The Marshall Islands’ lawsuits against the United States and other nuclear weapon states under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are a bold attempt to keep all of us safe from nuclear destruction.
David Krieger, founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and its president since 1982, has lectured throughout the United States, Europe and Asia on issues of peace, security, international law and the abolition of nuclear weapons. Krieger is chair of the International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility, chair of the Executive Committee of the Middle Powers Initiative, and a founder and member of the Global Council of Abolition 2000. The author or editor of more than 20 books, including five poetry volumes, and hundreds of articles on peace and a world free of nuclear weapons, Krieger agreed to participate in an email interview on the occasion of the latest twist in the Marshall Islands’ lawsuit in US Federal Court against the United States for its failure to honor its commitments under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Leslie Thatcher: Dr. Krieger, can you briefly explain what the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is, who is signatory to it, when it was signed and what nations’ obligations under the treaty are?
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David Krieger: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was opened for signatures in 1968 and entered into force in 1970. The treaty contains a trade-off. It seeks to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and also obligates its parties, including its signatory nuclear weapon states (US, Russia, UK, France and China), to pursue negotiations in good faith for an end to the nuclear arms race and for nuclear disarmament. A total of 190 parties have joined the treaty, only five of which are nuclear weapon states. The goal of the treaty is not only to stop other countries from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons, but to achieve a world with zero nuclear weapons by means of negotiations.
Only one state party to the treaty has withdrawn from the treaty and developed nuclear weapons: North Korea. Three other countries never joined the treaty and have all developed nuclear weapons: Israel, India and Pakistan. These countries are not bound by the treaty itself, but by customary international law to do what the NPT requires of its parties.
Where is the Marshall Islands and what is its particular interest in the treaty?
The Marshall Islands is a small island country in the northern Pacific Ocean. It has approximately 70,000 inhabitants. The Marshall Islands was a testing ground for US nuclear weapons from 1946 to 1958. During that period the US conducted 67 nuclear and thermonuclear tests in the Marshall Islands with the equivalent explosive force of 1.7 Hiroshima bombs daily for 12 years. Their people have experienced pain, suffering and premature death from the radioactive fallout of atmospheric and oceanic nuclear tests.
What led them to sue the United States and what are they asking for?
The Marshall Islands sued the US in US Federal Court and sued the nine nuclear-armed countries in the International Court of Justice not for compensation for themselves, but to assure that no other country or people suffer in the future from nuclear testing as they have, or are the victims of a future nuclear war. The Marshall Islands is asking the courts to declare that the nuclear-armed states are in breach of their obligations under the NPT and customary international law, and to order the nuclear-armed states to pursue and conclude those negotiations for an end to the nuclear arms race and for complete nuclear disarmament. For a small island country to take this legal action against the most powerful countries on the planet is an act of great courage. The Marshall Islands is trying to convince the nuclear-armed states to do what they are obligated to do. In essence, the Marshall Islands is a friend telling friends to stop driving drunk on nuclear weapons and nuclear deterrence.
What are the implications of the recent US motion to dismiss that lawsuit?
The US is trying to prevent the court from considering the merits of the lawsuit by filing a motion to dismiss it based on jurisdictional grounds, such as standing, political question doctrine, venue and the statute of limitations. The Marshall Islands have filed a strong response to the US motion to dismiss, and it will be up to the court to decide. But if the US actually felt confident that it was fulfilling its disarmament obligations under the NPT, it would welcome the opportunity to face the Marshall Islands in the courtroom on the merits of the case.
How can concerned citizens support the Marshall Islanders?
Concerned citizens can find out more about the Nuclear Zero lawsuits and support the people of the Marshall Islands by visiting www.nuclearzero.org. Individuals can sign a petition there in support of the Marshall Islands lawsuits.