- By David BoscoDavid Bosco is a Foreign Policy contributing editor and assistant professor at American University's School of International Service. He is at work on a book about the International Criminal Court's first decade.
In discussing what further measures he might take against Iran’s leaders, Mitt Romney last night came out with one somewhat surprising recommendation–charging the Iranian leader with inciting genocide. Here’s what the governor said:
I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world, the same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.
Romney wasn’t entirely clear on how and where this judicial action might happen. His precise words suggested that the United States could seek to prosecute Ahmadinejad under U.S. law, but the more natural interpretation is that he would encourage the International Criminal Court (which prosecutes genocide, among other atrocity crimes) to take action. After the debate, Romney advisors suggested that he was calling for action by the "world court." That phrase typically describes the International Court of Justice rather than the ICC, so there remains ambiguity.
But let’s assume that Romney did mean the ICC. Perhaps the first thing to note–as the Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent does here–is the seeming oddity of a Republican candidate calling for action by the International Criminal Court, a body that conservatives have distrusted from the start. Sargent is blown away that a candidate advised by John Bolton could be calling for ICC action.
[T]he United States would not accept the ICC under George W. Bush — and indeed, one of Romney’s own top advisers has said that Obama’s embrace of it reveals his weakness and passivity on national security, and his unwillingness to exercise international leadership.
John Bolton, the former U.N. Ambassador under Bush who is said to be one of the only top foreign policy advisers Romney actually listens to, wrote a Wall Street Journal Op ed in March of 2011 attacking the ICC and Obama, when Obama came out in support of the U.N. Security Council decision to refer Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi to the ICC for prosecution. Bolton wrote that the ICC is “one of the world’s most illegitimate multilateral institutions,” adding that invoking it was an “abdication of responsibility” on Obama’s part.
Sargent shouldn’t be so surprised, and he has radically simplified the Bush administration’s position on the ICC. In fact, John Bolton ultimately lost the argument about the ICC during the second Bush administration (after mostly winning internal battles during the first term). Following advice from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, State Department legal adviser John Bellinger, and (later) from top Romney advisor Richard Williamson, the Bush administration supported and defended the ICC’s role in Sudan. At certain moments, in fact, the Bush administration proved even more supportive of the court than the British and the French.
In so doing, President Bush expressly overruled advisers like Bolton who wanted to maintain a consistent and vigorous marginalization campaign toward the court. Faced with real life choices, Bush chose a thoroughly pragmatic approach: he supported the work of the court when it suited U.S. interests and strategy without unequivocally embracing the institution (and without formally joining it). With some modifications, the Obama administration has continued that approach. For all Sargent’s shock, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if a Romney administration stayed on the path that Bush and Obama have constructed.
With all that said, the chances of an actual ICC case against Ahmadinejad are remote. Iran is not an ICC member and so the court would only have jurisdiction if the UN Security Council created it (highly unlikely given Moscow and Beijing’s veto power). Even if a Security Council referral happened, the ICC prosecutor has discretion over whether and against whom to bring charges. Fiery rhetoric alone almost certainly would not convince the prosecutor to take action.
More: While an actual prosecution is exceedingly unlikely, I should make clear that the Rome Statute does create space for prosecuting incitement to genocide. Article 25(3)(e) of the Statute criminalizes "directly and publicly incit[ing] others to commit genocide."
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C.| The Cable |
Colum Lynch is Foreign Policy's award-winning U.N.-based senior diplomatic reporter. Lynch previously wrote Foreign Policy's Turtle Bay blog, for which he was awarded the 2011 National Magazine Award for best reporting in digital media. He is also a recipient of the 2013 Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Silver Prize for his coverage of the United Nations.
Before moving to Foreign Policy, Lynch reported on diplomacy and national security for the Washington Post for more than a decade. As the Washington Post's United Nations reporter, Lynch had been involved in the paper's diplomatic coverage of crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, and Somalia, as well as the nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea. He also played a key part in the Post's diplomatic reporting on the Iraq war, the International Criminal Court, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. counterterrorism strategy. Lynch's enterprise reporting has explored the underside of international diplomacy. His investigations have uncovered a U.S. spying operation in Iraq, Dick Cheney's former company's financial links to Saddam Hussein, and documented numerous sexual misconduct and corruption scandals.
Lynch has appeared frequently on the Lehrer News Hour, MSNBC, NPR radio, and the BBC. He has also moderated public discussions on foreign policy, including interviews with Susan E. Rice, the U.S. National Security Advisor, Gerard Araud, France's U.N. ambassador, and other senior diplomatic leaders.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Lynch received a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1985 and a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in 1987. He previously worked for the Boston Globe.| Turtle Bay |