Published on Saturday, June 29, 2002 in the Guardian of London
UK-US Rift Widens in Bitter Row Over International Court
by Richard Norton-Taylor, Oliver Burkeman in New York and Ewen Macaskill
British military chiefs were furious last night at Washington's threat to withdraw from all UN peacekeeping operations in a bitter dispute over the new international criminal court.
The US and its European allies are locked in an acrimonious row over Washington's demands for immunity for its troops from arrest or prosecution by the new court.
One US diplomat told the Guardian he thought the chances of the increasingly strained negotiations ending in an agreement were slim. "If this is going to be sorted out at all, it's going to be at very high levels in the various capitals," he said.
The security council has agreed to reconvene tomorrow evening for an eleventh-hour attempt to resolve the dispute. Without a deal, the entire UN peacekeeping operation in Bosnia would be stripped of its legitimacy.
The court, whose statute has been ratified by 69 countries, convenes for the first time in the Hague on Monday, the deadline for a new security council resolution mandating the Bosnia force.
British defense officials regard Washington's attitude as an unnecessary attempt to undermine the new court. At the end of a week that witnessed an unprecedented rift between London and Washington over the Palestinian leadership, they described the Bush administration's attitude as "bloody-minded" and "very unhelpful".
The military chiefs have been concerned about the White House's antipathy towards peacekeeping efforts since President Bush came to office. The US has refused to contribute to the international security assistance force in Kabul.
Washington claims the court threatens US troops with politically motivated prosecutions and infringes national sovereignty. Britain and its European allies see the court as an important symbol in the development of international law and a real deterrent to future dictators and authoritarian regimes.
They point out that the new body is a court of last resort which can exercise its powers only when governments providing peacekeepers are "unable or unwilling genuinely" to prosecute their forces.
The statute of the international court covers war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide - charges which, Whitehall says, are highly unlikely to be made against UN peacekeepers.
A few days ago, the row was being treated as a routine UN spat. That has been replaced by fear that the US may not back down. "The signals are that they are serious about this," a European diplomat said.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002