St. Mary's Law Journal


Stephen Gordon


In an opinion, the World Court concluded “the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law,” the only exception being “in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, where survival of a State is at stake.” The Court’s opinion could read as prohibiting the most common ways the United States incorporated nuclear weapons into its defense strategy. First, it may prevent the United States from using such weapons again legally. Second, if the opinion does not render using nuclear weapons illegal in all circumstances, it might prohibit the United States from ever being the first to use them in a conflict. Third, it calls the strategy of deterrence into question, as the United States may no longer be justified in even threatening to use nuclear weapons. Finally, the Court’s opinion may require the United States to completely give up its nuclear arsenal sometime in the near future. Part II of this Comment presents background information on early attempts to establish international control over nuclear weapons. Part III analyzes the Court’s opinion. Part IV discusses questions the court left unanswered and summarizes the United States position regarding the threat or use of nuclear weapons. Part V examines prospects for obtaining and enforcing a judgment against the United States for its nuclear policy in the International Court of Justice. Finally, Part VI considers whether the judgment could be successfully pursued in a U.S. court. Voluntary disarmament would be preferable to the proposals outlined above. The only solution is to discover a means of defending against nuclear weapons. Certainly, the United States does not want to remain in the position of having either no defense against a nuclear attack, or a defense that requires killing thousands, if not millions, of innocent people.


St. Mary's University School of Law