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Arguing with law: strategic legal argumentation, US diplomacy, and debates over the International Criminal Court

  • ADAM BOWER
Abstract
Abstract

Recent studies have highlighted the instrumental use of language, wherein actors deploy claims to strategically pursue policy goals in the absence of persuasion or socialisation. Yet these accounts are insufficiently attentive to the social context in which an audience assesses and responds to strategic appeals. I present a theoretical account that highlights the distinctly powerful role of international law in framing strategic argumentation. Legalised discourses are especially legitimate because law is premised on a set of internally coherent practices that constitute actors and forms of action. I then illustrate the implications in a hard case concerning US efforts to secure immunities from International Criminal Court jurisdiction. Contrary to realist accounts of law as a tool of the powerful, I show that both pro- and anti-ICC diplomacy was channelled through a legal lens that imposed substantial constraints on the pursuit of policy objectives. Court proponents responded to US diplomatic pressure with their own legal arguments; this narrowed the scope of the exemptions, even as the Security Council temporarily conceded to US demands. While the US sought to marry coercion with argumentative appeals, it failed to generate a lasting change in global practice concerning ICC jurisdiction.

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1 Schimmelfennig Frank, ‘The Community Trap: Liberal Norms, Rhetorical Action, and the Eastern Enlargement of the European Union’, International Organization, 55:1 (2001), pp. 4780.

2 Deitelhoff Nicole and Müller Harald, ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost? Arguing with Habermas’, Review of International Studies, 31:1 (2005), pp. 167–79; Payne Roger A., ‘Persuasion, Frames and Norm Construction’, European Journal of International Relations, 7:1 (2001), pp. 3761; Risse Thomas, ‘“Let's Argue!”: Communicative Action in World Politics,’ International Organization, 54:1 (2000), pp. 139.

3 Krebs Ronald R. and Jackson Patrick Thaddeus, ‘Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms: The Power of Political Rhetoric’, European Journal of International Relations, 13:1 (2007), pp. 3566.

4 Ibid.; Hanrieder Tine, ‘The False Promise of the Better Argument’, International Theory, 3:3 (2011), pp. 390415.

5 Deitelhoff and Müller, ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost?’; Müller Harald, ‘Arguing, Bargaining and All That: Communicative Action, Rationalist Theory and the Logic of Appropriateness in International Relations’, European Journal of International Relations, 10:3 (2004), pp. 395435; Payne, ‘Persuasion, Frames and Norm Construction’; Risse, ‘“Let's Argue!”’.

6 Brunnée Jutta and Toope Stephen J., Legitimacy and Legality in International Law: An Interactional Account (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010); Brunnée Jutta and Toope Stephen J., ‘Constructivism and International Law’, in Dunoff Jeffrey L. and Pollack Mark A. (eds), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 119–45; Finnemore Martha J. and Toope Stephen, ‘Alternatives to Legalization: Richer Views of Law and Politics’, International Organization, 55:3 (2001), pp. 743–58; Reus-Smit Christian, ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’, European Journal of International Relations, 9:4 (2003), pp. 591625.

7 Reus-Smit Christian, ‘The Politics of International Law’, in Reus-Smit Christian (ed.), The Politics of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 1444; Scott Shirley V. and Ambler Olivia, ‘Does Legality Really Matter? Accounting for the Decline in US Foreign Policy Legitimacy Following the 2003 Invasion of Iraq’, European Journal of International Relations, 13:1 (2007), pp. 6787.

8 Risse Thomas, Ropp Stephen C., and Sikkink Kathryn (eds), The Power of Human Rights: International Norms and Domestic Change (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999); Smith-Cannoy Heather, Insincere Commitments: Human Rights Treaties, Abusive States, and Citizen Activism (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2012).

9 Barnett Michael and Duvall Raymond, ‘Power in International Politics’, International Organization, 59:1 (2005), pp. 3975.

10 Glennon Michael J., Limits of Law, Prerogatives of Power: Interventionism after Kosovo (New York: Palgrave, 2001); Goldsmith Jack L and Posner Eric A, The Limits of International Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005).

