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Nuclear Test Case

Australia vs New Zealand vs France


1974 ICJ 253, December 20, 1974
Synopsis:
France in the South Pacific completed a series of nuclear tests.
This action prompted Australia and New Zealand to apply to the I.C.J.
demanding that France cease testing immediately. Before the case
could be completed, France announced it had completed the test and
did not plan any further test. So France moved for the dismissal of the
application, which was upheld by the court, averring that
Frances Declaration made through unilateral acts may have the effect
of creating legal obligations. In this case, the statement made by the
President of France must be held to constitute an engagement of the
State in regard to the circumstances and intention with which they
were made. Therefore, these statement made by the France are
relevant and legally binding.
Facts:
In 1974 Australia and New Zealand challenged France for
conducting atmospheric nuclear testing in the South Pacific. It was
further claimed that the test gives rise to radioactive fall out which had
an alleged adverse effects on their respective territories. In more
detail the aforementioned governments asked the International Court
of Justice to declare that the conduct by the French Government
constitutes a violation of New Zealand and Australias rights under
international law, and that these rights will be violated by any such
further tests.
France on the other challenged the jurisdiction of the court. They
did not appear in the proceedings nor filed any pleadings. During the
jurisdictional deliberation by the International Court of Justice, France
declared its intention to stop atmospheric nuclear testing under normal
conditions and to shift its operation underground. Consequently
Australia and New Zealand objected alleging that the termination of
atmospheric testing is not an assurance that the nuclear testing will
cease completely.
Issue:
Whether or not the unilateral declaration of France to stop the
nuclear testing established an erga omnes obligation to stop nuclear
testing.

Ruling: YES
The Court held that the dispute no longer exists and proceeding
with the case would be futile. Hence the court did not rule on the
legality of the nuclear testing.
In announcing that the 1974 series of atmospheric tests would
be the last, the French Government conveyed to the world at large,
including the Applicant, its intention effectively to terminate these
tests. It was bound to assume that other States might take note of
these statements and rely on their being effective. The validity of
these statements and their legal consequences must be considered
within the general framework of the security of international
intercourse, and the confidence and trust, which are so essential in the
relations among States. It is from the actual substance of these
statements and from the circumstances attending their making, that
the legal implications of the unilateral act must be deduced. The
objects of these statements are clear and they were addressed to the
international community as a whole, and the Court holds that they
constitute an undertaking possessing legal effect. The Court considers
that the President of the Republic, in deciding upon the effective
cessation of atmospheric tests, gave an undertaking to the international community to which his words were addressed. It is true that
the French Government has consistently maintained that its nuclear
experiments do not contravene any subsisting provision of
international law, nor did France recognize that it was bound by any
rule of international law to terminate its tests, but this does not affect
the legal consequences of the statements examined above. The Court
finds that the unilateral undertaking resulting from these statements
cannot be interpreted as having been made in implicit reliance on an
arbitrary power of reconsideration. The Court finds further that the
French Government has undertaken an obligation the precise nature
and limits of which must be understood in accordance with the actual
terms in which they have been publicly expressed.