16 Mar 2017

Trump's nuclear ambitions raised as Marshalls head to court again

6:29 am on 16 March 2017

US president Donald Trump's aim to have the US at "the top of the pack" is among the Marshall Islands' concerns as it heads to court again over nuclear disarmament.

The Micronesian state's appeal against a US federal court decision is due to be heard on Thursday (NZT).

The Marshall Islands has had no wins so far in its battle to have the world's nuclear powers honour their promise to disarm under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.

Its case against the US was thrown out a year ago on constitutional grounds and in October the International Court of Justice rejected the Marshalls' suits against India, Pakistan and Britain.

With the case now due in the Ninth District Court of Appeals, the Washington-based backers of the suit have raised concerns over Mr Trump's comments last month that the US "had fallen behind on nuclear weapons capacity".

"I am the first one that would like to see ... nobody have nukes, but we're never going to fall behind any country even if it's a friendly country, we're never going to fall behind on nuclear power.

"It would be wonderful, a dream would be that no country would have nukes, but if countries are going to have nukes, we're going to be at the top of the pack," Mr Trump told Reuters.

The Marshall Islands, backed by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, alleged the US had failed to uphold its legal obligations to begin negotiations for an end to the nuclear arms race at an early date and has spent large sums of money to enhance its nuclear arsenal.

Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands it commemorates the March 1 Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954.

Majuro residents joined in a parade down the main road in the capital on Wednesday 1st March 2017 to mark Photo: Isaac Marty

Governed by the US after World War II, its waters and atolls were used for 67 nuclear tests by the US from 1946 to 1958.

It became independent in 1986, and compensation for damage caused was provided by the US.

The lawsuit is not seeking further compensation, rather an order from the court - "declaratory and injunctive relief" - to make the US comply with its international commitments.

"We believe the Court of Appeals should reverse the decision of the lower court and allow the case to be heard on its merits," said Foundation president and consultant to the Marshall Islands, David Krieger.

"But, no matter the outcome of this appeal, the Marshall Islands has shown great leadership with their Nuclear Zero lawsuits.

"They are a small nation that has acted on behalf of all humanity."

Bikinians in the Marshall Islands being evacuated from their home island after nuclear testing in the area by the US.

Bikinians in the Marshall Islands being evacuated from their home island after nuclear testing in the area by the United States. Photo: US Navy

In its appeal brief the Marshall Islands said the US courts did have the power to oversee disputes over international treaties and no law elevated the president's authority to make a treaty above the judiciary's power to decide disputes.

It also argued it could bring the suit because the US had violated its treaty negotiations and because of the measurable increased danger it faced.

The US government contended even if a foreign state was able to sue in US courts, it couldn't challenge the president's foreign affairs responsibilities.