Trump National Security Adviser John Bolton's Mustache made it painfully clear Monday (during a Federalist Society speech, natch) that the Trump regime wasn't going to tolerate the International Criminal Court meddling in US affairs any longer.
The United States will not in any way cooperate with the International Criminal Court, national security adviser John Bolton announced in a speech to the Federalist Society on Monday, blasting the ICC as an unaccountable, bureaucratic body that runs counter to the U.S. Constitution and is "antithetical to our nation's ideals."
In his first speech as national security adviser, Bolton made the case that the ICC's authority is invalid, subverts American sovereignty, and concentrates power in the hands of an unchecked authority in a way that is "antithetical to our nation's ideals." In November, the ICC prosecutor asked to investigate crimes allegedly committed by members of the U.S. military who served in Afghanistan. Bolton called those claims unfounded. The national security adviser said it was no coincidence he made his speech on the ICC one day before the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
"Today, on the eve of September 11th, I want to deliver a clear and unambiguous message on behalf of the President of the United States," Bolton said. "The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.We will not cooperate with the ICC," Bolton said. "We will provide no assistance to the ICC. And we certainly will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."
The ICC was formally established in 2002, although then-President George W. Bush authorized the U.S. to "un-sign" the Rome Statute and the Senate never ratified it. Bolton suggested the ICC was created to attack U.S. leadership, not to truly hold egregious international criminals accountable.
"In theory, the ICC holds perpetrators of the most egregious atrocities accountable for their crimes, provides justice to the victims, and deters future abuses," Bolton said. "In practice, however, the court has been ineffective, unaccountable, and indeed, outright dangerous. Moreover, the largely unspoken, but always central, aim of its most vigorous supporters was to constrain the United States. The objective was not limited to targeting individual U.S. service members, but rather America's senior political leadership, and its relentless determination to keep our country secure."
If the ICC does come after the U.S., Israel, or any allies, Bolton said the U.S. will not sit quietly. He listed a number of possible actions Bolton might pursue, from withdrawing financial aid to banning judges from entering the country.
"We will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law," he said.
Now there are plenty of countries who are not party to the Rome agreement of 2002 and are not members of the ICC besides the US, but all NATO members are (except for Turkey, of course). We've heard this before, Bolton's Mustache has been tangling with the ICC since it was created 16 years ago. But Alex Whiting at Just Security cautions that this time, with Trump at the helm, the stakes are much higher, and the damage that the Trump regime will do could be irreversible.
[t]here is the looming Afghanistan investigation, which will likely be authorized any day now by a pre-trial chamber and which no doubt prompted Bolton’s speech today. Indeed, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Monday, “They told us they were on the verge of making that decision, and we’re letting them know our position ahead of them making that decision.” The pending decision is expected to authorize the prosecutor to investigate the Taliban and Afghan government forces, as well as U.S. personnel for acts of torture against detainees in Afghanistan and at black sites in Poland, Romania, and Lithuania. There are reasons to believe that the ICC prosecutor will focus on the crimes of the Taliban, that far exceed in scale the allegations against U.S. persons, but just the existence of this investigation will likely become an impediment to a more constructive relationship between the U.S. and the ICC in the future. On Monday Bolton described the potential U.S. targets of an ICC investigation as “American patriots, who voluntarily went into harm’s way to protect our nation, our homes, and our families in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.” Given this framing, it will be challenging for future administrations to find a path back to even a constructive relationship with the ICC.
In sum, the policies announced today should not be dismissed as just some more overheated bluster from Bolton and this administration. The new rhetorical framing and policy positions genuinely risk serious damage to the ICC and the rule of law around the world, and these steps will be difficult, if not impossible, to undo. The court, for instance, may no longer be recognizable by the time a new U.S. administration makes the effort to pick up the pieces.
While the new U.S. posture reflects the particular ideological stances of Bolton and President Trump, it is also a further consequence of the misguided embrace of torture by U.S. government officials following 9/11. It is because the ICC is turning to scrutinize allegations of U.S. torture in Afghanistan and elsewhere that Bolton had to turn his sights on the court and bring out a wrecking ball. The U.S. has a proud tradition of initiating, supporting, funding, and participating in international institutions to achieve accountability for international crimes, dating back to Nuremberg and continuing through the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere. Today the U.S. turned against that legacy, likely for many years to come.
I fully expect Trump to demand that fellow NATO allies leave the ICC once it becomes clear that US military personnel will be facing war crimes investigations for 16 years in Afghanistan. And if I were Vladimir Putin, I could think of no easier way to destroy NATO permanently than to talk Trump into this exact fight we're seeing play out now.