SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The Marshall Islands sued the United States and eight other nuclear-armed nations, accusing them of failing to stop the nuclear arms race and negotiate disarmament.
The Republic of the Marshall Islands, where U.S. nuclear tests took place in the 1950s, sued the United States in Federal Court here, and sued the other nations at the International Court of Justice.
The lawsuits seek to compel the nine nuclear nations - the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea - to comply with their obligations under the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. The treaty calls for non-nuclear nations to not acquire nuclear weapons and nations possessing nuclear weapons to negotiate their elimination.
The United States conducted the first successful test of a nuclear explosive device in 1945 and used nuclear weapons in warfare on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that year.
By 1964, four other nations - the Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France and China - had tested their own nuclear weapons.
The Marshall Islands - made up of 29 atolls - has firsthand knowledge of the long-term effects of nuclear weapons. From 1946 to 1958, the tiny republic was used as a testing ground for U.S. nuclear bombs.
"During those 12 years, approximately 67 nuclear weapons, of varying explosive power, were detonated in the Marshall Islands, at varying distances from human populations," the lawsuit against the United States says.
The tests included the 1954 "Castle Bravo" detonation that was 1,000 times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima.
Negotiations during the 1960s led to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which was opened for signatures in 1968 and entered into force in 1970.
Article VI of the treaty requires the nations to pursue negotiations "in good faith" on "cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control," according to the lawsuit.
The Marshall Islands says its lawsuit "is not directed at compensation for such testing or its continuous effects, nor at the continuing testing in the Marshall Islands by the U.S. of its nuclear weapons delivery systems."
Rather, it seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the nine nuclear-armed states to comply with their obligations under the treaty.
The Marshall Islands claims that the United States, which has approximately 1,000 nuclear weapons on high alert status, is not abiding by the treaty.
Instead, "the U.S. still continues to modernize and upgrade its nuclear weapons arsenal and to develop programs for extending the life of its nuclear weapons for decades to come, demonstrating that it remains engaged in a nuclear arms race. These modernizations and upgrades, to be sure, include enhancing the 'capabilities' of the U.S. nuclear weapons," the lawsuit states.
The United States has two nuclear modernization programs under which it continues to build nuclear weapons with new military characteristics capable of being deployed for at least 30 years, the complaint states.
"Simultaneous plans by the U.S., including by and through its Nuclear Weapons Agencies, to design, manufacture, and deploy new generations of bombers, submarines, and land-based missiles demonstrate that the U.S. plans to rely on nuclear weapons for decades to come," the complaint states.
The United States' breach of the treaty causes increased proliferation of nuclear weapons and puts people around the world at "unacceptably grave danger," the Marshall Islands claim.
Studies indicate that even a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan would likely result in 2 billion deaths worldwide as a result of nuclear famine, according to the complaint.
Two billion deaths would be 30 percent of the world's people, a holocaust similar in proportion to the toll the Black Death took in Europe during the Middle Ages.
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, a U.S.-based nonpartisan advocacy group working with the Marshall Islands and its international pro bono legal team, says that the other nuclear-armed states are also continuing to modernize their arsenals while failing to negotiate disarmament.
These states are projected to spend $1 trillion on their arsenals in the next decade, according to the Foundation.
"Nuclear weapons threaten everyone and everything we love and treasure. They threaten civilization and the human species," David Krieger, president of the foundation, said in a statement. "After 46 years with no negotiations in sight, it is time to end this madness.
"The Marshall Islands is saying enough is enough. It is taking a bold and courageous stand on behalf of all humanity, and we at the foundation are proud to stand by their side."
A State Department spokesperson said in an email that the United States is aware of the lawsuits and is "reviewing the filings carefully."
"The U.S. is dedicated to achieving the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, consistent with our obligations under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. We have a proven track record of pursuing a consistent, step-by-step approach to nuclear disarmament - the most recent example being the New START Treaty. In fact, through our approach, the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has been reduced by about 80 percent since the NPT entered into force in 1970," the spokesperson said.
Under the New START Treaty, entered into force in 2011, the United States and Russia must meet certain limits on strategic arms by Feb. 5, 2018.
The limits include 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, deployed submarine-launched ballistic missiles and deployed heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments; 1,550 nuclear warheads equipped for nuclear armaments; and 800 deployed and nondeployed launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear armaments.
The United States also will participate in the Preparatory Committee meeting for the 2015 Review Conference of States Parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty held in New York today through May 9, according to a statement on the State Department website.
"At the PrepCom, the United States will advance efforts to promote full compliance with the NPT and IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards agreements and gain support for actions to reduce nuclear arms and promote peaceful uses of nuclear energy," according to the statement.
The Marshall Islands is represented in the federal lawsuit by Juli Farris with Keller Rohrback in Santa Barbara.
Named as defendants are the United States, President Barack Obama, the Department of Defense, Department of Defense Secretary Charles Hagel, the Department of Energy, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and the National Nuclear Security Administration.
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.