“These are talking points for the leaders of Myanmar, the leaders of North Korea, the leaders of Russia,” said David J. Scheffer, a former American ambassador who helped negotiate the Rome treaty during the Clinton administration. “I’m sure this speech was very welcome in Saudi Arabia. This was music to the ears of the Middle East.”
Mr. Bolton’s speech, and the new hard line it presages, raises fresh concerns about the endurance of the court without backing from the world’s largest countries. China and India never supported it. Russia abandoned its veneer of an endorsement. The nations of the European Union are members and represent the court’s biggest bloc of support.
Lawyers and human-rights groups were alarmed, in particular, at the threat of prosecuting international lawyers and judges. “Coming from the host country of the United Nations, it is very dangerous to an international legal order,” said William Pace, the head of the Coalition for the International Court, an organization set up to support the court. “It is undermining the fundamental pillars of an international order designed after World War II to prevent World War III.”
Mr. Bolton worked to undermine the court early in the Bush administration, before others in the administration struck a more accommodating tone. But his views align well with those of Mr. Trump, whose “America first” policies have challenged longstanding alliances and international institutions such as NATO and multilateral trade agreements.
While European nations view organizations like the International Criminal Court as an important check on dictators, Mr. Bolton and other American conservatives see it as an affront. The United States, after all, shoulders many of the West’s peacekeeping duties. Why then, Mr. Bolton and his allies argue, would the United States expose its citizens to oversight and second-guessing from nations that have benefited from a robust American military?
American leaders have noted for years that no country has done more to finance peacekeeping missions and international war crimes tribunals. They have argued, however, that stand-alone courts like the ones that prosecuted people for genocide in the former Yugoslavia are more successful and appropriate.
But Christine Van den Wyngaert, who served as a judge on the court as well as the Yugoslavia tribunal, said Mr. Bolton’s speech undermines even those efforts. She said it was troubling to see the United States “withdraw again in its position of isolation and even hostility towards international criminal justice.”