Nine nuclear armed nations will be taken to court by the Marshall Islands. The foreign minister of the small country has charged the United States, Great Britain, Russia, China, France, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea for failing to disarm. Instead, the accused are in the process of spending $1 trillion over the next 10 years to modernize their nuclear arsenals.
None of the countries named received advanced warning of the pending ligation. The lawsuit filed at the International Court of Justice in The Hague contends all nine countries have violated the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The terms stipulate the signatories undergo disarmament negotiations to reduce their nuclear weapon stockpiles. India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea did not sign the treaty and have all refused previous requests to do so.
In 1995, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty was reviewed and indefinitely extended. A year later, the International Court of Justice made a unanimous decision that obligated all nations with nuclear weapons to conduct disarmament negotiations. The expectation was that these countries would reduce their weapons by destroying them. In 2002, the U.S. withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Since that time, future nuclear talks have stalled.
Some of the nuclear-armed countries contend they have made progress in reducing their arsenals. All support disarmament provided the other countries adhere to the treaty. For Marshall Island Foreign Minister Tony de Brum, the empty rhetoric had to stop. A legal precedent needs to be set before an international court.
Besides The Hague, a similar lawsuit was filed at the federal level in San Francisco. It named President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, Defense Secretary Hagel, and the National Nuclear Security Administration headed by Frank Klotz as defendants.
The decision of the Marshall Island Foreign Minister de Brum to take nine nuclear armed nations to court is attempts to have these countries explain their positions before the International Court of Justice. Foreign Minister de Brum expects the defendants to accept the court’s jurisdiction and follow the obligations of the treaty signed in 1968. He seeks action on disarmament, not compensation.
After the Second World War, the Marshall Islands became a testing ground for 67 nuclear tests by the U.S. The local population has endured what Foreign Minister de Brum has called irreparable long lasting catastrophic environmental and health issues. He has vowed that no other people endure similar atrocities.
David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, saw the pending lawsuits as a David verses Goliath situation without slingshots. Krieger will consultant with the Marshall Island lawyers on the upcoming cases. He hopes other non-nuclear countries will join the litigation.
John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, said the lawsuits presented by the Foreign Minister de Brum are the first of their kind where countries would have to admit they possessed nuclear weapons in a court setting. The defendants would also have to admit they have not complied with the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. A legal victory could result in the nine countries forced into a binding judgment.
South African Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Desmond Tutu supports the Marshall Island lawsuit. He asked why the leaders of these nations continue breaking their promises to disarm. The mere presence of weapons of mass destruction places the citizens of their nation at great risk.
Should the Marshall Islands win its case in The Hague, enforcement will prove more difficult. The leaders of the countries named in the lawsuit are not likely to be successfully fined or arrested. Still, the decision of the Marshall Islands to take nine nuclear armed nations to court in both The Hague and San Francisco could rekindle a favorable movement toward the reduction in nuclear arms.
By Brian T. Yates
Wall Street Journal