By Gunnar Westberg
The Mouse that roared was a much acclaimed movie comedy from 1955 in which a small European Duchy tried in vain to get the attention of the USA for a trade conflict. To get the attention of the mighty superpower the Duchy finally declared war on the USA. And to its surprise, won!
The story to be told below is less funny.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Marshall Islands, Mr. Tony de Brum, spoke at the recent conference on the treaty against nuclear weapons, NPT, in New York. He remembered his experience of nuclear weapon tests in his childhood:
– “I have witnessed nuclear weapon explosions and my memories from the Lipiep atoll in Northern Marshall Islands are strong. I lived there as a boy during the 12 years of nuclear testing. I remember the blinding white light from the Bravo test on the Bikini atoll in 1954, a thousand times stronger than that over Hiroshima.
The Marshall Islands was used for 67 nuclear tests between 1946 and 1958, with an explosive yield corresponding to 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every day for twelve years. The consequences are still with us as a burden which no nation, no population, should be forced to bear.”
The Marshall Islands were at the time of the nuclear weapon tests under trusteeship of the UN to the USA. The country is now independent with the name Republic of the Marshall Islands and contains a large number of islands with a population of only 60 000 persons. There is an agreement with the USA, which is responsible for defence and certain social services.
The Republic of Marshall Island now takes on the fight that no country in the world shall be the site of nuclear tests and, most importantly, nuclear war. Nuclear weapons must be abolished. The country takes the case to the International Court in the Hague.
In the NPT statues from 1970 the nuclear powers pledge to eliminate all their nuclear weapons. In 1996 the Hague court declared “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”.
However, the nuclear powers have not entered into negotiations for nuclear abolition and have clearly stated that they have no intention to rid themselves of these weapons in the foreseeable future, in clear contempt of the court and disregard of their treaty obligations.
The verdict was a consequence also of international and humanitarian law. On this ground the complaint by the Marshal Islands is directed also to the ”non-official” nuclear powers who have not signed the NPT, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea.
Of these nine nuclear weapon states only Great Britain, India and Pakistan are in their national code of law obliged to abide by the decision of the International Court. The USA disregards the court since it lost a case against Nicaragua and the other nuclear powers do not accept the court’s jurisdiction.
However, the court remains the highest interpreter of international law, whether you accept the decision or not. The countries who have agreed to accept the verdict of this court will face legal consequences within their own country if found guilt by the Hague court. Those who do not accept will still be placed among the outlaws, the ”rogue states”.
The USA will probably lean heavily on the Marshall Islands to withdraw its case. For this reason it is important, maybe necessary, that other governments join with the Republic of Marshall Islands in their lawsuit.
If they do it will be difficult to stop the process and the verdict may acquire great importance.