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"[Arms Control Today is] Absolutely essential reading for the upcoming Congressional budget debate on the 2018 NPR and its specific recommendations ... well-informed, insightful, balanced, and filled with common sense."

– Frank Klotz
former Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration
March 7, 2018
Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Marshall Islands Lose Nuclear Cases

November 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

The International Court of Justice on Oct. 5 dismissed on procedural grounds the cases filed by the Marshall Islands against India, Pakistan, and the United Kingdom, the first nuclear disarmament challenges brought before the court by a state. The Marshall Islands, a group of Pacific Ocean islands and atolls, still suffers from the effects of being used for nuclear tests by the United States from 1946 to 1958.

In April 2014, the Marshall Islands filed complaints against all nine nuclear states (China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, the UK, and the United States). It alleged a failure to initiate nuclear disarmament negotiations in good faith, a breach of Article VI of the 1968 nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and of customary international law. India, Pakistan, and the UK were the only states to participate in the lawsuits because the others do not recognize the court’s compulsory jurisdiction to mediate disputes between states. 

The International Court of Justice announced judgments on the cases filed by the Marshall Islands October 5. (Photo credit: Frank van Beek/ICJ-CIJ/UN)The court held hearings on March 7-16 this year to determine if there was sufficient evidence of an international dispute to give it jurisdiction to review the merits of the cases in future hearings. India, Pakistan, and the UK denied that any dispute existed and cited strong disarmament records. 

The Marshall Islands countered that the three countries’ verbal commitments to disarmament were contradicted by their actions. It pointed to the UK’s voting record in the UN General Assembly against beginning disarmament discussions and to India’s and Pakistan’s expanding nuclear weapons programs. India test-fired a nuclear capable K-4 submarine-launched ballistic missile on March 7, the first day of the hearings.

The 16-member court upheld the arguments of the nuclear states in two 9-7 votes in the cases of India and Pakistan and in an 8-8 vote in the case of the UK, in which Judge Ronny Abraham, president of the court, broke the tie. Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, who voted in favor of the Marshall Islands in its UK case and against it on India and Pakistan, argued in his dissent that the UK’s obligation under Article VI of the NPT distinguished it from India and Pakistan, which are not NPT signatories. 

The UK welcomed the decision and reasserted its strong record on nuclear disarmament and commitment to working toward a nuclear-weapon-free world, a UK Foreign Office spokesman told Arms Control Today in an Oct. 13 email. The Marshall Islands in a statement deplored the gridlocked disarmament negotiations, remarking that it was “no way to honor or respond to the lesson the Marshallese people have brought the world.” 

Casks of LEU sit aboard a C-17 in this photo from February 14, 2012. (Photo credit: National Nuclear Security Administration)Despite the court decisions, representatives of the Marshall Islands said the cases brought the frustratingly slow pace of disarmament negotiations to the world’s attention. “The Marshall Islands’ bringing of these cases in and of itself is significant because it squarely challenged the nine nuclear states to comply with the legal obligation to pursue and conclude negotiations on nuclear disarmament,” John Burroughs, a member of the Marshall Islands’ legal team and the executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, told Arms Control Today in a phone interview Oct. 12. Looking ahead, Burroughs recommended that the UN General Assembly request an advisory opinion from the court, akin to the one issued in 1996, that would expand on nuclear-armed states’ legal obligation to negotiate disarmament.

Two days before the ruling, efforts to jump-start nuclear disarmament negotiations commenced at the opening of the UN General Assembly First Committee on disarmament, where member states discussed beginning negotiations on a legal instrument prohibiting nuclear weapons. The push for the nuclear weapons ban has been driven by non-nuclear-weapon states participating in the humanitarian initiative movement that, like the Marshall Islands, are frustrated by stalled progress on nuclear disarmament.

The International Court of Justice turns down an effort to force faster action on nuclear disarmament. 

Sudan Accused of Chemical Weapons Use

November 2016

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Amnesty International has accused Sudanese government forces of using chemical weapons in 30 attacks since January in Jebel Marra, a province in southwestern Sudan, killing up to 250 civilians, including many children. Sudan denies the allegation, but has not permitted the organization or the United Nations access to the region.

