Marshall Islands v. Nuclear States

Even as the U.S. government threatens to attack Iran if it moves toward building one nuclear bomb, U.S. leaders and those of other nuclear states  — have ignored their treaty obligation to work toward nuclear disarmament, a point made in lawsuits by the Marshall Islands, notes Robert Dodge.

By Robert Dodge

On April 24, historic lawsuits were filed by the tiny Republic of the Marshall Islands against the U.S. and the eight other Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) to meet their treaty obligations to disarm. Since 1970, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) has obligated nations to negotiate in good faith for complete disarmament a world without nuclear weapons.

Forty-four years later, with no negotiations in sight, the world has become a more dangerous place with stockpiles of more than 17,000 nuclear weapons. Four more nations now have nuclear weapons, and the original five continue to invest in and modernize their nuclear forces with expenditures expected to be in excess of $1 trillion over the next 10 years.

A U.S. government photograph of Operation Redwing's Apache nuclear explosion on July 9, 1956.

A U.S. government photograph of Operation Redwing’s Apache nuclear explosion in the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands on July 9, 1956.


But one small nation has stood up to say, “enough is enough.” The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) has taken action in the International Court of Justice and in the U.S. Federal District Court to compel the nine nuclear weapons nations to comply with their obligations, under the NPT and customary international law, and begin negotiations for nuclear zero.

The Marshallese people know first-hand about the destructive consequences of living in a world with nuclear weapons. From 1946-1958, the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear weapon tests in the Marshall Islands, the equivalent explosive power of one-and-a-half Hiroshima bombs detonated daily for 12 years. They seek no compensation through these legal actions. Rather they act for the seven billion of us who live on this planet, to end the nuclear weapon threat hanging over all humanity.

For the past year, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF) has served as a consultant to the RMI in support of this courageous initiative to fulfill the world’s nuclear disarmament obligation. They understand, as do the people of the Marshall Islands, that the only way to keep our loved ones safe is to relentlessly strive for the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

This is not a partisan issue, it is a survival issue. As a variety of world leaders have made clear:

“The nuclear club should be abolished and anybody who has a nuclear weapon is the enemy of mankind.”  — George Shultz, former U.S. Secretary of State

“The failure of these countries to uphold important commitments and respect the law makes a more dangerous place. This is one of the most fundamental moral and legal questions of our time.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate

As a physician, I recognize nuclear weapons pose the greatest existential and public health threat to our world. There is no adequate response to nuclear war. Prevention is essential and abolition of these weapons is the only way to accomplish that goal.

Robert F. Dodge, M.D., serves on the boards of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Beyond War, Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, and Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions, and writes for PeaceVoice.

2 comments for “Marshall Islands v. Nuclear States

  1. elmerfudzie
    May 1, 2014 at 18:10

    F. G. Sanford, thanks for the illuminating expose. It needs to be said that your description of the Marshallese people reflects the impoverished condition of greater and greater numbers of California and Oregon citizens , I know because I witness it every day. The “Royal” Family sheds light on and offers good prediction as to what our stateside oligarchs behaviors will be when the economy suddenly tanks. I don’t even think they’ll “stoop” to handing out dimes as old man Rockefeller did during the depression. Unfortunately your commentary is a snapshot of things to come.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    April 27, 2014 at 10:38

    Pardon my cynicism, but unlike Dr. Dodge, I actually lived for a while in the Marshall Islands. The Marshallese “Royal” Family receives a staggering annual stipend from the U.S. Government in return for allowing it to maintain the U. S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command facilities there. Kwajalein Atoll is an oblong ring of islands around a lagoon which averages about 250 feet deep. (The surrounding waters are many thousands of feet deep.) Ballistic missiles can be fired at the center of the lagoon, and the reentry vehicles can be easily recovered because the depth is not prohibitive. It’s a great place to do “Star Wars” research, and a number of defense contractors and research entities have facilities there. The “heavy hitters” include Raytheon, McDonnel-Douglas, Boeing, MIT, and others. These activities are touted as a “cooperative effort” between the U.S. and the Marshallese people. The U.S. does physics experiments…and the Marshallese cut the grass, pick up the trash, process the sewage and provide menial labor.

    On the islands which do not contain defense facilities, the Marshallese people live in the most deplorable conditions of abject poverty the world has ever witnessed. There is a joke about the staple diet of the Marshall Islands: it consists of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, Jim Beam whiskey, Spam, and rice…in that order. Nutritional deficiency, parasitic diseases, diabetes and tooth decay account for the major health problems. Once upon a time, there was a claim that the U. S. Government was bound by treaty obligation to provide Spam as a condition of the agreement. Much has been made of obligations to provide healthcare, but those provisions apply to a dwindling segment of the population which was actually affected on specific islands during specific nuclear tests. There are rumors that American health facilities refuse to treat serious illness because the “Royal” family does not honor financial obligations incurred when islanders not covered by the treaty receive care.

    The money payed to the “Royal” family is used to maintain an opulent lifestyle including a private airliner which makes regular excursions to Hawaii and Las Vegas. The squalid conditions of the island lifestyle are too horrid for them to bear. Still, not ONE DIME of the U.S. money they receive is spent to ameliorate the “Black Hole of Calcutta” living conditions of their own people. This is obviously a ruse to blackmail the U. S. Government into providing more money for them to gamble away in Las Vegas.

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