Sunday, January 27, 2008

Those Self-Righteous Americans

Dan Drezner has written, in a new article based on available polling data, that Americans - the people, not the government - pay lip-service to multilateralism but don’t respect it for its own sake. One example he gives particularly caught my attention. Citing Kohut and Stokes’ book America Against the World, Drezner writes on p. 18:

“Although a majority of Americans endorse the ICC as a concept, a majority also oppose allowing US soldiers to be tried in the Hague.”
On this basis Drezner infers in the same paragraph that:
“Public attitudes toward the ICC… show that support for multilateralism – as an abstract principle – is weak.”
But why not draw the opposite conclusion from this data? The International Criminal Court is a court of last resort. It is based on the principle of complementarity, which is to say that national courts have primacy over war crimes trials of their own citizens. (For basics about the ICC click here.)

The ICC would kick in only, for those countries under its jurisdiction, in cases where the national government was unable or unwilling to prosecute its own accused war criminals. The US is certainly quite able to do so. The only issue then, is whether it is willing.

It is entirely consistent with support for multilateralism in general and the ICC in particular to argue that the US should support the court, and also never allow a US soldier to be tried in the Hague. No US soldier would ever be tried in the Hague, even if the US were a signatory to the court, as long as those soldiers accused of war crimes faced due process here at home. For which the USG is already obligated anyway under the Geneva Conventions.

Such a seemingly paradoxical set of survey answers then might be interpreted as support for multilateralism – support for the USG complying with its existing multilateral obligations to hold its own soldiers accountable. If we were willing to do this consistently, we’d have nothing to fear from joining the ICC.

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