Washington finally plays with ICC circus tigers

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Mike Johnson, ICC, International Criminal Court

Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, recently suggested introducing legislation to sanction officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC). He emphasized that the US does not consider any legal system to be above American sovereignty. This stance, however, is detrimental to the United States. It undermines the country’s credibility and compromises an international system that historically favors US interests.

After World War II, the victorious Allied powers, including the United States, established a global order that enshrined their dominance. This postwar order was designed to promote US supremacy and required states to adhere to international laws and norms that the US helped to create. Hence, Washington has a vested interest in upholding this system. By claiming that neither Israel nor the U.S. are bound by any system above their sovereignty, the US damages its own credibility. This hypocrisy is glaring, especially in the context of the Gaza war following the Ukraine conflict. If the US disregards the ICC, how can it expect leaders like Vladimir Putin to respect it?

Karim Khan, in a media interview, mentioned a call from a senior leader who told him the ICC was “built for Africa and thugs like Putin.” This sentiment reflects poorly on the West. While Khan did not disclose the official’s identity, the US’s official stance has often mirrored this view. Thus, the US expects global compliance with an institution it established to ensure its post-WWII dominance, yet it refuses to adhere to the same institution’s decisions. This approach might have been effective during a unipolar moment, but in today’s multipolar world, it is counterproductive.

Russia and China are poised to exploit this American arrogance. The Western world’s inconsistent response to the Gaza war has starkly highlighted its double standards. While Russia was heavily sanctioned for its aggression in Ukraine, Israel has faced only mild criticism from the Biden administration. This inconsistency provides an opportunity for Russia and China to engage more deeply with the Global South. They are already working to create alternatives to the US-led global order.

The BRICS grouping, established in Russia in 2009, has attracted countries with significant populations and GDPs like China and India. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes several Eurasian nations, is seen as a counterbalance to NATO. These organizations challenge the US- and Europe-centric postwar order. Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs chief, wisely noted that European countries must either stand with Israel or with international law. The recent International Court of Justice ruling ordering Israel to halt its Rafah offensive puts this choice into sharp relief. Borrell understands that if Europe does not uphold international law, no one else will, thereby strengthening Putin’s position against the international justice system.

Despite this, the US continues its unwavering support of Israel. Johnson’s rationale is that no international system should supersede American sovereignty. Yet, this stance fundamentally contradicts the essence of international law, which exists precisely to stand above national sovereignty.

American lawmakers’ primary focus on campaign funding and reelection blinds them to broader national interests. This dynamic is evident in Johnson’s statements. The interests of Israel, driven by a small but influential group of pro-Israel Americans, are prioritized over broader US national interests. It is in the US’s best interest to maintain an international order that underpins its global supremacy.

Israel exemplifies how US national interests are often hijacked by special interest groups. This trend has been exacerbated since the end of the Cold War when national interest became a more nebulous concept. During the Cold War, the national interest was clear-cut: containing communism. After the Soviet Union’s collapse and the advent of a unipolar world, the national interest became more ambiguous and susceptible to special interests.

Even the “war on terror” launched by the Bush administration lacked the clear, defined enemy of communism. This ambiguity allowed politicians to reinterpret the national interest in ways that aligned with the preferences of their donors and electoral base. As a result, policies often cater to special interests rather than the broader national good.

This short-sighted and self-defeating approach is detrimental to the US It diminishes the nation’s credibility and prestige on the world stage. The current system of campaign financing, which empowers special interest groups, leads to policies that contradict the US’s long-term national interests.

For the US to regain its credibility and win the hearts and minds of the global population, especially in the Global South, it must shift from short-term pragmatism and opportunism to true patriotism. Politicians need to recognize that their decisions have far-reaching implications beyond the immediate political landscape. The choices made today will impact the US’s standing in world affairs for decades to come.

US must reaffirm its commitment to international law and the global order it helped to create. This commitment is essential not only for maintaining its supremacy but also for ensuring global stability. By undermining international institutions like the ICC, the US weakens the very system that has historically served its interests. Recalibrating its approach to align with long-term national interests rather than short-term political gains will strengthen the US’s global position and enhance its credibility.

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