Amnesty International relied on satellite imagery and phone interviews with witnesses to document the alleged use of chemical weapons. Amnesty International said in its Sept. 29 report that two independent chemical weapons experts found that the evidence strongly suggests exposure to blister agents, such as sulfur mustard, lewisite, or nitrogen mustard, according to the report.

Sudan People Liberation Army (SPLA) soldiers stand on a pick up truck on their way to the river side to ride on a boat on the Nile, as they head to Alole, northern South Sudan, on October 16, 2016. A recent Amnesty International report accused government forces of using Chemical Weapons. (Photo credit: Charles Atiki Lomodong/AFP/Getty Images)Not all chemical weapons experts agreed with Amnesty International’s conclusions. The evidence seems to indicate incendiary weapon use, such as white phosphorous, Jean-Pascal Zanders, who directs The Trench website and has been an adviser to the delegations of the European Union at Chemical Weapons Convention meetings, said in an Oct. 17 phone interview with Arms Control Today. He noted that the Amnesty International report did not show pictures of fatalities, remnants of the means of delivery, the incidents themselves, or infections in blisters, a common consequence of mustard agent exposure without medical treatment.

The Sudanese government, which has long fought rebels in the Darfur region that includes the area of the alleged attacks, rejected claims that it possesses or uses such weapons. The accusations were “unreliable, contradictory and unsubstantiated,” stated Sudanese Justice Minister Awad Hassan Elnour in a Sept. 27 letter to Amnesty International.

Aid workers and local officials also claimed Sudan used chemical weapons in the Nuba mountains region of South Kordofan, another government-restricted region, the IRIN news agency reported on Oct. 10.

The United Nations has not discovered any chemical weapons in Sudan, UN peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the Security Council on Oct. 4, but he also said that the African Union-UN mission in Darfur been unable to investigate Amnesty International’s allegations because Sudan bars access to Jebel Marra. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in a Sept. 29 statement that it could not draw any conclusions without further evidence. 

The United Kingdom urged Sudan to allow the UN full access to Jebel Marra in an Oct. 15 statement to the Sudan Tribune. Zanders echoed calls for access, noting that incendiary weapons use violates international humanitarian law.

Amnesty International has accused Sudanese government forces of using chemical weapons in 30 attacks since January in Jebel Marra, a province in southwestern Sudan, killing up to 250 civilians, including many children. 

UN Security Council Resolution 2310 Adopted

The UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2310 , which reaffirmed the international moratorium on nuclear weapon testing, on Sept. 23. The resolution followed a Sept. 15 statement by the permanent five members of the UN Security Council committing not to defeat “the object and purpose” of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) as required under customary international law. It also acknowledged the value of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization’s International Monitoring System. “This first-ever, CTBT-specific Security Council resolution (2310) is a very important reaffirmation of...

20 Years Later: United States, Japan, and Kazakhstan Reaffirm Support For The CTBT

The Stimson Center and the Arms Control Association hosted a panel discussion about the history and progress of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) 20 years after it was signed on September 24, 1996. To date, 183 states have signed the treaty. Represented in the panel were senior officials from states that have been strong supporters of the treaty over the past 20 years. Rose Gottemoeller, the undersecretary for arms control and international security and Adam Scheinman, the special representative of the president of nuclear nonproliferation reiterated the United States’ strong support...

North Korea's Fifth Nuclear Test

North Korea conducted its fifth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 8. The test was met with international condemnation and calls for increased sanctions on North Korea. Russia issued “the strongest possible condemnation,” and both Japan and the United States condemned the test in “the strongest possible terms” in official statements following the test. The UN Security Council convened on Sept. 9 in an emergency session to discuss the test. “The test explosion is yet another unpleasant reminder that the threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program continues to grow. Current international...

Key Takeaways from the Senate Hearing on the CTBT UNSCR Initiative

The first Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing dealing with the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in over a decade took place on September 7. Attendance was high, with Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) presiding, ranking Democrat Senator Cardin (D-Md.), and Senators Risch (R-Idaho), Rubio (R-Fla.), Flake (R-Ariz.), Perdue (R-Ga.), Menendez (D-N.J.), Shaheen (D-N.H.), Murphy (D-Conn.), Udall (D-N.M.), and Markey (D-Mass.) in attendance. The hearing was convened to discuss the Barack Obama administration’s proposed United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) and P5...

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