'New' US Global Role Pits Unilateralism against Cooperation ; US Stubbornness over the International Criminal Court Signals Struggles to Come

By Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

'New' US Global Role Pits Unilateralism against Cooperation ; US Stubbornness over the International Criminal Court Signals Struggles to Come


Howard LaFranchi writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Rome, Kyoto, Ottawa. To the average American these cities may sound like nice places to visit, but for US policymakers they're shorthand for a nettlesome post-cold-war trend toward constraining international institutions and accords.

Rome conjures up the Colosseum? Nope, the International Criminal Court (ICC), which was cobbled together in a whirlwind five-week negotiating conference there. Kyoto suggests dreamy Shinto shrines and minimalist gardens? Try, rather, a global climate-change agreement. And Ottawa, a cool respite from summer's sear? Think instead: international ban on land mines.

The US has said no to all of these initiatives - considering them unreasonable limitations on the sovereignty of the world's sole superpower. Yet with the strong trend in such international responses to global issues continuing, diplomatic experts say the US must develop a more proactive approach to global initiatives - and not just because it's developing a reputation for arrogant unilateralism. Even those experts sympathetic to American reservations about proliferating treaties and institutions say the US can't afford simply to react to others' proposals and lose its place as an involved power.

The recent controversy over the ICC, for example, "is not a world- changing issue but it is a harbinger of things to come," says William Wolforth, an associate professor of government at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. In the post-cold-war, globalizing world, he says, "the US is going to face these ideas again and again, and it should ask itself if a more subtle approach won't be better than confrontation."

At the height of the heat over the ICC, the US threatened to shut down UN peacekeeping missions unless it got its way. The controversy was defused Friday when the UN Security Council adopted a compromise that suspends for one year any ICC investigation or prosecution of UN peacekeepers from countries - such as the US - that haven't ratified the ICC treaty. This will give the US 12 months to sign bilateral accords with the court's signatories to avoid future prosecutions.

But as Wolforth suggests, the era of multilateral responses to a wide range of global issues has only begun - as the internationalization of justice suggests.

David Davenport, a legal expert at the Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Calif., says initiatives like the ICC are part of "the new diplomacy" being developed by "1,000 nongovernmental organizations and like-minded states." This, he says, is a challenge to both traditional post-cold-war diplomacy and the US in particular.

But even though he believes the US - as the world's de facto policeman and the only military power with the reach and resources to deploy globally - is right to rebuff the ICC as it was conceived in Rome, Mr.

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