OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – After tentatively granting the United States government’s motion to dismiss a suit by the Marshall Islands, a federal judge heard arguments on the matter from both sides on Friday.
The suit sought to compel the United States to comply with its obligations under the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The treaty prevents non-nuclear nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, and requires nations with nuclear arms to negotiate their elimination.
U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White asked for clarifications about the Marshall Islands’ complaint, such as to what specific injury the republic suffered as a result of the United States’ alleged treaty breach.
Laurie Ashton, representing the Marshall Islands from the firm Keller Rohrback in Santa Barbara, Calif., said at the hearing that there is “an increased risk of nuclear detonation every time the U.S. refuses to negotiate disarmament.”
Ashton said that since the United States has 50 percent of all deployed nuclear warheads, there is a “substantial barrier” to arms reduction when the nation refuses to negotiate their disarmament.
“Removing that barrier is an incremental step,” she said, adding that suing the nations who have allegedly violated the treaty one at a time, rather than all at once, was also an “incremental” tactic.
Justice Department attorney Samuel Singer, representing the government, responded that “the legal injury is being misconceived.”
“If the court granted the requested relief, the plaintiff would be in exactly the same position as they are now,” he said.
Ashton responded that the Marshall Islands were not pleading for disarmament, but for the United States to simply uphold the treaty and participate in disarmament negotiations.
Singer questioned whether the dispute was even a proper one for the courts.
“This is not about the constitutionality of the statute, but about the court’s ability to order the executive branch to do something,” he said.
The way treaty disputes are usually resolved is through negotiation reclamation, not the U.S. courts, he added.
White has not yet issued his final ruling on the government’s motion to dismiss.
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