US Cuts Military Aid to Friendly Nations

The Bush administration today cut over $89 million in military aid to 32 friendly countries because they refused to exempt U.S. citizens and soldiers from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court (ICC)–the world’s first permanent tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration today cut over $89 million in military aid to 32 friendly countries because they refused to exempt U.S. citizens and soldiers from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court (ICC)–the world’s first permanent tribunal to prosecute the perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Among the countries whose aid was cut were a number of new democracies in Central and East Europe–some of which have contributed troops to bolster the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq–as well as Brazil, Costa Rica, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador, South Africa, and several other Latin American and African countries.

“This is the first sanction in U.S. diplomatic history targeted exclusively at democracies,” said Heather Hamilton of the World Federalist Association (WFA), one of hundreds of non-governmental groups around the world that have joined in a global coalition in support of the ICC.

While the cuts were relatively small this year, they would come to just under $90 million in fiscal year 2004, which begins today, October 1.

The cuts were mandated by the 2002 American Servicemembers Protection Act (ASPA), the purpose of which is to ensure that the ICC, which began operating at The Hague in the Netherlands last spring, can never gain jurisdiction over U.S. citizens.

Among other provisions, the ASPA gives the president authorization to use all necessary means, including force, to free U.S. servicemembers held by the ICC.

The ASPA requires the president to cut off military aid to countries that ratified the 1998 Rome Statute establishing the ICC unless they are NATO allies, specially designated non-NATO allies (such as Argentina, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Israel). Or, if the president determines that sanctions would harm the national interest, countries may be given a “waiver.”

The administration also determined that governments that sign so-called “Article 98 agreements” with the United States, committing them not to transfer any U.S. citizen to the ICC’s custody, can receive a waiver.

The State Department said Tuesday that over 65 countries had signed Article 98 agreements, although spokesman Richard Boucher declined to name them. A number of countries have reportedly signed such agreements but have not made them public. Several countries signed in the the last few days to avoid an aid cut-off, according to Boucher.

With the exception of Turkey, all of Washington’s NATO allies have ratified the Rome Statute, as have Mexico, Costa Rica, all of South America with the exception of Bolivia and, as of last week, Colombia. Both countries are heavily reliant on U.S. military aid.

A number of new democracies in Africa, including Mali, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya have publicly rejected signing an Article 98 agreement, insisting that doing so would violate their obligations under the Rome Statute. English-speaking Caribbean countries have taken a similar position, as have a number of Central and Eastern European nations, including the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

Critics of the administration’s campaign against the ICC stress that most of the countries penalized by ASPA sanctions are young or emerging democracies that have generally been friendly to U.S. interests and values. They argue that Washington’s position is counter-productive.

“The administration’s ideological opposition to the ICC is compromising other vital U.S. foreign policy priorities and putting allies and friendly nations in a difficult position,” said WFA’s Hamilton. “These nations cannot be expected to put U.S. nationals above the law that their own leaders abide and live by.”

The campaign against the ICC is widely seen as an example of the administration’s unilateralist approach, which has contributed to a rise in anti-Americanism in many countries, according to foreign-policy analysts.

Former President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute in December 2000, just a few weeks before Bush became president. Last May the administration renounced Clinton’s signature and withdrew from all negotiations to set up the ICC.

Shortly thereafter, it launched its campaign to undermine the ICC by threatening to veto extensions of UN peacekeeping operations unless the UN Security Council gave all U.S. citizens a one-year exemption from the Court’s jurisdiction. In June the exemption was extended for a second year under U.S. pressure–critics call it blackmail.

The administration argues that the tribunal grants too much discretion to prosecutors, who could bring cases against U.S. officials and soldiers for political reasons. With some 120,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq, another 9,000 in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands more in scores of countries across Eurasia and in and around the Gulf, the administration is worried that they could become a prime target for politicized prosecutions.

But human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, as well as U.S. allies, including Britain, which has some 15,000 troops in Iraq, say these fears are greatly exaggerated and that Washington should ratify the Statute in the interest of expanding the rule of law and making particularly serious human rights atrocities punishable by an international tribunal.

Countries that have signed Article 98 agreements despite their adherence to the Rome Statute include mainly poorer and smaller nations–such as the Central American nations of Panama, Honduras and Nicaragua; several island states, such as Mauritius, the Dominican Republic, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands; a few Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan and Tajikistan; several Balkan states, including Albania, Bosnia, and Romania; and a scattering of African countries of which Nigeria is the most important–that depend heavily on U.S. and multilateral assistance. A number of these countries also contributed token numbers of troops to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

On the other hand, several others, including the Baltic states, Bulgaria and Slovakia, also contributed troops to the U.S.-led coalition only to see their military aid cut off due to their refusal to sign an Article 98 agreement. Each of the five were due to receive between $7 million and $10 million in military aid next year.

Ecuador, which is playing a key role in the anti-drug war in the Andes, could lose $15 million in military aid next year, while Peru could lose $2.7 million worth of assistance. South Africa, on which the U.S. has relied for peacekeeping help in Africa, may lose $7.6 million, while Slovakia has about $9 million at stake. Most of the other countries will lose mainly training funds, although many of the Eastern Caribbean states, which are considered important for drug interdiction, may lose military equipment as well.

Like the U.S., a handful of countries have neither signed nor ratified the Rome Statute, including China, India, Pakistan, and Iran. Russia has signed the Statute but not ratified it.

Author: Jim Lobe

News Service: Common Dreams


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