IO files, SD/A/C.4/126

Position Paper Prepared in the Department of State for the United States Delegation to the Ninth Regular Session of the General Assembly


India’s Proposed Move to Have the General Assembly Seek an Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Legality of US Nuclear Tests in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands

the problem

It is anticipated that India will raise in the General Assembly, as it did in the Fourteenth Session of the Trusteeship Council, the question of the legality of our nuclear tests in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Their move to have the Council recommend that the General Assembly request an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the question and, pending that opinion, to ask the United States to cease the tests in the Territory, was defeated. In its stead a resolution sponsored jointly by the United Kingdom, France and Belgium implying the necessity of continuing the tests and recommending that we take stringent precautions in protecting the Territory [Page 1525] and its inhabitants was passed. The problem is to determine our stand in the event the Indians revive this question in the General Assembly.

united states position

The Delegation should oppose any proposal which would have the effect of recommending suspension or cessation of nuclear tests in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
The Department believes that, regardless of the question of the jurisdiction of the General Assembly over strategic areas, it would be politically unwise for the Delegation to attempt to preclude, through the use of any technicalities, discussion of the issue in the General Assembly.
Should the Indians endeavor to have a separate item inscribed on the agenda and, as a result, the General Committee is considering the appropriateness of its inscription, the Delegation should state that under Article 84 of the Charter and Article 5 of the Trusteeship Agreement we have a clear right to conduct these tests in the Trust Territory and reference to the Court is unnecessary, but that if the majority of the Members of the General Committee believe such a discussion is worthwhile, we would be prepared to discuss the item in the appropriate committee. In a vote on inscription the Delegation should either abstain or vote in favor at its discretion in the light of circumstances in the Committee.
If then the General Committee is faced with the problem of assigning such an item, the Delegation should:
if the item includes a proposal for cessation of the tests pending a Court opinion, urge strongly that this matter be considered together with the general disarmament question in the First Committee;
if the item does not include a proposal for cessation of the tests, urge that as a trusteeship matter it should be discussed in the Fourth Committee.
With the thought in mind that the wisest course of action would be to face this issue squarely and to make every effort to defeat any move for a referral of the question to the Court and for a cessation of the tests, the Department has circularized its diplomatic missions in friendly countries, informing those missions of our position and instructing them to enlist the support of those governments. The Delegation should pursue this course in its contacts with delegates from friendly nations.
The Delegation should oppose strongly any move to have the nuclear test issue decided by a simple majority vote, citing Article 18 of the Charter, which places “the operation of the trusteeship system” in the category of questions requiring a two-thirds vote, as well as noting that this is also a recommendation affecting the maintenance of [Page 1526] international peace and security and so requires a two-thirds vote under this Article.
Should the delegation believe that introduction of a resolution along the lines of the one passed by the Fourteenth Session of the Trusteeship Council would assist in attaining the Department’s objective it may seek to secure the introduction and adoption of such a resolution.
Should any delegation introduce independently any resolution along the lines of the one adopted by the Trusteeship Council, the Delegation should support it.


Following the hydrogen bomb test of March 1, 1954 in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands and the resultant radioactive “fall out” which harmfully but temporarily affected certain inhabitants of the Marshall Islands, representatives of the Islanders petitioned the United Nations to have the United States cease the nuclear tests or, if this were considered impossible under present world conditions, to request the United States to take extraordinary precaution toward averting future occurrences of this nature. The petition at the same time praised the American administration of the Trust Territory. During a discussion in the Trusteeship Council of this petition, the Representative of India proposed that the Council recommend to the General Assembly that it request an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the legality of using the Trust Territory for nuclear tests and that, pending the Court’s decision, the United States desist from further tests. That resolution failed in the Trusteeship Council, only India and Syria favoring its principal operative parts; El Salvador, Haiti and the USSR abstained. However, India’s aversion to our nuclear tests in the Pacific and to nuclear weapons in general has been clearly enunciated on numerous occasions, including public statements by Prime Minister Nehru himself, and although they failed to request an agenda item on this issue before the deadline of August 21, we anticipate their pursuance in the General Assembly of their abortive move in the Trusteeship Council. Already the Indians have made certain proposals to the Disarmament Commission for a general moratorium on nuclear tests. Their submission is an annex to the Report of the Disarmament Commission and, as such, will be on the agenda of the First Committee.

The Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands is in a different category from other trust territories in that it has, under Article 82, been designated as a strategic area. Article 83 of the Charter states, in part, that United Nations functions relating to strategic areas shall be exercised by the Security Council, which avails itself of the assistance of the Trusteeship Council. It could thus be argued that the Security [Page 1527] Council is the appropriate place for a discussion of this issue. However, the Trusteeship Agreement for the Territory, agreed to by the United States and the Security Council, provides that the General Assembly may discuss the administration of the Territory. The Department takes the position that this gives the General Assembly the right to discuss the nuclear tests. From the political point of view the Department has taken the stand that to attempt to throttle discussion would evoke a reaction unfavorable to the United States, even from some of our friends.

The United States, in considering this probable Indian presentation, should follow the basic premise that under present circumstances it remains necessary for us to continue the tests and that the most practical place so far found is in the Trust Territory. The United States considers that it has been and is acting within its legal rights under the United Nations Charter and the Trusteeship Agreement. It is, however, to our best interest to keep the question off the ICJ docket. It is not possible to predict whether the Court would render an opinion favorable to the United States since it must be anticipated that political factors may have some effect upon the Court’s findings. We would not want to risk the possibility of an adverse opinion in the Court, because our interests and those of the free world require that the tests go on in the Trust Territory; and we certainly would not want to be placed in the position of noncompliance with even an advisory opinion of the Court.

Regardless of the possible outcome of a Court opinion, it is in the interests of the United States that international consideration and publicity of this matter be terminated at the earliest possible moment, since it serves only to embarrass the United States and to provide material for the communist propaganda grist mills. Referring the matter to the Court would simply prolong and accentuate the publicity given to this matter.

In its discussions with other delegations pursuant to Recommendation No. 4 above, the Delegation should pursue the following lines: Our conducting of nuclear tests in the Territory is clearly in conformity with our rights and obligations as set forth in the Charter and the Trusteeship Agreement. Article 84 of the Charter and Article 5 of the Agreement state in almost identical language that the Administering Authority “shall ensure that the Trust Territory shall play its part in the maintenance of international peace and security.” We are clearly entitled to use the facilities of the Trust Territory to this end. It would be contrary to the security of the United States and of the free world for us to agree to desist from tests which are an essential part of the development of our strength in nuclear weapons in the absence of agreement on comprehensive and safeguarded disarmament. In areas under our jurisdiction there is no place where these tests can [Page 1528] be conducted with less danger than in the Trust Territory. We recognize that in conducting such tests we must take every possible precaution to safeguard the welfare of the inhabitants. While we will, of course, continue to take every such precaution, as in the Trusteeship Council, we would not object to and would in fact support a resolution by the General Assembly calling attention to our obligations in this regard.1

  1. In the event the issue did not arise in the Ninth Session of the General Assembly.