Shadow Government

An exercise in non-interventionist self-indulgence?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Kony video and truly hope it can help bring an end to the murderous crimes of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. But there is one thing missing from this otherwise admirable effort: What are we going to do about it?  Unfortunately, while the video producers have done ...

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images
STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Kony video and truly hope it can help bring an end to the murderous crimes of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. But there is one thing missing from this otherwise admirable effort: What are we going to do about it? 

Unfortunately, while the video producers have done a great job of drawing attention to this cause, they have, not surprisingly, fallen short of explaining how to stop Kony. All of their hopes seem to rest in Kony’s eventual self-rendition to the International Criminal Court.  That’s right, self-rendition. In other words, Joseph Kony, international criminal and mass murderer extraordinaire, facing certain life imprisonment in a Dutch prison, will presumably be so shamed by a global internet campaign that he will walk out of the jungle and turn himself in to The Hague. Now, one cannot ever rule out anything (especially if Kony believes the alternative may be to be killed — which U.S. Special Forces appear to have in mind) but I wouldn’t hold my breath. 

Instead, the Kony YouTube producers have put their full faith in the International Criminal Court. The chief prosecutor of the ICC is, predictably, reveling in the media attention. How pathetic. Has anyone missed the fact that the ICC indictment was issued seven years ago? The ICC has not been the solution, the ICC has been the excuse — since 2005 — for inaction. In the misguided thinking of the ICC’s supporters, no government or military needs to do anything about stopping Kony because once he is captured he will be put on trial. One problem: Who is going to catch him? Just like its predecessor, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, the ICC has proven to be an exercise in non-interventionist self indulgence. By focusing exclusively on the eventual prosecution, non interventionists (generally a collection of cowardly governments, conservative realists, and left-leaning peace activists) can wrap themselves in the moral satisfaction of appearing to take action while avoiding the unpleasant reality that someone has to step up and do something about it. As predicted by the ICC’s critics at the time of its founding, it is all law and no law enforcement. 

When it was created, the Court’s supporters argued for its existence precisely to have an excuse for why they oppose the use of force as a tool (along with sanctions, diplomacy and intelligence efforts) to end the brutal reign of stateless actors and dictators alike. Yet, all of their comparisons between the ICC and the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes trials are irrelevant. Those historic trials were preceded by the vanquishing of the fascist governments that started World War II and perpetrated its most horrible crimes. In short, victor’s justice. As in all crimes large and small, enforcement is the essential antecedent to justice. Imagine if instead of mobilizing the world’s democracies to combat fascist extremism in World War II, the democratic nations of the world instead banded together in 1939 to set up a court and issue indictments to prosecute Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo — after they had their way. No doubt these war criminals would have chuckled at the prospect, and the world would look very different today.

So, here is what we know: Joseph Kony was indicted in 2005 for crimes against humanity (crimes that themselves trace back several years earlier still) and Joseph Kony is still free. I understand that nobody, left or right, interventionist or isolationist, takes any pleasure in that fact. But I fear that the distinction may be lost on Kony’s many additional victims since 2005, while they no doubt are eager for justice, that for the past seven years he has committed those crimes as an indicted criminal. In this case it appears that a sternly worded indictment, or a well produced video, may not be quite enough.

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