By Ron Leir
The campaign for world peace was dealt another setback this month when a global court ruled litigation by a Pacific island nation out of bounds.
After two years of deliberations, the United Nations’ highest tribunal, the International Court of Justice, concluded it had no jurisdiction to hear the case brought by the government of the Marshall Islands.
Some background: The Marshalls, made up of coral atolls and islands, was victimized by a series of 67 Cold War nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. from 1946 to 1958.
One in particular, code-named Castle Bravo, in March 1954, reportedly had a yield of 15 megatons of TNT, “led to the most significant radioactive contamination ever caused by the United States,” according to Wikipedia.
Islanders were not warned beforehand and residents of two atolls in particular were displaced after becoming sickened from the extensive fallout. A crew member of a Japanese fishing boat died from radiation exposure.
Two years earlier, a U.S. test of the first hydrogen bomb – far more powerful than the bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki – destroyed the Marshalls island of Elugelab.
In 1956, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission asserted that the Marshalls were “by far the most contaminated place in the world.”
An estimated $759 million has been paid by the U.S. to the islanders as compensation for the medical injuries they have endured as a result of the testing.
As reported by The New York Times, in 2014 the Marshalls sued the world’s nuclear powers for failing to comply with the provisions of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and international law which took effect in 1970.
Specifically, Title 6 of that treaty, signed by 190 countries – (India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and South Sudan are non-participants) – pledges each country to “undertake to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”
The treaty confers on the U.S., Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China and India the right to have nuclear weapons. The other treaty signers “agree never to acquire nuclear weapons” and, in return, the five nuclear nations “agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals.”
But many of the non-nuclear countries gripe that they see little evidence of the nuclear powers trying to meet that goal.
And the Marshalls, by bringing the legal complaint, hoped to serve as a sort of poster child, in view of their personal suffering, to drive home that point.
But, as the NY Times reported, the international court voted 9-to-7 not to hear the matter, saying that the plaintiff had failed to show that an actual dispute existed between the Marshalls and a nuclear state.
Several nuclear nations, including the U.S., declined even to respond. The matter cannot be appealed.
From the end of World War I through 1996, nuclear states have detonated more than 2,000 test bombs globally – with half of those by the U.S., according to the United Nations.
Over the same time period – except for a moratorium between November 1958 and September 1961 – the U.S. reportedly produced more than 70,000 nuclear warheads – more than all other nuclear states combined, while spending nearly $9 trillion on nuclear weapon development, according to published reports. An additional $551 billion went for nuclear waste management and environmental remediation, those reports said.
The U.S. has said it has taken steps to reduce the number of its nuclear warheads and there is the recently-concluded controversial agreement with Iran designed to restrain that country’s nuclear enhancement capability for the short-term.
But it seems very unlikely – given the political volatility among today’s nation states around the world, the desire by the Japanese government to revamp its military budget or the increasing aggressiveness by Russia – that disarmament is a priority on the global agenda these days.
And so goes the world.