This article is referenced to the thirtieth anniversary of the ICJ’s Nicaragua judgement on the merits of 1986. It acknowledges the significance of this much-debated judgement for the modern international law on the use of force (jus ad bellum). However the text focuses on one aspect of the judgment only, i.e. the definition of the notion of “armed attack” as the most grave form of the use of force. The impact of the judgement in this respect is critically analysed. It is argued that the introduction to the UN Charter text of undefined notions of the use of force, aggression, and armed attack may be labelled as the “original sin” of contemporary jus ad bellum, as it results in conceptual obscurity. It is also claimed that the ICJ reaffirmed this original sin in its Nicaragua judgment because it explicitly argued for the notion of “armed attack” as the most grave form of the use of armed force and, in consequence, distinguished it from the other, lesser forms of the use of force, while failing to introduce any sort of clarity in the conceptual ambiguity of jus ad bellum. The article also offers some remarks de lege ferenda and suggests abandoning the gravity criterion, which would require abandoning the well-established judicial and doctrinal interpretation approaches to jus ad bellum.
In light of contemporary circumstances, on the 30th anniversary of the Nicaragua judgment it is worth revisiting and considering again certain legal problems decided by – and raised by – the ICJ judgment. This article addresses the importance of the judgment in terms of international legal regulations on the use of force. First and foremost, the article examines the concept of armed attack based on the “gravity” criterion elaborated by the Court and the exercise of the right of self-defence. Moreover, the relationship between customary international law and treaty law, as well as forcible counter-measures and military actions against non-State actors are also discussed in the article. It is argued that the “gravity” criterion used by the ICJ seems controversial and, consequently, may limit the right of self-defence. On the other hand, however, the judgment established a strong barrier to the realization of individual political interests by militarily powerful States. This is the Nicaragua judgment’s long-lasting legacy. In this sense the judgment has stood the test of time.
Ukraine, upon giving up the nuclear arsenal left on its territory by the USSR, entered in 1994 into a Memorandum on Security Assurances with the United Kingdom, United States and Russian Federation (Budapest Memorandum). Since the crisis began between the Russian Federation and Ukraine in February 2014, a number of States have invoked the Budapest Memorandum. Unclear, however, is whether this instrument constituted legal obligations among its Parties or, instead, is a political declaration having no legal effect. The distinction between political instruments and legal instruments is a recurring question in inter-State relations and claims practice. The present article considers the Budapest Memorandum in light of the question of general legal interest – namely, how do we distinguish between the legal and the political instrument?