Eric Posner has an article at Slate about the International Criminal Court, pointing out that it has been almost entirely useless in prosecuting war crimes and human rights violation. But like the United Nations, the major powers — us especially — made sure that it was ineffective.
The winners of World War II did not repeat this mistake. The Germans were not held collectively responsible for Nazi atrocities. Instead, the worst of the bad guys were tried at Nuremberg and in Tokyo. But the postwar proceedings faced a problem. Hitler’s and Tojo’s invasions of innocent countries—and even Hitler’s massacre of civilians at home—did not violate any rule of international law that came with personal criminal liability. Leaders were tried and punished nonetheless, but doubts about legitimacy lingered, since the trials lacked a basis in international law even while they condemned defendants for violating it.After the Cold War, the idea of prosecuting warmongers was revived. The civil war in Yugoslavia and the genocide in Rwanda spurred the U.N. Security Council to establish two tribunals to try participants for international crimes. These tribunals rested on a somewhat firmer legal basis than Nuremberg and Tokyo. Yugoslavia and Rwanda had given theoretical consent to Security Council authority decades earlier and so could be considered bound to its resolutions. Still, the Yugoslavia trial could be seen as victor’s justice—an impression reinforced by the fact that the tribunal was deprived of authority to try any Westerners who committed war crimes, such as NATO pilots who dropped bombs on civilians. Serbians in particular claimed that the tribunal was biased against them.The ICC was meant to put an end to the cycle of doubt. The rosy vision was that all countries would voluntarily submit to its jurisdiction, so no single country could claim that it would be singled out for victor’s justice. The logic is similar to the logic behind arms-control agreements: I concede that chemical weapons are bad, but I will not give up my chemical weapons unless I’m sure that my possible enemies will give up theirs as well. International cooperation is a delicate business in which all the protagonists gradually lay down their knives while keeping an eye on one another to ensure that no one gains a slight advantage by laying down his knife more slowly than the others.So when the United States, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, and Israel all refused to ratify the ICC treaty, the court was crippled from the start. The United States feared that the ICC might pick on Americans, given that an independent body—staffed largely by foreigners—might believe that by singling out the United States, it could establish its bona fides with the rest of the world. Other countries that refused to ratify simply did not want a foreign court meddling in their affairs. They did agree that the U.N. Security Council would have the power to authorize the ICC to investigate and try anyone in the world for international crimes—a provision acceptable to the great powers because they control the council.
Exactly. Giving veto power in the UN Security Council to the US, China, Russia, France and the UK ensured that it would never be effective in doing anything that those great powers don’t want done. The UN is pretty good at refugee relief efforts, small peacekeeping missions in countries no one cares about (and that don’t have resources that the big nations can fight over, of course), and some humanitarian programs. But it isn’t just useless when it comes to larger questions, it is entirely captive to the most powerful countries.
The same is true of the ICC. If the court really had any authority to prosecute war crimes, George W. Bush would have been tried years ago, along with Cheney, Rumsfeld and a few others, for torture and extraordinary rendition. Same with Obama and many other leaders around the world.
Could Trump Escalate the Syria Attack?
The Trump administration is sending very mixed signals after the missile strike on Syria. I was pretty certain that it would be a one-time action with little risk of escalation, but some administration officials are making statements that make me doubt that. Just what side of the war on ISIS is the US on ? Trump has shown either complete naivety or a dangerous position of siding with another terrorist movement aiding Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both are guilty of horrendous human rights violations.
In the last couple days, they’re making noise about Russia needing to drop its support of Assad while simultaneously talking about the need for Assad to be removed from power. This in advance of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson going to Moscow to meet with Russian officials to discuss the matter. This very action is in complete reverse to what he pledged to his supporters in his campaign.
Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States Neo-Cons who own the WhiteHouse and Both Congressional Houses.Signaling the focus of talks that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to have in Moscow this week, officials said that Russia, in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bears at least partial responsibility for Tuesday’s chemical attack on villagers in Idlib province. However, offering no proof of this preposterous claim only flames the situation into more dangerous actions.
“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week.”…Although U.S. officials acknowledged that they have seen no evidence directly linking Russia to the attacks, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Russia should be pressed to answer what it knew ahead of the chemical attack since it has positioned warplanes and air defense systems with associated troops in Syria since 2015.“I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” McMaster said on Fox News.The timing of the comments, with Tillerson heading soon to Moscow, signaled the administration’s intent to pressure Russia to step away from Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin with military aid and diplomatic cover.
This strikes me as a dangerous bit of political chicken. Should Russia stop supporting Assad? Of course they should. Will they? Not a chance in hell. Their sole focus is on maintaining access to their leased naval base in Tartus on the Mediterranean, which they know is at risk if Assad falls. And they’ve made quite clear that they have no concern at all for Assad’s vast human rights violations, and even less for public opinion in the United States.
We have no leverage to induce them to change their position, so there are only two choices: It’s empty rhetoric or we actually do try to take Assad out, which risks going to war with Russia. I’d like to think that even Donald Trump wouldn’t be that stupid, but I’m certainly not going to bet money on it. Meanwhile, McMaster is publicly advocating for Assad’s ouster, though he says we won’t be the ones to do it:
White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster says that while the U.S. would push for regime change in Syria, “We’re not the ones who are going to effect that change.”“What we’re saying is, other countries have to ask themselves some hard questions,” McMaster said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “Russia should ask themselves, ‘What are we doing here?’ Why are we supporting this murderous regime that is committing mass murder of its own population and using the most heinous weapons available?’”…U.S. goals in the region, McMaster said, are “the defeat of ISIS” and “a significant change in the nature of the Assad regime and its behavior in particular.”
Given what a butcher Assad is, if a coalition of Middle East countries did get together to remove him from power, that might well be a good thing. But even without our involvement, it would be an extraordinarily dangerous situation. Iran supports Assad strongly, while the Sunni majority in most other Middle Eastern countries do not. Imagine if Saudi Arabia and Iran, who already despise each other and are the two most powerful militaries in the region (except Israel, perhaps), were to jump in on opposite sides. The result would be a region-wide explosion that we would be hard-pressed to stay out of. And again, Russia’s presence there and support for Assad makes it a thousand times more dangerous on top of that.
Trump needs to tread very carefully here. Unfortunately, being careful and diplomatic is something he does not appear to be capable of. He’s far more likely to blurt out something stupid that causes tensions to escalate than he is to say or do anything reasonable. I wish I could be as certain as I was a few days ago that this would be just an isolated blip. It has the potential to become far worse.