Immunity linked to peacekeeping

Rumsfeld says U.S. might step back if forces are subject to new court

July 03, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned yesterday that the United States might not send its forces to join future peacekeeping missions without a grant of full immunity from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court.

Rumsfeld aggressively defended the administration's demand that U.S. troops and government officials be exempt from the court, two days after the United States vetoed a Security Council resolution extending the U.N. peacekeeping mandate in Bosnia.

The veto, based on U.S. perceptions that the international court violates U.S. sovereignty, has generated sharp criticism from Britain and other U.S. allies, which see it as further evidence that the administration is adopting a go-it-alone, unilateralist stance.

Rumsfeld and senior administration Defense Department officials insisted that the United States would not withdraw wholesale from its current peacekeeping commitments overseas.

But they did say that without promises from the international community or host nations that American troops would not be handed over to the court, the United States would carefully review the importance of its international missions, case by case.

"It would be inaccurate to say that the United States would necessarily withdraw from every engagement we have in the world," Rumsfeld told reporters at the Pentagon. "We have no plans to do that. In other words, we're engaged. We have forces in countries all over the globe. We have no intention of pulling back."

The administration worries that the new court could be driven by politically motivated prosecutors and that American military personnel would not have the constitutional rights granted all Americans in criminal proceedings - for example, the right to be tried by a jury of peers and to have access to evidence.

A senior Defense Department official said the United States was seeking three types of protections for its military personnel and civilian government officials:

A Security Council resolution granting blanket immunity to Americans participating in U.N. peacekeeping missions,

Bilateral agreements with countries around the world guaranteeing that Americans on their territory would not be transferred to the court without U.S. consent; and

Adjustments to current Status of Forces Agreements - pacts negotiated with nations accepting American military personnel - to reflect Washington's wishes on the court.

One compromise that the administration offered recently would be to give the U.N. Security Council the power to block criminal prosecutions or investigations of peacekeepers by the international court, American officials said. Administration officials asserted that the change could be made through a U.N. resolution.

The administration's concerns about the International Criminal Court extend beyond protecting American soldiers. It is also worried that the court could prosecute police officers or civilian officials involved in formulating peacekeeping policies and U.S. combat operations.

"The ICC is broad enough to not only prosecute those within the military chain of command, but also people in the political and policy chain of command," a senior administration official said.

"When you look back to Nuremberg, to Yugoslavia and Rwanda, there are people that need to be prosecuted for their decisions and policies," the official said. "But the broad end of the spectrum is that the process could be politicized."

The administration policy toward the court says much about how the last, lone superpower will project force abroad. It also presents America's partners and the world with a stark choice: If U.S. military power is needed to quiet international trouble spots, the rules of that operation will be written by America.

"The very fact that countries do want to cooperate with us and do want our protection and do want our participation in peacekeeping and other missions gives us the ability to go and talk with them and be listened to," a senior Defense Department official said.

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