11 Brunnée and Toope, ‘Constructivism and International Law’, p. 139.

12 Brunnée and Toope, Legitimacy and Legality in International Law; Johnstone Ian, The Power of Deliberation: International Law, Politics and Organizations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011); Ratner Steven R., ‘Persuading to Comply: On the Development and Avoidance of Legal Argumentation’, in Dunoff Jeffrey L. and Pollack Mark A. (eds), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 568–90; Reus-Smit, ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’; Scott and Ambler, ‘Does Legality Really Matter?’.

13 Deitelhoff and Müller, ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost?’; Johnstone, The Power of Deliberation; Müller, ‘Arguing, Bargaining and All That’; Ratner, ‘Persuading to Comply’; Risse, ‘“Let's Argue!”’.

14 Krebs and Jackson, ‘Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms’, pp. 43–5; Schimmelfennig, ‘The Community Trap’, p. 64.

15 Schimmelfennig, ‘The Community Trap’; Krebs and Jackson, ‘Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms’.

16 Müller, ‘Arguing, Bargaining and All That’, p. 397; Risse, ‘“Let's Argue!”’, p. 9.

17 Banta Benjamin R., ‘Analysing Discourse as a Causal Mechanism’, European Journal of International Relations, 19:2 (2013), p. 390.

18 Banta, ‘Analysing Discourse as a Causal Mechanism’; Krebs and Jackson, ‘Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms’.

19 Guzman Andrew T., How International Law Works: A Rational Choice Theory (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Johnstone, The Power of Deliberation; Ratner, ‘Persuading to Comply’; Risse, Ropp, and Sikkink, The Power of Human Rights; Schimmelfennig, ‘The Community Trap’.

20 Guzman, How International Law Works; Schimmelfennig, ‘The Community Trap’.

21 Krebs and Jackson, ‘Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms’, p. 45.

22 Schimmelfennig, ‘The Community Trap’, p. 63.

23 Krebs and Jackson, ‘Twisting Tongues and Twisting Arms’, p. 47.

24 For a classic statement see Franck Thomas M., The Power of Legitimacy Among Nations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990). More recently see Byers Michael, Custom, Power and the Power of Rules: International Relations and Customary International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999). Legal scholars have also explored the enactment of legal argumentation and interpretation in a variety of settings. See, for example, Johnstone Ian, ‘Security Council Deliberations: The Power of the Better Argument’, European Journal of International Law, 14:3 (2003), pp. 437–80; and Ratner Steven R., ‘Does International Law Matter in Preventing Ethnic Conflict?’, New York University Journal of International Law and Politics, 32:3 (2000), pp. 591698.

25 Byers Michael, ‘International Law’, in Reus-Smit Christian and Snidal Duncal (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Relations (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 613; Reus-Smit, ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’.

26 For recent overviews see Hafner-Burton Emilie M., Victor David G., and Lupu Yonatan, ‘Political Science Research on International Law: The State of the Field’, The American Journal of International Law, 106:1 (2012), pp. 4797; and Byers, ‘International Law’.

27 Ratner, ‘Persuading to Comply’, p. 572.

28 Brunnée and Toope, Legitimacy and Legality in International Law; Finnemore and Toope, ‘Alternatives to Legalization’; Reus-Smit , ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’; Reus-Smit Christian (ed.), The Politics of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

29 Abbott Kenneth W.et al., ‘The Concept of Legalization,’ International Organization, 54:3 (2000), pp. 401–20; Thompson Alexander, ‘Coercive Enforcement of International Law’, in Dunoff Jeffrey L., and Pollack Mark A. (eds), Interdisciplinary Perspectives on International Law and International Relations: The State of the Art (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), pp. 502–23.

30 Johnstone, The Power of Deliberation; Ratner, ‘Persuading to Comply’.

31 Adler Emanuel and Pouliot Vincent, ‘International Practices’, International Theory, 3:1 (2011), pp. 136.

32 Reus-Smit Christian, ‘Obligation through Practice’, International Theory, 3:2 (2011), p. 344.

33 Reus-Smit Christian, ‘The Constitutional Structure of International Society and the Nature of Fundamental Institutions’, International Organization, 51:4 (1997), pp. 555–89; Kratochwil Friedrich V., Rules, Norms, and Decisions: On the Conditions of Practical and Legal Reasoning in International Relations and Domestic Affairs (Cambridge University Press, 1989).

