The former director of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Investigations, which was responsible for identifying and deporting Nazi war criminals, will lead a team to investigate war crimes that have occurred in Ukraine.  

The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in a release Tuesday that Eli Rosenbaum, who has served in the department for 36 years, will lead the War Crimes Accountability Team, which will focus on war crimes and atrocities committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

“Working alongside our domestic and international partners, the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to hold accountable every person complicit in the commission of war crimes, torture, and other grave violations during the unprovoked conflict in Ukraine,” Garland said in the release.

SECOND AMERICAN KILLED IN UKRAINE

The Department of State on Tuesday confirmed a second American citizen has died while fighting in Ukraine. 

A State Department official, speaking on background, said U.S. citizen Stephen Zabielski died in Ukraine. The official did not offer any further details. 

  • State Department officials “have been in touch with the family and have provided all possible consular assistance,” the official added.
  • “We once again reiterate U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine due to the active armed conflict and the singling out of U.S. citizens in Ukraine by Russian government security officials,” the official said. “U.S. citizens in Ukraine should depart immediately if it is safe to do so using any commercial or other privately available ground transportation options.” 

About Zabielski: Zabielski, 52, of Hernando, Fla., died while fighting in the village of Dorozhniank, according to his obituary in local news outlet The Recorder. 

He is formerly of Cranesville, N.Y., and “enjoyed life,” including riding his Harley motorcycle as well as hunting and fishing. 

“Steve will be missed by all who knew and loved him,” the obituary reads. 

He is survived by his wife, five stepchildren, seven siblings and his extended family. 

Other Americans who died: Zabielski is the second American citizen to die in Ukraine during combat after Willy Joseph Cancel, a 22-year-old former U.S. Marine. Cancel’s family reported in April that a military contracting company sent him to Ukraine. 

Read the full story here.

ON TAP TOMORROW

  • The Atlantic Council and the Delegation of the European Union to the United States will host the 2022 EU-US Defense & Future Forum at 8:30 a.m. 
  • The Ronald Reagan Institute will host an event on “Countering Foreign Information Operations: Developing a Wole of Society Approach to Build Resilience” at 10 a.m. 
  • The Hudson Institute will host its “Defense Disruptors Series: General CQ Brown and the US Air Force” at 10:30 a.m. 
  • The American Bar Association will host an event on “The Russian Invasion of Ukraine – Status Update” at 12 p.m. 
  • The Quincy Institute and The American Conservative will host an event on “The New Right: Ukraine Marks Major Foreign Policy Shift Among Conservatives” at 12 p.m. 
  • The Center for a New American Security will host a conversation with Michael Brown, Director of the Defense Innovation Unit at 12:30 p.m. 
  • The Institute of World Politics will hold an online seminar on “Counterintelligence and Cyber Technology” at 6 p.m.

SENATE

  • The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing Examining FEMA’s Strategic Priorities and Disaster Preparedness at 2:30 p.m. 
  • The Intelligence Committee will hold a closed intelligence hearing at 2:30 p.m. 
  • The Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing on “NATO Enlargement: Examining the Proposed Accession of Sweden and Finland” at 2:45 p.m.

HOUSE

  • The Appropriations Committee will review the FY 2023 Report on the Suballocation of Budget Allocations for FY 2023, Defense, and Legislative Branch Appropriations Bills at 10 a.m. 
  • The Armed Services Committee will markup the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act at 10 a.m. 
  • The Intelligence Committee will hold a closed National Security Budget Hearing at 10 a.m. 
  • The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on Oversight of the Department of Justice National Security Division at 10 a.m. 
  • The Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health will hold a legislative hearing at 10 a.m. 
  • The Appropriations Committee will markup the FY 2023 Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Subcommittee Bill at 5 p.m.

WHAT WE’RE READING

That’s it for today. Check out The Hill’s Defense and National Security pages for the latest coverage. See you tomorrow!

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