I am having some trouble understanding the present relevance of ICJ in matters of war between two countries when at least one of them is a permanent member of UNSC. Indeed, cases of 2 permanent members never appeared for the good.

Let's go back to the verdict of Nicaragua vs. USA, which was a decisive victory for Nicaragua. In the judgement, in all decisions Nicaragua won by majority. In 2022, anyone would say they should have unanimously (or unanimously minus one) won. In most of the decisions, only three were against: a British judge, an American judge and a Japanese judge. And in some 2 or 1, the same people.

Regardless, USA didn't follow the orders. I will not post their stated reason. What I am saying is today can't Russia do something similar?

Assuming Ukraine won the case, what would they really gain in real? Russia won't pay reparation, why should they, US didn't. I am not saying they should or shouldn't, it logically follows, isn't it?

  • 1
    UNSC = United Nations Security Council? - And ICJ = cold BJ or en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Court_of_Justice ? ;-) - As a random passerby I wouldn't mind if you added the de-abbreviations and/or links to eg. Wikipedia articles. - I was pretty sure what UNSC stands for but hat no idea about ICJ.
    – Limer
    Mar 27 at 23:12

1 Answer 1


It's a reputational cost to the US. Ask yourself, you are right now quoting the US vs Nicaragua controversy. How much of your awareness of that controversy is precisely derived from that "useless" court case?

Not only that, but it's one thing to claim "the US sucks, look at XYZ". But now you can point an impartial court backing exactly that statement. It is not, to take an example, Chomsky flogging his favorite whipping horse. It is not Oliver Stone selling his next movie. It's backed by legal opinion. Which can, of course, be disputed: "this was not a credible impartial court". But that's already a much higher bar than "you are just spouting anti-US propaganda".

Most nations nowadays, even the US, even Russia, don't act alone. They try to cajole and convince other nations to come in on their side and join coalitions, effect sanctions. Such a ruling will not affect the really deep relationships, like say US-UK or Russia-Belarus (not saying the 2 are equivalent). They will affect more distant members of the international community, like say India.

Ignoring a UN ruling, for example the UK in the case of Diego Garcia, will also make it specifically harder to use UN infringements as an argument against other nations elsewhere.

It's a factor that affects soft power. Countries try quite hard to avoid losing face. For example, permanent Security Council members try to avoid having to cast their veto vote to get out of some resolution or other - they'd much rather it not get to a vote at all, even though the apparent end result looks much the same.

Now, strictly in the case of the US, and not Putin's Russia, there is also a (likely slight) domestic cost to this reputational loss of face. Some voters will, on general principle, choose to always vote against the party that launched the Nicaragua intervention. Or maybe Congress members that voted to give it a green light. In tight races, every bit counts.

One thing to remember, as sometimes gets mentioned on answers here: international law isn't like normal law. There is, most of the time, no automatic enforcement of judgments by "the police" on sovereign nations. So a lot of it looks pointless, from a distance. It's not, but it is different.

  • Not that I disagree with this comment, but you should have add a TL;DR section saying to the OP "you are right". Reputational costs and soft power do exist, but they are indeed soft. No country in the world stopped doing bussiness with the USA because of that ruling; not even the Ukraine war has prevented Germany to keep buying russian gas. Loss of reputation by the US is a thing, nearly no non-western country has rallied behind the US flag in joining sanctions against Russia - they may have comdenmed the invasion at the UN voting, but nothing else - but it's quite pointless.
    – Rekesoft
    Mar 28 at 8:43

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