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Nuclear Test Cases

Doctrine: Declaration made through unilateral acts may have the effect of creating legal obligations.


A series of nuclear tests was completed by France in the South Pacific. This action made Australia and
New Zealand to apply to the I.C.J. demanding that France cease testing immediately. New Zealand
instituted proceedings against France before the ICJ, arguing that it was affected by radioactive fallout
from the atmospheric tests and that this constituted a violation of its rights under international law.
Australia filed a case against France on the basis that the tests caused fallout of measurable quantities of
radioactive matter on Australian territory. Before the case could be completed, France, by various public
statements made in 1974, has announced its intention to cease the conduct of such tests following the
completion of the 1974 series of atmospheric tests.


W/N the unilateral statements of France created an international obligation?


YES. The ICJ found that it need not decide on the matter due to assurances from the French government
that atmospheric nuclear tests would end. It is well-recognized that declarations made by way of
unilateral acts, concerning legal or factual situations, may have the effect of creating legal obligations.
Nothing in the nature of a quid pro quo, nor any subsequent acceptance, nor even any reaction from
other States is required for such declaration to take effect. Neither is the question of form decisive. The
intention of being bound is to be ascertained from an interpretation of the act. The binding character of
the undertaking results from the terms of the act and is based on good faith interested States are
entitled to require that the obligation be respected. Once the court has found that a State has entered
into a commitment concerning its future conduct, it is not the Court’s function to contemplate that it
will not comply with it.

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. The unilateral statements made by French
authorities were first relayed to the government of Australia. There was no need for the statements to
be directed to any particular state for it to have legal effect. The general nature and characteristics of
the statements alone were relevant for evaluation of their legal implications.