The Guardian: Marshall Islands sues nine nuclear powers over their failure to disarm
Julian Borger, diplomatic editor, The Guardian, Thursday 24 April, 2014/
In the unprecedented legal action, comprising nine separate cases
brought before the ICJ on Thursday, the Republic of the Marshall Islands
accuses the nuclear weapons states of a “flagrant denial of human
justice”. It argues it is justified in taking the action because of the
harm it suffered as a result of the nuclear arms race.
The Pacific chain of islands, including Bikini Atoll and Enewetak, was
the site of 67 nuclear tests from 1946 to 1958, including the “Bravo
shot”, a 15-megaton device equivalent to a thousand Hiroshima blasts,
detonated in 1954. The Marshallese islanders say they have been
suffering serious health and environmental effects ever since.
The island republic is suing the five “established” nuclear weapons
states recognised in the 1968 nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT)
Russia (which inherited the Soviet arsenal), China, France and the UK –
as well as the three countries outside the NPT who have declared nuclear
arsenals – India, Pakistan and North Korea, and the one undeclared
nuclear weapons state, Israel.
The NPT, which came into force in 1970 is essentially a compact between
the non-weapon states, who pledged to not to acquire nuclear weapons,
and the weapons states, who in return undertook to disarm under article
VI of the treaty.
Although the size of the arsenals are sharply down from the height of
the cold war, the Marshall Islands’ legal case notes there remain more
than 17,000 warheads in existence, 16,000 of them owned by Russia and
the US – enough to destroy all life on the planet.
“The long delay in fulfilling the obligations enshrined in article VI of
the NPT constitutes a flagrant denial of human justice,” the court
The Marshall Islands case draws attention to the fact that the weapons
states are currently in the process of modernising their nuclear
weapons, which it portrays as a clear violation of the NPT.
The case against Britain, which has an estimated total inventory of 225
warheads and is in the process of replacing its submarine-launched
Trident arsenal, states that: “The UK has not pursued in good faith
negotiations to cease the nuclear arms race at an early date through
comprehensive nuclear disarmament or other measures, and instead is
taking actions to improve its nuclear weapons system and to maintain it
for the indefinite future.”
The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament’s general secretary, Kate Hudson,
said: “The nuclear-armed states continue to peddle the myth that they
are committed to multilateral disarmament initiatives, while squandering
billions to modernise their nuclear arsenals. The UK government’s plans
to replace Trident make a mockery of its professed belief in
multilateral frameworks – and now in addition to huge public opposition
in the UK, it will also face an international legal challenge to expose