THE INTERNATIONAL LAW FRAMEWORK
FOR NUCLEAR WEAPON POLICY
On July 8, 1996, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the judicial branch of
the United Nations, issued its advisory opinion, The Legality of
the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons. The ICJ found 1) that the threat or use of
nuclear weapons "would generally be contrary" to humanitarian and other
international law regulating the conduct of warfare, and 2) that under Article VI of the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and other international law states are obligated to
"bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects
under strict and effective international control".
The opinion and its implications are summarized in the Introduction
to a new book by Dr. John Burroughs, The Legality of Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons:
A Guide to the Historic Opinion of the International Court of Justice (Announcement and Order Form), Lit Verlag, Muenster,
1997, brought out by the International Association of Lawyers Against Nuclear Arms
(IALANA). Burroughs is the Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee on Nuclear Policy,
and holds a J.D. and Ph.D. from Boalt Hall Law School, University of California, Berkeley.
He served as legal coordinator for IALANA/World Court Project at the November 1995
hearings before the ICJ. The background of the case, and states' arguments to the Court,
are described in an article by Burroughs and Western States Legal Foundation executive
director Jacqueline Cabasso, Nukes on Trial, in
the March/April 1996 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Another brief analysis of the opinion, also describing the judges' separate statements,
is Notes on a Misunderstood Decision: The
World Court's Near Perfect Advisory Opinion in the Nuclear Weapons Case by IALANA
co-president Peter Weiss.
In an October 1, 1997 open letter to the Prime Minister, the First Sea Lord, and other
United Kingdom officials entitled Trident and
Nuremberg, Commander Robert Green, Royal Navy (Ret'd), argues that the UK's policy
regarding Trident deployment is contrary to the World Court opinion and the Nuremberg
principles, including the principle of individual responsibility. While on active duty,
Green operated nuclear weapons systems and later served in a policy planning position
including with respect to nuclear weapons. His arguments would apply to US nuclear weapon
policy as well. Green and the World Court Project UK have also published a booklet, Implications of the Advisory Opinion
by the International Court of Justice on the Legal Status of Nuclear Weapons.
Another discussion of the relevance of Nuremberg law is Nuremberg and Nuclear Weapons,
by David Krieger of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
One of the most significant elements of the ICJ opinion was the Court's interpretation
of the Article VI obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament through good faith
negotiation, and its delinkage of that obligation from the obligation, also contained in
Article VI, to negotiate general and complete nuclear disarmament.
An exchange regarding The Meaning and Policy Context of the Article VI Nuclear
Disarmament Obligation between John Burroughs and Don Westervelt of Los Alamos
National Laboratory was carried by the Los Alamos Monitor in the spring of 1996.