A new paper by Judge Christopher G. Weeramantry looks deeply at the concept of good faith, an extremely important concept included in Article VI of the NPT and a central principle of international law. Judge Weeramantry, who served as Vice President of the International Court of Justice when it ruled on the illegality of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons in 1996, is uniquely qualified to address this topic.
The Court reinforced the importance of good faith in 1996 when it pronounced: “There exists an obligation to pursue in good faith and bring to a conclusion negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament in all its aspects under strict and effective international control.”
According to Weeramantry, “No higher legal pronouncement on a question of international law is possible than the unanimous opinion of the world’s highest court. No greater issue can come to a court than one involving the survival of humanity. No more all-embracing and respected concept exists in international law than the concept of good faith. The obligation spelled out by the Court straddled all these aspects of fundamental importance.”
Modernization of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, comprehensively detailed in Reaching Critical Will’s report Still Assuring Destruction Forever, brings front and center the concept of good faith. Weeramantry does not mince words when he identifies these modernization programs as breach of good faith. He asks readers to consider whether “there has been not merely a violation of good faith but an actual manifestation of bad faith in this matter.”
This breach of good faith through modernization programs is a shameful endless circle, with one country’s actions prompting the other nuclear powers to do likewise, escalating the level of departures from the duty of good faith. Such action has also, according to Weeramantry, prompted non-nuclear powers to seek to acquire nuclear weapons.
In the context of the NPT, good faith would start with an immediate halt to the modernization of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Good faith efforts must continue until the obligation of nuclear disarmament is achieved. As Judge Weeramantry concludes, “There can be no basis for the disregard or incomplete performance of an obligation so deeply ingrained in international law, so clearly undertaken by the nuclear powers, so carefully pronounced by the International Court of Justice and so definitely determining whether humanity will flourish or perish.”
The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation’s briefing paper by Judge Weeramantry, Good Faith: Essential to Nuclear Disarmament and Human Survival, is available online at www.wagingpeace.org/goto/goodfaith
Rick Wayman is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation's Director of Programs and Operations.