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French Nuclear Tests in the Atmosphere: The Question of Legality

Publisher: Almqvist & Wiksell

In 1973, 10 years after the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty, the protests against nuclear-weapon tests in the atmosphere were particularly vigorous and assumed large proportions. The explosions carried out in the Pacific region by France, one of the countries which refused to join the treaty, were found most objectionable. The legality of the French tests was challenged in the International Court of Justice.

The purpose of this report is to give a concise review of the arguments put forward by the parties to the dispute, and to discuss the main legal problems involved. Arms control implications of the possible outcome of the litigation are also considered.



I. Subject of the dispute

II. The French nuclear build-up

III. The right to test

IV. Reaction of world opinion

V. Inviolability of territorial sovereignty

VI. Protection of the environment

VII. Freedom of the high seas

VIII. Prohibition under jus cogens

IX. Conclusions

Appendix A. French nuclear explosions, as of 31 December 1973

Appendix B. Geographical situation of the French Pacific Tests Centre

Appendix C. Prohibited and dangerous zones in the French Pacific Tests Centre

Appendix D. Chinese nuclear explosions, as of 31 December 1973

Appendix E. Announced and presumed nuclear explosions, 1945–1973