For the first time since joining the World Court in 1946, the United States walks out of a case. The case that caused the dramatic walkout concerned U.S. paramilitary activities against the Nicaraguan government.
For the Reagan administration, efforts to undermine the Sandinista government in Nicaragua had been a keystone of its anticommunist foreign policy since it took office in 1981. Policies designed to economically and diplomatically isolate the Nicaraguan government were combined with monetary and material aid to the "Contras," a paramilitary anti-Sandinista force that carried out armed attacks against the Sandinistas. Although some of these U.S. efforts were public knowledge, others were covert and remained hidden from public view.
Charging that the Nicaraguan government was receiving weapons from the communist bloc and was using those arms to aid revolutions elsewhere in Central America, the Reagan administration even resorted to mining Nicaragua's harbors. Infuriated by these acts, the Nicaraguan government appeared before the World Court and asked that orders be issued to the United States to cease the hostile activity and pay reparations for the damage.
On January 18, 1985, the United States walked out of the World Court, charging that the case was a "misuse of the court for political and propaganda purposes." A State Department spokesperson stated that, "We profoundly hope that court does not go the way of other international organizations that have become politicized against the interests of the Western democracies." Opponents of the Reagan policies roundly condemned the decision to walk out. Congressman Michael Barnes stated that he was "shocked and saddened that the Reagan Administration has so little confidence in its own policies that it chooses not even to defend them."
The Reagan administration's decision in regards to the World Court had little impact on the continuing conflict in Central America. The Court heard Nicaragua's case and decided against the United States; it charged that the U.S. violated international law with its actions against the Sandinistas, and ordered it to pay reparations to Nicaragua in June 1986. The U.S. government ignored the decision. Meanwhile, the Contra actions in Nicaragua achieved little more than death and destruction, and Congress banned further U.S. military aid to the Contras in 1988.