Watch out everyone: Britain is being sued for lack of action over nuclear disarmament... by the Marshall Islands

Francesca Washtell
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Dozens of nuclear tests were carried out on Marshall Islands territory between 1946 and 1968 (Source: Getty)

This week the UK began mounting its defence in one of the more unusual international trials of recent years: in a case brought by the Marshall Islands to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which claimed the world's nuclear powers are not fulfilling their obligations to disarm.

The tiny Pacific republic, which has a population of fewer than 55,000 people, aims to reinvigorate momentum towards nuclear disarmament - and is using the ICJ as a key battleground in its campaign.

Britain wasn't the only country to come into the legal firing line: the Marshall Islands filed cases against all nine states with nuclear capability.

However, it has only been able to bring Britain, India and Pakistan to trial, as the US, Russia, France, Israel, China and North Korea do not recognise the ICJ. The Marshall Islands will make further arguments in the trial later this afternoon after the UK spoke in its own defence on Wednesday.

The ICJ has previously ruled states with nuclear weapons have a duty to move towards disarmament.

As there is little expectation that the legal challenge will actually force Britain, India and Pakistan to disarm, the case is more of a canny way for the republic to utilise its access to global tribunals to spark debate over an issue.

The Marshall Islands, a Pacific island state located near the equator and part of the larger island group of Micronesia, was the site of extensive nuclear testing during the Cold War.

Between 1946 to 1958, the US tested 67 nuclear weapons on Marshall Islands territory, most famously on Bikini Atoll.

Castle Bravo, the largest atmospheric nuclear test of a hydrogen bomb ever conducted by the US, took place in 1954. It was a thousand times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. 


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