"The tiny nation of the Republic of the Marshall Islands is once again at the center of international activism, filing two lawsuits, one in US federal court against the United States, and one in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against all nine countries that possess nuclear weapons," writes Robert Alvarez at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
The Pacific island nation is suing the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China for failure to eliminate their nuclear arsenals, as called for by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and also names India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel as defendants.
The Marshall Islands site known as Bikini Atoll was the site of the fabled Castle Bravo test, the USA's first experiment of a dry fuel hydrogen bomb. Detonated on March 1, 1954, it was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the United States.
For many Marshall Islanders, this history remains part of personal and family memory.
Tony DeBrum, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), asked attendees at the recent Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference how many of them had personally witnessed nuclear weapon detonations. He and his family had vivid memories.
On March 1, 1954, a 9-year-old DeBrum was fishing with his grandfather near the Likiep atoll, one of the islands in the Marshalls group. As his grandfather cast his net, there was a sudden intense flash that lit up the pre-dawn sky, followed by a terrifying shock wave. "Everything turned red—the ocean, the fish, the sky, and my grandfather's net. And we were 200 miles away from ground zero. A memory that can never be erased."
The 1954 Bravo hydrogen bomb test witnessed by DeBrum and his grandfather sparked worldwide protest against atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. Between 1946 and 1958, the Marshall Islands, then a trust territory of the United States, sustained significant damage and radiological contamination from 67 US atmospheric nuclear weapons tests. The US government exiled hundreds of Marshallese people so the Bikini and Enewetak atolls could be used to host ever more powerful nuclear weapons explosions. Residents of other islands, who were not relocated, suffered serious harm from radioactive fallout. By 1963, outrage originating with the Bravo explosion led to a global campaign that compelled the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom to ratify the Limited Test Ban Treaty, which outlaws nuclear weapons explosions in the oceans, atmosphere, and outer space.
"The Marshall Islands and the NPT" [thebulletin.org]