The World Court and Nuclear Weapons: Who Is Listening?

By Ware, Alyn | UN Chronicle, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

The World Court and Nuclear Weapons: Who Is Listening?


Ware, Alyn, UN Chronicle


On 8 July 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), otherwise known as the World Court, delivered an historic opinion on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Citing international laws of war and specific treaties, a majority of the judges declared that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal, and all 14 declared "that there exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control".

The Court's opinion prompted a flurry of claims and counter-claims. Nuclear-weapon States said that their policies were in accordance with the decision; most others claimed the opposite. The confusion arose because the judges did not condemn nuclear weapons absolutely. While stating that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be illegal, the Court said that it could not rule definitively on whether such illegality would hold "in an extreme circumstance of self defence, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake." The nuclear-weapon States then argued that they only intend to use nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances. Other commentators responded that the nuclear-weapon States were conveniently ignoring a unanimous holding by the ICJ, namely that a threat or use of nuclear weapons "should also be compatible with the requirements of international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of international humanitarian law ...". This holding wo uld apply in all circumstances, even extreme ones.

Since then, nuclear-weapon States have made no progress towards agreements to eliminate or even reduce their nuclear stockpiles. They continue with policies to use nuclear weapons in a variety of unspecified circumstances. Four of the official nuclear-weapon States maintain policies of first-use of nuclear weapons. Research, testing, design and deployment of new nuclear weapons continue. Russia, Belarus and Ukraine are backing away from nuclear disarmament agreements as a result of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and its bombing of Yugoslavia. The United States is set to develop theatre-missile defense, which threatens both the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the START II Treaty, which is still not ratified by Russia. Two additional countries--India and Pakistan--have come out into the open as nuclear-weapon States following nuclear tests they conducted in 1998.

So the question must be asked: Was anyone listening to the World Court when it made its decision? Will anything change, or will the world slide inexorably towards nuclear armageddon in the twenty-first century?

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has already moved back the hands of its "Doomsday Clock" towards midnight and expert committees such as the Canberra Commission on the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons have warned that "the risk of use (of nuclear weapons) has increased", and that "the proposition that nuclear weapons can be retained in perpetuity and never used--accidentally or by decision--defies credibility".

Ann Fagan Ginger, in her book Nuclear Weapons Are Illegal: The Historic Opinion of the World Court and How It Will Be Enforced, sets out these principles and rules of international law, which include a prohibition on using weapons that are indiscriminate, violate neutral territory, cause long-term and severe damage to the environment and unnecessary suffering, or are disproportionate to the act of provocaton. Ms. Ginger argues that any nuclear weapon currently in existence, if used, would violate some or all of these rules. The Court itself appeared to agree when it said it did not have enough evidence to conclude that the use of "clean" smaller nuclear weapons would possibly be legal. Ms. Ginger argues therefore that the "hole" presumably opened by the Court's indecision on the extreme circumstance situation actually leads to "an impenetrable wall of steel" covered by the unyielding prohibition on the threat or use of weapons which would violate humanitarian laws of warfare.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The World Court and Nuclear Weapons: Who Is Listening?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.