The US and the International Criminal Court

June 28, 2010 — John B. Bellinger, III and Ambassador David J. Scheffer joined the Security for a New Century Group to discuss the United States and its changing relationship with the International Criminal Court (ICC).  Mr. Bellinger served as Legal Adviser to the U.S. Department of State from 2005 though 2009 and was Senior Associate Council to the President and Legal Adviser to the National Security Council from 2001 through 2005. Ambassador Scheffer was the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues under President Clinton and led the U.S. in negotiating the founding of the ICC. He also coordinated U.S. efforts in several ad hoc war tribunals in the 1990s.

The ICC and its role in the world recently reappeared in international policy circles with the ICC review conference held in Kampala, Uganda. With ICC members taking stock of the institution and adding Crimes of Aggression to the mandate of the Court, our speakers reflected on the dynamic relationship between the U.S. and the ICC throughout its short history and the implications of the current changes.

The speakers first traced the history of the Court, from its beginnings as a concept, to its inception at Rome, to the current form it has taken following Kampala. More specifically, they analyzed the changing nature of how the U.S. has viewed the ICC, ranging from support for its creation to suspicion and hostility to constructive partnership. Both speakers emphasized the important distinction between supporting the Court as a vehicle for prosecuting war criminals and as a force that could potentially impede upon the U.S. role as an active military force in the world. They also addressed the myth of a partisan debate surrounding the U.S. and its relation to the court, citing both political parties as having reservations with, as well as seeing potential in, the Court.

Also discussed were changes to the ICC as a result of the Kampala conference. Definitions of the new crime-Crimes of Aggression-were outlined, as were the implications for the U.S. with this new area of activity for the ICC. The speakers gave an in-depth analysis of how the U.S. and other countries can adapt to this new legal power granted to the ICC and how exactly the legal procedure for the new Crimes of Aggression text play out in ICC prosecutions. Inherent in the debate is the role played between the UN and the ICC, especially in regards to the UN Security Council, its role in determining acts of aggression, and the new powers of the ICC. 

The session concluded with a brief question and answer period. Questions focused on several related topics, including the U.S. military and its relation to the ICC, the ICC and peacekeeping operations, and measuring the risks of the ICC versus its potential benefits for the U.S.  In closing, the speakers emphasized the importance of complementarity between states and the ICC, and they reiterated the importance of balancing the risks of the ICC to the U.S. with the benefits of supporting it in its mission.

Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected].


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