34 Brunnée and Toope, Legitimacy and Legality in International Law; Reus-Smit, ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’; Reus-Smit, ‘Obligation through Practice’.

35 Reus-Smit, ‘Politics and International Legal Obligation’, p. 613.

36 Reus-Smit, ‘The Politics of International Law’, p. 14.

37 Deitelhoff and Müller, ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost?’, p. 172.

38 Reus-Smit, ‘The Politics of International Law’, pp. 36–7; Scott and Ambler, ‘Does Legality Really Matter?’.

39 Scott Shirley V., ‘International Law as Ideology: Theorizing the Relationship between International Law and International Politics’, European Journal of International Law, 5:1 (1994), pp. 313–25.

40 Anghie Antony, Imperialism, Sovereignty, and the Making of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Byers Michael and Nolte Georg (eds), United States Hegemony and the Foundations of International Law (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

41 Scott and Ambler, ‘Does Legality Really Matter?’, p. 72.

42 Simmons Beth, ‘Treaty Compliance and Violation’, Annual Review of Political Science, 13:1 (2010), p. 277.

43 Deitelhoff and Müller, ‘Theoretical Paradise – Empirically Lost?’, pp. 170–1; Johnstone, The Power of Deliberation, pp. 6–7; Risse, ‘“Let's Argue!”’, pp. 21–2.

44 I thank one of the anonymous reviewers for encouraging me to develop this point more explicitly, and for suggesting this framing of the counterfactual.

45 Fearon James D., ‘Counterfactuals and Hypothesis Testing in Political Science’, World Politics, 43:2 (1991), pp. 169–95; Sikkink Kathryn, ‘The Role of Consequences, Comparison and Counterfactuals in Constructivist Ethical Thought’, in Price Richard (ed.), Moral Limit and Possibility in World Politics (Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 83111.

46 Glennon, Limits of Law, Prerogatives of Power; Goldsmith and Posner, The Limits of International Law.

47 Sikkink Kathryn, The Justice Cascade: How Human Rights Prosecutions Are Changing World Politics (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011).

48 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, 1998, Article 21.1, {http://untreaty.un.org/cod/icc/statute/romefra.htm}; Gaeta Paola, ‘Official Capacity and Immunities’, in Cassese Antonio, Gaeta Paola, and Jones John R. W. D. (eds), The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Commentary, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 9751002.

49 Rome Statute, Article 12.2; Bourgon Stephane, ‘Jurisdiction Ratione Loci’, in Cassese Antonio, Gaeta Paola, and Jones John R. W. D. (eds), The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: A Commentary, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 559–69.

50 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 34, {https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201155/volume-1155-I-18232-English.pdf}.

51 Rome Statute, Article 15.

52 Schabas William A., ‘United States Hostility to the International Criminal Court: It's All About the Security Council’, European Journal of International Law, 15:4 (2004), pp. 701–20; Wippman David, ‘The International Criminal Court’, in Reus-Smit Christian (ed.), The Politics of International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 166174.

53 Akande Dapo, ‘International Law Immunities and the International Criminal Court’, The American Journal of International Law, 98:3 (2004), pp. 407–33; Schabas William, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court (4th edn, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 183.

54 Jain Neha, ‘A Separate Law for Peacekeepers?: The Clash between the Security Council and the International Criminal Court’, European Journal of International Law, 16:2 (2005), pp. 239–54; Stahn Carsten, ‘The Ambiguities of Security Council Resolution 1422 (2002)’, European Journal of International Law, 14:1 (2003), pp. 85104.

55 In addition to the usual 15 members, a further 25 states attended the debate over Resolution 1422 (2002); additionally, Costa Rica spoke on behalf of the other 17 members of the Rio Group, while Denmark spoke on behalf of the 15 members of the European Union plus 13 affiliated states. In the subsequent 2003 debate over Resolution 1487, 18 observer delegations attended, while Greece represented the EU plus 14 affiliated states, and Peru represented the Rio Group.

