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     Scottish CND      Magazine

Government misrepresents World Court opinion

Alan Wilkie

Due to the crucial implications of the Advisory Opinion on the threat or use of nuclear weapons given by the International Court of Justice in July 1996 for the legality of the continued deployment of Trident, the Government appears to be putting its obligations to its Election Manifesto, and to NATO, above its obligations in international law.

In paragraph 105D of their Opinion, the World Court judges unanimously agreed that
"A threat or use of nuclear weapons should also be compatible with the requirements of the international law applicable in armed conflict, particularly those of the principles and rules of international humanitarian law .."

Examples of these "humanitarian laws" include the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 which forbid the use of all weapons which would cause unnecessary suffering, and the Geneva Conventions, 1949, which require that parties to an armed conflict distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

But in a House of Commons Written Answer on 22nd May 1997 Mr Tony Lloyd said "The International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion does not require a change in the United Kingdom's policy of considering the use of nuclear weapons only in self defence, which includes the defence of our NATO allies, and only in extreme circumstances."

In this reply the Minister has chosen to ignore paragraph 105D of the Court's Opinion which clearly implies that nuclear weapons of the destructive capacity of the warheads employed in the Trident system are always illegal to threaten or use under humanitarian law even in the extreme circumstances of self-defence.

For the Government to insist that the ICJ Opinion does not require it to review its nuclear weapons policies is undermining the whole international legal order. Peace and security will only be achieved by respecting the institutions and instruments established by the global community, not by ignoring them when their judgements are inconvenient. Respect for the law is the principle distinction between responsible governments and "rogue terrorist states". In which category is Britain being placed ?

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     Scottish CND      Magazine