Nukes Aren't Green; International Judges Stress Ecological Concerns in Ruling on the Legality of Nuclear Weapons

By McConnell, Moira | Alternatives Journal, Summer 1997 | Go to article overview

Nukes Aren't Green; International Judges Stress Ecological Concerns in Ruling on the Legality of Nuclear Weapons


McConnell, Moira, Alternatives Journal


International law has edged a little further toward rejecting nuclear weapons and accepting environmental responsibility as a significant constraint on human actions.

The advances have come in an International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on a question referred to the Court by the United Nations General Assembly in 1994: "Is the threat or use of nuclear weapons in any circumstance permitted in international law?"

As the principal judicial organ of the UN, the ICJ is the final arbiter of international law. Consequently the opinion of the 14 judges (usually there are 15, but one died immediately before the nuclear weapons hearing) on any point of international law is considered authoritative.

The Court's response to the nuclear weapon question - the July 1996 advisory opinion on The Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons - is not simple or definite. The 14 judges who heard the case set out individual positions on several different aspects of the question and reached full agreement only on some of them.(1)

Nevertheless, the Court confirmed the illegality of both the threat and use of nuclear weapons under international law in most imaginable circumstances. In fact, some commentators who have calculated the effect of each judge's comments on the seven questions believe that if the questions had been framed differently, a clear majority of the judges would have found nuclear weapons to be illegal in all circumstances.(2)

Peace activists have now begun to rely on the ICJ opinion in campaigns by focusing on the illegality of nuclear weapons and holding their governments accountable to the rule of law.

A narrow majority of the Court concluded that international law does not have a definitive answer to the question of "whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defence, in which the very survival of a state would be at stake." At the same time, however, the judges were unanimous in finding that any use or threat to use nuclear weapons is subject to the UN Charter and other international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict.

These requirements, which include provisions forbidding the use of weapons that do not distinguish between civilian and military targets, appear to rule out nuclear weapons. As the Court observed, "The destructive power of nuclear weapons cannot be contained in either space or time. They have the potential to destroy all civilization and the entire ecosystem of the planet."(3)

In the course of its opinion, the ICJ made a number of important statements about environmental constraints on the use or threat of nuclear weapons, the status of international environmental conventions, and the impact of commitments to sustainable development.

Recognizing the relevance of environmental considerations, the Court considered the use of nuclear weapons in light of the various protocols to the Geneva Conventions (on War) of 1949. These include the protocol of 1977, which prohibits the employment of"methods or means of warfare which are intended or may be expected, to cause widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment." The Court also referred to Principle 21 of the Stockholm Declaration (1972); and Principle 2 of the Rio Declaration (1992).

The ICJ concluded:

Taken together, these provisions embody a general obligation to protect the natural environment against widespread, long-term and severe environmental damage; the prohibition of methods and means of warfare which are intended, or may be expected, to cause such damage, and the prohibition of attacks against the natural environment by way of reprisals. …

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

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 ...
Default project is now your active project.
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.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

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

Nukes Aren't Green; International Judges Stress Ecological Concerns in Ruling on the Legality of Nuclear Weapons
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access 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

    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.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.