Aug. 18, 2014 – Three new books look at the power politics at play in the UN with respect to the International Criminal Court, the global advocacy movement, and UN peacekeeping.
In David Bosco’s rigorous account of the first ten years of the ICC, Rough Justice, the evolution of the Court is examined alongside the evolving role played by major powers, primarily the United States, but also including China, India and Russia – who were, and who mostly still are, distrustful of the Court, along with other powers who are mostly supporters of the Court – Brazil, Britain, France, Germany and South Africa.
Bosco notes that the US actively petitioned other countries to not ratify the Rome Statute but later abstained in a 2005 UN Security Council vote referring the situation in Sudan to the ICC (He also writes that later all permanent members of the Council were against the ICC indicting Sudanese Pres. Bashir). In 2011, the US voted for Resolution 1970 referring the situation in Libya to the Court, but the Council have not, as Bosco reminds us, included an enforcement mechanism or allocated funds for the investigations in both these cases.
While the Council has referred situations to the ICC, when the authors of the Goldstone Report on Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2008 concluded that the violations “fall within the subject-matter jurisdictions of the International Criminal Court,” Bosco writes that then US envoy to the UN Susan Rice “privately emphasized to Israeli President Shimon Peres the US ‘commitment not to allow the issue to move from the Security Council to the International Criminal Court.'”
He adds that there is mounting evidence that the Court prefers to avoid situations involving big powers, citing Afghanistan as another example.
Among his conclusions on the first ten years of the ICC, Bosco writes that “the court has, for the most part, become a toolkit of major powers responding to instability and violence in weaker states” but so far there is little evidence that is has altered “political power realities.”
However, “the failure of the US-led marginalization campaign and other efforts to delay or defer court processes on political grounds signal that even major powers are limited in their ability to challenge frontally justice processes that have begun… however, that inability may have opened space for less obvious mechanisms for control.”
Charil Carpenter’s Lost Causes is concerned with what issues get promoted by “global advocacy elites.” As just one instance, she notes that “internal wars are an important concern for conflict prevention analysts but gangs and urban violence are on the margins of the global security agenda” (yet most armed violence occurs in countries not in armed conflict).
Carpenter’s book is sub-titled ‘Agenda Vetting in Global Issue Networks and the Shaping of Human Security’ and her theory, which she expounds on with several examples, is that advocacy elites choose issues not based “on their merits, or mandate, or the wider political context, but partly on calculations about the structure of their institutional relationships – to other actors, to other issues.”
The material is at times dense but the book is well organized and the topics the author chooses to illuminate her theory are well chosen, and it provides good insight into how the UN, particularly the Security Council and the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, adopt positions. Carpenter writes that one advocate campaigning for compensation to families of civilians killed in conflict was advised not to contact the human rights officers at UN missions, who are mostly delegated to the UN’s third, or human rights, committee at the General Assembly, but instead to contact the person responsible for protection of civilians as these individuals are engaged with the Security Council which holds regular thematic debates on protection of civilians.
Michael Kennedy and Art Magennis’s Ireland, the United Nations and the Congo is a thoroughly researched account of the UN’s early peacekeeping forays using the experience of Ireland’s 6,200 troops contribution to the 1960 peacekeeping deployment to the Congo, ONUC.
Some of the insights are familiar to those who follow UN peacekeeping. That the government deploying the troops was more concerned about elevating its position and rank in the UN system than the welfare of the troops or the potential for success of the mission.
The book also examines the role of then secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold, the iconic Swede who later lost his life in a plane crash over Zambia which is still being investigated. “He had maintained strict overall command of ONUC and emerges from UN records on Congo and from his personal papers not as the neutral international servant with a ‘halo’ which is visible for a considerable distance,’ but as a calculating pro-Western and at times Machiavellian operator.”
The book is meticulously researched and while it examines events fifty years ago, there are many parallels to current debates on peacekeeping such as peace-enforcement, cover-ups of atrocities committed by blue helmets and the political calculations of troop contributing countries.
– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz