Pacific News Minute: Marshall Islands Suit to Enforce Nuclear Disarmament Fails in Federal Court

Aug 2, 2017

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Three years ago, the Republic of the Marshall Islands began a quixotic court case to force the World’s Nuclear Weapons states to disarm. The suit was rejected by the International Court of Justice in the Hague last October. And on Monday, the Marshall Island’s case was dismissed by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. We have details from Neal Conan in today’s Pacific News Minute.


Essentially, the Marshalls argued that the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a contract non-nuclear weapon states agree not to acquire nuclear weapons. States with nuclear arsenals agree to begin good faith negotiations and disarm as soon as practicable. Obviously, that hasn’t happened.


The U.S., Russia, China, Israel, France and North Korea ignored the suit at the Hague because they don’t recognize the International Court Of Justice. Proceedings did get underway against India, Pakistan and Britain. In March 2016, former Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony De Brum described the destruction visited on his country by 67 U.S. nuclear tests.


“The Sky turned blood red,” he told the court. “Several Islands in my country were vaporized and others are estimated to be uninhabitable for thousands of years.”


In a divided decision, the 16 judge panel ruled that it lacked jurisdiction.


But the Marshall Islands also pursued its case in U.S. Federal Court. In 2015, a federal district judge dismissed the suit, and now, on appeal, so has a three judge panel from the Ninth Circuit.


Circuit Judge Margaret McKeown wrote: “The suit is doomed, because diplomatic negotiations …fall quintessentially within the realm of the Executive, not the Judiciary.”


Therefore, any attempt to enforce the suit would violate the separation of powers. Laurie Ashton, The Marshall Island’s Attorney, said the decision was very disappointing and undercuts the validity of the non-proliferation treaty at a critical time.