What’s wrong with the ICC?

Deacon’s post below raises an issue that requires our thoughtful consideration. What’s wrong with the Belgian court exercising international criminal jurisdiction? What, for that matter, is wrong with the International Criminal Court? These institutions are bad in principle, but the case against them has not been made by responsible American public officials. On the contrary, the Clinton administration signed on to the treaty establishing the International Criminal Court — though it never submitted the treaty for Senate ratification. In May 2002 the Bush administration renounced agreement to the treaty. (Here is a useful fact sheet on the United States Policy on the International Criminal Court.)
Jeremy Rabkin is a professor of government at Cornell University. For several years he has criticized the infringement of American national sovereignty and the threat of global governance. His 1998 book Why Sovereignty Matters is an excellent introduction to the subject. In January 2001 he published a piece with useful background on the International Criminal Court: “A dangerous step closer to an International Criminal Court.” In February 2002 he testified before a congressional committee on the general subject of international criminal tribunals. His testimony is available online and worth reading.
Here is the nub of Professor Rabkin’s argument: “[A] practical objection to international tribunals is that they risk extending their jurisdiction in ways that threaten the United States. Let me emphasize here that the challenge is one of principle, as well. If we talk ourselves into thinking that these tribunals are quite appropriate for some states, then why not for us? We would be safer — and more honest — if we acknowledged that legal justice necessarily implies a sovereign authority. If a state is thought to be so disordered that it can’t administer its own justice, the remedy is not an outside court but a new government. And if no new government can be established, the remedy is colonial control. If we shrink from that, we should not fool ourselves that we have done something genuinely useful or effective by giving powers to international lawyers in the Hague.”
I’m afraid this is a subject — more important than it is interesting — that we will have occasion to return to again in the future.


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