Evidence, Commentary, and Judgment

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7.2 Judgment of the Tribunal

The London Nuclear Warfare Tribunal was convened in London from the 3rd to the 6th of January, 1985 for the express purpose of conducting An Examination of the Legality of Nuclear Weapons. The members of the Tribunal, having considered the oral and written evidence presented during the four days of hearings, and having engaged in independent inquiry into the legal issues raised,


  1. Any reliance on the threat or first use of nuclear weapons is a violation of international law, and constitutes a Crime against Humanity as set forth in the Nuremberg Principle 6(c);
  2. Strategic doctrines and official war plans that contemplate first use or first strike with nuclear weapons constitute serious violations of international law, even if postures are only preparatory and contingent, and never are consummated in the form of an actual threat or use of nuclear weapons;
  3. The development, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons systems with first-strike characteristics are aggravated instances of unlawful preparations for the sake of national security, and constitute a violation of the Nuremberg prohibition on plans and conspiracies to wage aggressive war;
  4. The use of nuclear weapons in a retaliatory mode, after prior armed attack and in accordance with the concept of self-defence in the United Nations Charter, is nevertheless unlawful unless such use is discriminate, proportionate, and without poisonous or cruel effects; since it seems impossible to satisfy such criteria, any use of nuclear weapons, whatever the pretext or justification, is an unlawful and criminal act of war entailing both governmental and individual responsibility;
  5. As a consequence of (4), any form of deterrent threat to use nuclear weapons, even if limited to defensive and retaliatory situations, is a continuing violation of the laws of war; at minimum, overcoming deterrence with all deliberate speed is an implicit legal duty for political and military leaders representing governments of nuclear weapons states;
  6. Political and military leaders of the nuclear weapons states have also failed to fulfil the legal duty imposed by the preamble of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963) and Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968) to pursue in good faith negotiations seeking general and complete disarmament and an end to all forms of nuclear testing; the continual innovation in weapons systems, seeking maximum military advantage, has brought into being an accelerating arms race with sporadic and mainly propagandistic efforts to achieve progress toward disarmament;
  7. Currently proposed extensions of the arms race to outer space, especially in the form of the Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI), constitute separate violations of International Law, and appear incompatible with such existing international treaties as the Outer Space Treaty (1967), Article 1 of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (1963), and the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972);
  8. Planning and preparation for nuclear war also violate the sovereign rights of neutral states to the extent that it causes anxiety about the harmful effects of such warfare and involves the use of weapons of mass destruction whose primary and secondary lethal effects cannot be confined to the territory of belligerent states; such violations of neutral rights are dramatized by the recent experimental indications that extensive nuclear explosions could cause "a nuclear winter", with catastrophic climatic consequences for the northern hemisphere, and possibly beyond;
  9. Planning and preparation for nuclear war undermine the development and maintenance of political democracy and constitutional government in the nuclear weapons states;
  10. Any statement by any Government to the effect that the 1977 Geneva Protocols were not intended to have any effect on and do not regulate or prohibit the use of nuclear weapons, is ineffective for the purposes of avoiding criminal liability under international law for the possession or use of nuclear weapons by any State, and such statement does not reduce or eliminate individual criminal responsibility in international law for the citizens of such or other states.

On the basis of these conclusions, the Tribunal underscores the following implications.

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© 1985-2005 Geoffrey Darnton. All rights reserved.