Effective U.S. Diplomacy and 'Soft Power'

US Permanent Representative Speaks to Press on Syria, by United Nations

As noted above, the United States' relationship with the ICC is both affected by, and is a part of, its wider approach to multilateral engagement and other international organizations. The great majority of U.S. friends and allies—including nearly every member of NATO and longstanding U.S. partners in Latin America, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific region—are Rome Statute parties and are committed to the realization of the Court’s mission. In the Task Force’s consultations, foreign interlocutors repeatedly noted that the manner in which the United States addresses ICC-related issues frames their perceptions of the U.S. commitment on broader issues of accountability, human rights, and the rule of law, and the extent to which they can and should work cooperatively with the United States on such issues. It also affects their views of the United States as a responsible international partner in other contexts. In addition, U.S. attacks on the Court have been seen as empowering despots keen on undermining justice and rule of law efforts in their own countries.  This all remains true even in the face of doubts increasingly being expressed by ICC supporters about the Court’s performance. 

To be sure, the diplomatic costs of opposing the ICC are not as high now as they were in the early days of the Court as traditional Court supporters have themselves come to have greater concerns about the Court’s performance. However, the uniform rejection of the U.S. sanctions show that allies will defend the Court in the face of an attack that is deemed unwarranted or unfair. Many of our interlocutors contended that the bellicose stance of the Trump Administration made it more difficult to push for the kinds of reforms that the Court desperately needs as part of the IER and other reform efforts. They also noted that, at a minimum, the EO had forced traditional U.S. allies to distance themselves from the U.S. position.

In addition, the reality is that the United States is often engaged on the ground in many countries where the ICC is operating in one capacity or another. Active hostility toward the ICC deprives the United States of the opportunity to develop goodwill through positive engagement with ICC efforts in countries where investigations have broad popular support or are seen as important (and in some cases the only realistic) efforts to provide accountability for serious violations of international law and justice for victims. One interlocutor contrasted the current U.S. approach to the ICC with the ways in which U.S. support for the ICTY generated goodwill for U.S. forces on the ground in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where the tribunal was seen as an important venue to pursue justice. Another raised concerns that undifferentiated attacks by the United States on the Court risks alienating those parts of a country’s population that are seeking justice for atrocities.

All told, the U.S. relationship with the ICC, and the way in which the U.S. pursues and expresses that relationship, indelibly affects the reputation of the United States as a supporter of accountability, human rights, and rule of law—important components of its “soft power.” It is, quite simply, impossible to separate the U.S. approach to the ICC from other questions of international justice and accountability.