ICC takes a scalpel to Western moral authority

May 24, 2024
The International Criminal Court Building Exterior In The Hague The Netherlands Western Europe.

With the surgical precision of a scalpel, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has severed what remained of the moral authority of the West.

The reactions and indifference, led by the United States, has done more to undermine the global rules based order than any action initiated by China, which is usually painted as the arch enemy of this order.

The Americans do not recognise ICC rulings, unless they are made against their adversaries, in which case the rulings have their full-throated endorsement.

This approach was on display with President Biden declaring that “the ICC prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders is outrageous.”

His explanation “that whatever this prosecutor might imply, there is no equivalence — none — between Israel and Hamas,” seemed to imply that the US supported the ICC decision in relation to Hamas, but not when applied to Israel.

Australia, which seeks to position itself as a trusted, independent moral leader in the Indo-Pacific and a committed defender and enforcer of the global rules based order, has also failed this latest test of integrity. The first timid response from Prime Minister Albanese was a refusal to answer questions about the demands from the ICC top prosecutor for arrest warrants to be issued for Israel’s prime minister and the leadership of Hamas.

“I don’t comment on court processes in Australia, let alone court processes globally, that which Australia is not a party,” he said.

Albanese conveniently forgot earlier Australian Government responses to the ICC ruling in relation to Russian President Putin and to the ICJ case brought by Ukraine against Russia. Foreign Minister Wong reminding Russia “that, as a member of the United Nations, it is legally obliged to comply with decisions of the ICJ in any case to which it is a party.”

Australian foreign Minster Penny Wong, who infamously admitted that she suspended UNWRA funding without seeing any evidence to support Israel’s claims, has echoed the US position, insisting “there is no moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas”, but taking an each-way bet, saying Australia was ‘backing the ICC’s role in upholding international law.”

The Australian Government has come under intense attack from the Opposition and others for not rejecting the ICC ruling. The stridency of these attacks, and the lack of Government rebuttal, further diminishes Australia’s position in relation to its support for the objective application of ICC rulings because it reflects a broader lack of public commitment.

Australia’s weak response has undermined its position as an independent arbiter and defender of the rules based order in the South China Sea and elsewhere. The selective application of UN sanctions and judgements does not go unnoticed by those in ASEAN, and more broadly by those countries now counted as part of the global south.

Australia has missed several opportunities to establish some credibility to back up its oft-repeated mantra of supporting the global rule-based order. Australia was slow to recognise the mounting international disgust at both the aid convoy attacks and the ongoing calculated commission of war crimes in Gaza.

The Australian response to the unbiased application of ICC rulings and ongoing war crimes has been consistently tepid. Expressions of concern never became much more than indignation.

The failure of unequivocal support for the institutions of the global rules based order undermines Australia’s credibility and further reinforces the perception that Australia is essentially just an extension of US foreign policy, despite its claims of sovereign independence.

Unlike South Africa, Australia has not taken a lead in condemning the continued commission of war crimes in Gaza. Australia has not used its often touted and much-vaunted special relationship with the United States to press President Biden to halt the flow of weapons to Israel.

Like Malaysia, Australia could have taken a leadership role and shown its genuine commitment to the global rules based order by imposing sanctions and restrictions on Israeli products entering Australia. It could, at the very least, prohibit the export of Australian weapons to Israel and stop the purchase of Israeli weapons systems.

Australia cannot expect to provide regional ASEAN leadership because its equivocal response to ICC rulings has eroded its moral plausibility by endorsing just a selected version of the rules based order. With the latest ICC decision, what started as a fraying of the edges of Western moral credibility has become a sharply defined fracture.

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