The International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion in the Nuclear Weapons Cases - A first appraisal

28 February 1997 John H. McNeill

There were two requests for advisory opinions from the International Court of Justice â€" the first from the World Health Organization (WHO), and the second from the United Nations General Assembly.

WHO asked: " In view of the health and environmental effects, would the use of nuclear weapons by a state in war or other armed conflict be a breach of its obligations under international law, including the WHO Constitution? " The Court held by eleven votes to three (Judges Shahabuddeen, Weeramantry and Koroma dissenting), that it was not able to give the advisory opinion requested by WHO. The Court's opinion was consistent with the position argued by the United States and other countries and, in our view, is correct. As the WHO opinion primarily con cerned jurisdictional issues, we will focus on the advice given in response to the request of the General Assembly.

About the author

John H. McNeill
Senior Deputy General Counsel at the United States Department of Defense

was Senior Deputy General Counsel at the United States Department of Defense. He sadly died on 26 October 1996, and Commander Ronald D. Neubauer, Judge Advocate General's Corps, US Navy, one of his associate deputy general counsels, completed this article. Mr McNeill was an advocate and Commander Neubauer was a counsel on behalf of the United States in the Nuclear Weapons Cases . The views expressed in this article are the authors', and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Navy, or the US government.