How is the ICC supposed to work?

I just got back from a fascinating week in Rwanda with a great group of graduate students in Stanford's International Policy Studies program.  One of the hot conversation topics was Bosco Ntaganda's surprise appearance at the US Embassy in Kigali on March 18 and his subsequent departure for the International Criminal Court.  In 2006, the ICC indicted  Ntaganda for war crimes he is alleged to have committed in eastern DRC in 2002 and 2003.  The ICC has no police force, however, and Ntaganda remained at large continuing to fight and commit egregious human rights abuses.  So his arrest and appearance at the Hague has been widely commented on as a big win for the ICC.  A "Victory for Justice" as Human Rights Watch put it. In an abstract sense -- or thinking about "justice" independent of the consequences of the ICC as an international institution -- I can see the argument that, yes, this is a victory for justice.  Typical one-line summary statements of the rationale for the ICC is that its purpose is to "end impunity" for big-time human rights abusers, including government leaders and officials.  The ICC is said to be about creating "accountability" for a class of criminals who have not faced prosecution and punishment in the past. One could argue for such an institution independent of whether it has any good consequences beyond satisfaction that victims and others take at seeing people like Ntaganda in the dock.  But in the next breath supporters of the ICC usually make the argument that "ending impunity" and creating accountability will have the good effect of reducing human rights abuses by increasing deterrence.   The model that advocates have in mind is exactly that of policing and domestic crime:  If you increase the probability of prosecution and punishment for committing certain crimes, the total amount of these crimes should go down. But the domestic analogy doesn't work here because as noted the ICC has no police force.  Instead it relies on states that are party to the ICC to hand over any indictees they happen to come across, or, as in the Ntaganda case, on voluntary surrenders.  The implications of this difference aren't immediately obvious.  But there are good reasons to think that they include the possibility that the ICC will have no effect on reducing abuses or might even increase them.  There are two main ways this can happen. First, the ICC option can actually limit the liability of human right abusers, to the extent that they can choose whether to turn themselves in.  Ntaganda's case is a great example of this.  He almost surely turned himself in because his option in the DRC had recently become worse.  He lost a fight with another faction of his M23 group and would very likely have been killed had he stayed in DRC.  (It's possible that this decision was made for him by some higher powers -- that is, "go to the ICC and keep your mouth shut or we will kill you here" -- but the implication is basically the same for limited liability.) So is that a great victory for the ICC?  His surrender ends the embarrassment of having Ntaganda on the loose committing more crimes, but if the general principle is, The ICC is a way to save yourself from death if things get too hot, then the institution is potentially encouraging, not deterring, human rights abuses.   Read More

The unbelievable lightness of some African states

Anjan Sundaram writes in Foreign Policy about the dangers posed by rebel group M23 in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They are fighting in a conflict that he says "threatens to redraw the map of Africa."   M23 are "powerful" , "well-equipped and professional."  They put on "a remarkable show of force over the weekend to move within a few kilometers of the provincial capital, Goma."  After Sundaram's article was posted, M23 went on to take over Goma and then started making noises about continuing all the way to Kinshasa, 1000 miles to the East, to take over the country.  This prospect was deemed credible in various news articles covering the conflict. Well, you might think, surely this must be a very powerful rebel group, with tens of thousands of disciplined fighters, if they can roll over units of 40,000 strong Congolese army, backed to some limited extent by units of the 17,000 strong UN peacekeeping force, and plausibly threaten to go all the way to Kinshasa?  Nope.  According to Sundaram, "In the end, some 3,000 Congolese soldiers, backed by hundreds of U.N. peacekeepers with air power, were unable to contain M23 forces numbering in the few hundreds" (emphasis added). Read More

Red lines

The kerfuffle over "red lines" maps into some recent debates about how international crises work in an interesting way. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren, and other Israeli officials are upset that the Obama administration is not setting clear "red lines" defining at what point the U.S. would attack Iran to try to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.   Their best case would probably be for Obama to publicly announce something like "we would consider Iran's doing X, Y, and Z, or failing to stop doing X, Y, Z  by such-and-such date, grounds for military action." They say they think the effect of such a public pronouncement would be to raise the likelihood that Iran would be deterred from proceeding, and so an attack would not be necessary.  They also say that failure to make such a pronouncement may lead the Iranian leadership to infer weakness, giving them permission to go ahead. So far, at least, the Obama administration seems reluctant to state a definite red line beyond which they would start a war. It's hard to make any sense of what's going on here unless both the Israelis and Obama think it would be pretty costly for him to make a clear commitment and then not follow through on it.  But why would it be costly? Read More

Grievances and civil war

I’m late to the Jacqueline Stevens’ op-ed party, and don’t think I have much to add on the main issues – about forecasting, capital ‘S’ Science, etc. – discussed by Henry, Erik, and Andrew (or others linked to here).  But Stevens also gave an interpretation of the core argument in Laitin’s and my 2003 APSR paper that, for what it’s worth, I think is a misreading.  Since I’ve seen this elsewhere over the years, I thought I’d try to speak to it. Read More

How do states act after they get nuclear weapons?

All this talk about a possible US and/or Israeli preventive war against Iran got me wondering about the historical record concerning the conflict behavior of states after they acquired nuclear weapons.  Does the rate at which states are involved in serious international disputes tend to go up, down, or see no change after they get the bomb? Read More

Maliki and coup-proofing

Just as US combat troops are completing their exit from Iraq, prime minister Nuri al-Maliki orders the arrest of the Sunni vice-president Tariq al-Hashimi… Read More

Question about the ‘nerdfight’

Here is another "not my field" question about the really interesting debate going on on this blog and others, concerning presidential election forecasting models and the question of how much campaigns matter versus the state of economy.  Basically, I've never understood what all you adepts mean when you argue about whether "campaigns matter." Read More

This is confusing

Andrew Sullivan quotes Jon Huntsman, back in September, loving all over Captain Beefheart and specifically referring to Trout Mask Replica.  Wow.  That has to… Read More

The debt ceiling deal: What should we have expected?

This is basically a small plea for insight from the Monkey Cagers and commenters who know more about US politics than I do (it's not my field of study by a long shot). I'm seeing tons of assessments of "who won" the debt-ceiling bargaining, with basically every single one saying the Republicans did much better.  The analyses stress that the Republicans got no tax increases (or even loophole closures) and lots of cuts, thus not anything like the more balanced deal the President had argued was fair and best for the country.  Even commenters who think the Dem's didn't do as badly as the consensus view seem to believe that the administration would be just terrible at buying rugs in Morocco. But I'm wondering, What should we expect in terms of bargaining power here?  Read More

The UN and Libya

James Joyner has nice post about the apparent lack of planning and organizing for a peacekeeping operation in Libya — with boots… Read More