56 Johnstone, ‘Security Council Deliberations’; Voeten Erik, ‘Outside Options and the Logic of Security Council Action’, American Political Science Review, 95:4 (2001), pp. 845–58.

57 Statement by US representative, 30 June 2002. At the time, the United States had three military observers and approximately eighty police officers deployed to the UN mission Colum Lynch, ‘US Seeks Court Immunity For East Timor Peacekeepers’, The Washington Post (16 May 2002), available at: {http://www.globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/199/41050.html}.

58 Yet as Schabas points out, the US approach was not motivated by a particular threat of legal exposure in Bosnia, but concerned the potential application of ICC jurisdiction to American officials in more controversial military settings. Schabas, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, pp. 780–1.

59 Kelley Judith, ‘Who Keeps International Commitments and Why? The International Criminal Court and Bilateral Nonsurrender Agreements’, The American Political Science Review, 101:3 (2007), pp. 573–89; Ralph Jason, Defending the Society of States Why America Opposes the International Criminal Court and Its Vision of World Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 156–63; Schabas, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, pp. 781–2.

60 The relevant passage of the US draft proposal of 19 June 2002 reads: ‘Decides that persons of or from contributing states acting in connection with such operations shall enjoy in the territory of all Member States other than the contributing State immunity from arrest, detention, and prosecution with respect to all acts arising out of the operation and that this immunity shall continue after termination of their participation in the operation for all such acts.’ After near-universal opposition – owing to the fact that the language also exempted individuals from the criminal jurisdiction of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia – the US subsequently modified the language in a second proposed draft text of 27 June that specified the exemption applied only to ‘current and former officials and personnel from a contributing State not a party to the Rome Statute’ and did not modify the existing legal standing of the ICTY. This episode constitutes an initial, though comparatively minor, concession since the US still sought permanent immunity for its own forces. Reference to this and other draft documents cited in this section can be found in Coalition for the International Criminal Court, Compilation of Documents on UN Security Council Resolutions 1422/1487 (New York, May 2004), available at: {http://www.iccnow.org/documents/1422DocumentCompilation.pdf}.

61 Statement by the United States of America to the United Nations Security Council. 4563rd meeting. Agenda Item: ‘The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, New York, 30 June 2002. Available at: {http://www.un.org/en/sc/meetings/}.

62 See preamble paragraph 3 of the 19 June 2002 draft proposal.

63 UN S/PV.4563, 30 June 2002. The draft text (S/2002/712) is available at: {http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/2002/712}. The vote was 13 in favour, with the United States voting against and Bulgaria abstaining.

64 Statement by the United States of America to the United Nations Security Council. 4568th meeting. Agenda Item: ‘The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, New York, 10 July 2002. Available at: {http://www.un.org/en/sc/meetings/}.

65 Operative paragraph 2 of the US draft proposal of 1 July 2002.

66 In total, 77 voiced opposition to the US proposal at the 2002 Security Council meeting. 32 states made statements, including Costa Rica speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, and Denmark speaking on behalf of the EU and 13 associated states. The full records are available via United Nations Security Council. 4568th meeting, and Resumption 1. Agenda Item: ‘The situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina’, New York, 10 July 2002. Available at: {http://www.un.org/en/sc/meetings/}.

67 Statements by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Denmark, Fiji, France, Guinea, Ireland, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Mongolia, New Zealand, Norway, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Switzerland, Syria and United Kingdom. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

68 Statement by Canada. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

69 Statements by Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Rio Group), Denmark (on behalf of the EU and associated states), Liechtenstein, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Samoa, and Switzerland. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

70 Wippman, ‘The International Criminal Court’, pp. 155, 172–3.

71 Statements by Argentina, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Rio Group), Denmark (on behalf of the EU and associated states), Fiji, Liechtenstein, Mexico, New Zealand, Samoa, Thailand, Ukraine and Venezuela. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

72 Statement by New Zealand. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

73 Statements by Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Rio Group), Cuba, Fiji, Germany, Guinea, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, New Zealand, Samoa, South Africa, Switzerland, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Venezuela. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

74 Statement by Syria. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002. Statements by Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Rio Group), Germany, Jordan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Samoa, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

75 Statements by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica (on behalf of the Rio Group), Fiji, France, Germany, Ireland, Liechtenstein, Malaysia, New Zealand and Ukraine. United Nations Security Council, 10 July 2002.

