Limited and Lawful Hammers

By Justin Anderson

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The article by Gro Nystuen and Kjolv Egeland in Arms Control Today titled, “A ‘Legal Gap’? Nuclear Weapons Under International Law” begins by citing language from the “Conclusion” of the Final Document of the 2010 NPT RevCon, noting it “referred for the first time in [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT)] history to the ‘catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.’” This phrase from the Final Document is also frequently cited by states and non-governmental organizations that support the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons initiative (HINW).
This statement is factually incorrect. “Any use” is a term that encompasses everypotential use. But not every potential use of a nuclear weapon would have “catastrophic humanitarian consequences.” For example, a nuclear weapon detonated high in the atmosphere or in outer space for demonstration purposes or to create an electromagnetic pulse might have consequences for hardware – but limited humanitarian consequences. Dan Joyner’s post in ACW also notes examples such as the isolated military targets cited in Schwebel’s dissenting opinion on the ICJ’s 1996 Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons case. READ MORE >>