- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

Few international issues illustrate partisan lines more clearly than the International Criminal Court (ICC) and U.S. military assistance in Latin America. Republicans are skeptics of the court. Democrats have worried about U.S. interactions with Latin militaries.

That makes it all the more remarkable that a bipartisan consensus is forming around the need to relax U.S. policies that have held up military aid to member countries of the International Criminal Court. This consensus was evident at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing I chaired last week, and at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week.

To address legitimate concerns that the ICC could become a kangaroo court for politically motivated charges against U.S. troops, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act (ASPA) in 2003.

ASPA prohibits U.S. government cooperation with the ICC, and restricts the participation of U.S. troops in U.N. peacekeeping operations. Significantly, ASPA also prohibits U.S. military assistance to any country that is a member of the ICC and hasn’t offered treaty assurances to shield U.S. troops from possible prosecution without our consent. This provision is increasingly coming under fire, together with a subsequent amendment by Washington state’s former Rep. George Nethercutt extending these prohibitions to economic aid.

While this issue has global reach, it is felt most acutely in Latin America. Today 12 Western Hemisphere countries are ineligible for U.S. military aid and training, including Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay and most recently Mexico.

The consequences have been disastrous. The U.S. is missing key opportunities to engage with the region’s next generation of military leaders. Military-to-military engagement helps to underscore the importance of democracy, stability and professionalism — issues with bipartisan appeal, particularly in a region where, not so long ago, the military establishment was complicit in decades of undemocratic rule.

Gen. Bantz Craddock, commander of U.S. Southern Command, has been forthright with his concerns about the ASPA’s effects, particularly on the military training and exchanges through the IMET program. In his words, the law is “restricting our access to and interaction with many important partner nations.” Gen. Craddock warns, “We now risk losing contact and interoperability with a generation of military classmates in many nations of the region, including several leading countries.”

Restrictions in military and economic aid could also result in loss of U.S. diplomatic influence in the region. This occurs when populism and anti-Americanism are rampant, charges of U.S. neglect are common and humanitarian aid for the region is seeing reductions. And any real or perceived vacuum created by the U.S. could be filled by worrisome actors in the region or beyond, that may not share our democratic values.

Gen. Craddock has warned many Latin Americans who formerly would have come to the United States for military training are instead going to China.

Take Bolivia for example, a country of considerable instability. A couple decades ago, one might have expected the civilian government to be overthrown by a military regime. Yet through considerable upheaval, the Bolivian military has remained deferential to civilian control, no doubt reinforced through decades of regular training with U.S. instructors and doctrine.

This weekend Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Bolivian President Evo Morales to seek a constructive engagement with the controversial leader — even as U.S. military aid to Bolivia is being abruptly cut off due to differences over the ICC.

Or consider Mexico, which became a member of the International Criminal Court in October 2005. Cutting off military training with our NAFTA partner and neighbor is especially damaging to U.S. national security interests, particularly as Mexico enters an election cycle and we seek cooperation to address challenges along our shared border.

And Chile, the hemisphere’s best economic and political success story, is likely to be the next country to face these aid restrictions when it joins the ICC in the near future.

I recently held a hearing on this issue, bringing together experts from all sides of the political spectrum. The consensus was striking — the U.S. needs to find a way to add flexibility to ASPA, while promoting protection for our servicemen and -women. Several possible solutions exist.

• First, the law already includes a national interest waiver, and the administration might consider using it more liberally.

• Alternatively, Congress could add specific flexibility to the waiver authority cooperation.

• Another possible solution would be to exempt assistance related to such key priorities as military training and democracy-building from the sanctions.

• A fourth approach would either develop positive incentives or find an alternative source of leverage that does not run counter to our interests.

• A final possibility would be to work to fix the ICC itself, to bring its treatment of nonsignatory, third-party nations in line with the norms of international law.

I support the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, but I believe it carries some unintended consequences that directly counter U.S. interests. The panelists at my hearing agreed, to a person, that in most Latin American nations the political costs of signing an immunity agreement with U.S. far outweigh the benefits of continued U.S. aid. This means, at the end of the day, that our policies are hurting the U.S. more than the countries we are attempting to influence.

Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Peace Corps and Narcotics Affairs.

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