76 Schabas, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, pp. 780–1; Stahn, ‘The Ambiguities of Security Council Resolution 1422 (2002)’, pp. 86–7.

77 Glennon, Limits of Law, Prerogatives of Power; Goldsmith and Posner, The Limits of International Law.

78 Ralph, Defending the Society of States, p. 165; Stahn, ‘The Ambiguities of Security Council Resolution 1422 (2002)’, pp. 85, 101.

79 UNSC 1487 was passed with 12 votes in favour and three abstentions (France, Germany, and Syria).

80 Only Pakistan offered explicit endorsement while Angola, Bulgaria, China, and the Russian Federation made more general statements of understanding.

81 Statement by the United States of America to the United Nations Security Council. 4772nd meeting. Agenda Item: ‘United Nations Peacekeeping’, New York, 12 June 2003. Available at: {http://www.un.org/en/sc/meetings/}.

82 Statements by Argentina, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Greece (on behalf of the EU and associated states), Guinea, Iran, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Nigeria, Switzerland, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay. United Nations Security Council, 12 June 2003.

83 Statements by Greece (on behalf of the EU and associated states), Jordan, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago. United Nations Security Council, 12 June 2003.

84 Statements by Brazil, Canada, Germany, Iran, Jordan, Liechtenstein, New Zealand, Pakistan, Switzerland, and Trinidad and Tobago. United Nations Security Council, 12 June 2003.

85 Statements by Angola, Canada, France, Greece (on behalf of the EU and associated states), Guinea, Iran, Liechtenstein, Malawi, Netherlands, Peru (on behalf of the Rio Group), South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. United Nations Security Council, 12 June 2003.

86 Richard Boucher, ‘Department of State Daily Press Briefing’ (Washington, DC, 23 June 2004), available at: {www.amicc.org/icc/peacekeeping}.

87 Schabas, An Introduction to the International Criminal Court, p. 780. Julie Kim, Bosnia and the European Union Military Force (EUFOR): Post-NATO Peacekeeping, CRS Report to Congress (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, 5 December 2006), p. 2, available at: {www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/RS21774.pdf}.

88 Stahn, ‘The Ambiguities of Security Council Resolution 1422 (2002)’, p. 104.

89 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1497, operative paragraph 7. Parallel language can be found in the Resolution 1593 and Resolution 1970. Available at: {http://www.un.org/en/sc/documents/resolutions/}.

90 Statement by the United States of America to the United Nations Security Council. 5158th meeting. Agenda Item: ‘Reports of the Secretary-General on the Sudan’, New York, 31 March 2005. Available at: {http://www.un.org/en/sc/meetings/}.

91 Statements by France, Germany, and Mexico, 1 August 2003; Argentina, Benin, France, Greece, Japan, Philippines and Tanzania, March 31 2005; and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil and France, 26 February 2011.

92 Statements by Argentina, Denmark, Tanzania. United Nations Security Council, 31 March 2005.

93 Stahn, ‘The Ambiguities of Security Council Resolution 1422 (2002)’, p. 94.

94 Goldsmith Jack, ‘The Self-Defeating International Criminal Court’, University of Chicago Law Review, 70:1 (2003), pp. 89104.

95 Barnett and Duvall, ‘Power in International Politics’.

* For constructive feedback that greatly improved the content and presentation of this article I thank Gregorio Bettiza, Michael Byers, Katharina Coleman, Brad Epperly, Ryder McKeown, Richard Price, and the anonymous reviewers. Any remaining errors of course are my responsibility alone. I also gratefully acknowledge financial and institutional support from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Department of Politics at the University of British Columbia, the Max Weber Programme at the European University Institute, and the Department of Politics and International Relations and Nuffield College, Oxford.

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Review of International Studies
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