Marshall Islands Challenges Nuclear Powers in David vs. Goliath Confrontation

Tuesday, December 30, 2014
1946 nuclear test at Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands (AP: photo)

A tiny Pacific nation that once endured 67 nuclear test explosions is taking the United States and other nuclear powers to an international tribunal to push for nuclear disarmament.


The Marshall Islands has asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order those nations possessing nuclear weapons to seriously engage in talks to ban the weapons worldwide. “All the nuclear weapons states are modernizing their arsenals instead of negotiating, and we want the court to rule on this,” Phon van den Biesen, the leader of the islands’ legal team, told The New York Times.


The legal action is directed at the original members of the so-called “nuclear club” (the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China) as well as four other countries that have either admitted to having the weapons or are presumed to have them (India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea). The Marshall Islands contend the original five nuclear powers promised in 1968, when they agreed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to negotiate a nuclear disarmament treaty, which never came about.


Backing the island’s legal move are more than a dozen international law experts, who have donated time to assist with the case, and a coalition of 55 international peace and other activist groups, according to the Times.


Despite the help and backing, it’s unlikely the suit will succeed in forcing the nuclear powers to disarm because ICJ rulings are not enforceable. Among the nations being sued, only Britain, India and Pakistan accept the court’s decisions as binding and China has already said it won’t abide by the court’s decision. But that’s not to say the move doesn’t have merit.


“This case will help clarify where we stand in arms control law and perhaps sharpen the obligation to disarm,” Nico Schrijver, head of the law school at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told the Times. “It has merit in a time of growing international tension. But I see a host of legal hurdles ahead.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

A Former Ground Zero Goes to Court Against the World’s Nuclear Arsenals (by Marlise Simons, New York Times)

The Republic of the Marshall Islands Files Applications against Nine States for Their Alleged Failure to Fulfil [sic] Their Obligations with Respect to the Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race at an Early Date and to Nuclear Disarmament (International Court of Justice) (pdf)

Nuclear Test Site Applies for World Heritage Status (AllGov)


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