Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and Against Nicaragua
(Nicaragua v. United States)
1986 I.C.J. 14 (June 27)

  • The Sandinistas (Communists) took power in Nicaragua.
    • They began providing safe haven to communist rebels trying overthrow the US-allied government in El Salvador.
  • The US began supplying the Contras, who were trying overthrow the Sandinistas from basis in Honduras and Costa Rica.
    • In addition, they secretly mined some harbors in Nicaragua.
  • Nicaragua brought a suit in the International Court of Justice, claiming that the US was illegally using force against them.
  • The US claimed that the ICJ did not have jurisdiction. However, the ICJ found that they did.
    • Under Article 36(2) of the ICJ Statute, Parties had to accept compulsory jurisdiction.
    • The US refused to participate, but the ICJ heard the merits of the case anyway.
  • The ICJ found for Nicaragua.
    • ICJ found that use of force against another state violates Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, unless it can be justified as collective defense under Article 51.
      • Collective defense only applies if the country has been the victim of an armed attack.
    • The ICJ considered the US position that they were allied with El Salvador, and El Salvador had been subject to an armed attack because of the Nicaraguan harboring of the communist rebels.
      • That doesn't rise to the level of an armed attack.
    • However, the ICJ found that the US justification of collective defense could not be sustained because Nicargaura's actions in supporting the communist rebels did not amount to an armed attack on El Salvador.
    • The ICJ found that even if there was an armed attack, in order to come to a country's defense, the target of the attack (El Salvador), must request assistance, and the third-party country (the US) must report to the UN Security Council before taking actions.
      • Neither of these things happened, so the US loses.
    • The ICJ found that the US:
      • Violated the non-intervention principle by arming, equipping, and supporting the Contras.
      • Had violated Article 2(4) by mining Nicaraguan waters.
      • Should cease and desist and make reparations.
  • The ICJ did not specify what would constitute an armed attack that would justify a response under Article 51?
    • How significant must an incursion be to count?
    • Nicaragua was arming militants in Honduras, but it was very low level.
  • The ICJ also didn't address:
    • What a country could do when there was less than an armed attack,
    • Whether if a country supports one side in a civil war in a second country, can a third country enter and support the other side.
    • Whether a country could use force in anticipation of an attack.