Evidence, Commentary, and Judgment

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5.4 Legal Challenges to Nuclear Weapons

Another method of campaigning is to challenge the legal basis of nuclear weapons. As mentioned briefly before, the case of the US bishops and nuns was dropped in the US Courts as it would have set an unhealthy precedent if the jury acquitted them. It would be dangerous to require the judiciary to question national defence policies.

Olivier Russbach believed that it is very important to challenge the State in Court as did Jean Hutchinson . The mere challenge creates awareness as it is bound to be reported. Even if the people being sued have immunity, one can appeal and therefore go to the appellate court and thus increase publicity and public awareness.

In Canada an action has been brought with 1.5 million people as plaintiffs against the Canadian Government for an injunction on the flying of a Cruise missile.

An action was started in the US for injuries concerning the possession and use of nuclear weapons. This action was stopped, it being impossible to force governments to stop deployment of Cruise and Pershing II missiles.

Even though one knows the probable outcome, the Tribunal believe that it is important for the wearing down process to be continued since the result of an action itself is not necessarily indicative to the general public of the correctness or otherwise of the cause.

It can be said that the law must relate ultimately to the general moral feeling of ordinary citizens. This said, if the moral feeling of society as a whole is changing, so then must the law. If it does not, the rule of law will not be respected.

When international law and its applicability are examined, awareness increases. Professor Meyrowitz stated that "International law does not operate in a vacuum". There is also a political environment which it reflects and responds to. At the same time there is a political environment which it tries to influence.

This awareness has brought about a growing consensus among legal scholars and in the UN on the question of use. It is this that provides the greater opportunity to translate these esoteric legal conclusions into practical political reality.

Professor Boyle stated that a strategy is needed to try to bring the nuclear powers into line with the principles of law and the only way to do this is to think of the international law on a prospective basis by convincing the military and the government of the inadvisability and dangers of their policies for the whole world in relation to nuclear weapons.

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© 1985-2005 Geoffrey Darnton. All rights reserved.