On 8 July 1996, the International Court of Justice issued its landmark advisory opinion on nuclear weapons. In a seven-to-seven split decision, the court, with the president’s casting vote, found that the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to international law but found itself unable to conclude conclusively whether it would be lawful or unlawful to threaten or use them in extreme self-defence.
Twenty years have since passed. Today, we are still debating if international law contains a “gap” in the regulation of nuclear weapons. On the one hand, numerous states, as well as a growing part of global civil society, now believe that the lack of a clear-cut, comprehensive prohibition constitutes a “legal gap” that should be filled with a ban treaty. On the other hand, nuclear-armed and umbrella states challenge the very idea that such a gap exists at all.
In this Huffington Post blog, Nobuo Hayashi exposes the true aim behind the “no legal gap” argument. Ultimately, to say there is no legal gap is to say there is no need to change today’s international law that implicitly permits nuclear weapons in some situations.