Marshall Islands Sues to Enforce Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty; UK May Be Dragged Into ICJ
This lawsuit is mostly just grandstanding by a very small nation with the help of a savvy (but sloppy) US law firm. But there is one possibly meaningful outcome. It could result in an ICJ proceeding involving the United Kingdom.
The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is taking on the United States and the world’s eight other nuclear-armed nations with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that they meet their obligations toward disarmament and accusing them of “flagrant violations” of international law.
The island group that was used for dozens of U.S. nuclear tests after World War II was filing suit Thursday against each of the nine countries in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. It also was filing a federal lawsuit against the United States in San Francisco, naming President Barack Obama, the departments and secretaries of defense and energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Reviewing the complaint and the ICJ applications, I conclude these cases are (mostly) going nowhere.
As for the U.S. complaint, the Marshall Islands is suing both the United States itself, and its President, and various military and civilian departments. As an initial matter, there should be grave doubts about whether the NPT is self-executing. It is hard to imagine that it is. And there are some grave doubts as to whether the U.S. has waived its sovereign immunity for this kind of claim in its own courts. And there are a variety of other problems: standing? political question? justiciability? that will no doubt make themselves felt here.
With respect to the ICJ applications, none of the target countries have accepted ICJ compulsory jurisdiction except the UK. Indeed, the ICJ application against China mistakenly refers to it as the “Republic of China”, which is the name of the government in Taiwan, not China. I think Taiwan would be thrilled to be sued here, since they are not even allowed to join the ICJ or the U.N. The China they want is the “People’s Republic”.
Putting both Chinas aside, the key here is that the UK has accepted compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, so this might require the UK to litigate this. This seems like the one aspect of this case that might come to a real judicial outcome.
So if we get to the merits, I am deeply dubious. What exactly is the “obligation to negotiate in good faith”? How can you ever tell if it has been violated? The affidavit by Prof. Weston of the University of Iowa gives some content to this idea, but I don’t find it very persuasive.
My basic thought is that this case is going nowhere, but will get some attention of the UK is forced to show up at the Hague and argue the merits. Only then will we get to see if Prof. Weston’s idea tested by the ICJ.