John Bellinger’s Keynote at the International Symposium on International Criminal Justice


Over the weekend, the Fletcher School held an international symposium on international criminal justice. Current State Department Legal Adviser John Bellinger delivered the keynote address, “US Perspectives on International Criminal Justice”. The text of the speech can be found at Based on the speech, it appears that the US policy does not fundamentally resist the application of norms of international criminal justice. Bellinger quite clearly stated that the US has supported various ad hoc international tribunals such as the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the ICTR and ICTY and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals. Yet, the concerns regarding the ICC, in particular, the concerns of the US military, were equally unequivocally expressed.


Some folk at Opinio Juris had something to say about the speech which prompted a reply from Mr. Bellinger. (See and The crux of the debate being that the speech had not adequately addressed concerns such as “not giving the Security Council (and the US, with its permanent veto) control over the ICC’s docket, not exempting Americans from the territorial jurisdiction of the Court, etc.” 


That aside, from an analytical standpoint, the US view of international criminal justice may provide a nice example for study of “tipping points” to commitments to international treaty obligations. Are there common “tipping points” which influence whether the US joins a treaty or not? It may be worthwhile to review a variety of international treaty negotiations and see if there are nuanced commonalities where the US has signed and ratified and where the US has not. I suspect that some regression analysis would be required. Perhaps, a list of causal variables may be produced from there. Domestic causal variables will certainly be important. This may shed some light on the divide between concluded treaties and “what could have been” treaties and could assist international policy makers in crossing that divide.


We are expecting to post some of the papers from the symposium as discussion papers soon. In particular, some outstanding work was presented on changing the preferences of stakeholders in the international justice system. Look out for that.


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