The United States yesterday suspended more than $47 million in military aid to 35 countries for refusing to protect Americans on their territory from prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
The penalized nations include six new U.S. allies in Central and Eastern Europe that are expected to join NATO next year, as well as Colombia, whose government is fighting a war against drugs and leftist guerrillas.
“This is a reflection of the United States’ priorities to protect the men and women in our military,” White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.
“If delivering aid to those states endangers America’s servicemen and servicewomen, the president’s first priority is with the servicemen and servicewomen,” he said.
Under a 2002 law known as the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, all 90 countries that have ratified the ICC Rome treaty are subject to suspension of U.S. military aid.
America’s 18 fellow NATO members, Taiwan, and nine nations that Washington calls “major non-NATO allies” — Israel, Egypt, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Jordan, Argentina and Bahrain — are exempted by the law.
The law also gives the president the authority to grant waivers to countries that have signed bilateral agreements with the United States.
Article 98 of the treaty establishing the ICC allows member states to enter into such accords with other nations to protect their citizens from the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
Citing that provision, as well as discretionary power to waive the suspension for nations he deems crucial to U.S. interests, President Bush issued exemptions for 22 countries.
They include Afghanistan, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Honduras, Macedonia, Nigeria, Panama, Romania and Sierra Leone.
Of the 35 states blocked from receiving U.S. military aid, six are NATO invitees — Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and Slovenia — that have chosen to adopt the pro-ICC position of the European Union, another organization they are in line to join.
That penalized group also includes Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia, Croatia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Serbia and Montenegro, South Africa, Tanzania, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Those nations had not signed Article 98 agreements with the United States by the deadline yesterday, set by the law, but the Bush administration expressed confidence that many of them will do so by Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year.
The aid suspension affects $47 million in U.S. foreign military financing and $613,000 in international military and educational training this year, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters.
“There is a four-month waiver for countries who signed [bilateral agreements] before May 1 and haven’t yet ratified, a six-month waiver for countries who signed after May 1 and haven’t yet ratified,” he said. “In many cases, ratification means working things through parliament, which takes some time in some places.”
A total of 44 countries have acknowledged signing Article 98 agreements with Washington, according to a list provided by the State Department.
More than five others, including Egypt and Mongolia, are believed to have signed such documents but prefer not to make them public.
Administration officials said the number of countries affected by the penalties would fluctuate because some of those not receiving exemptions at this time may get them later, if they sign bilateral agreements.
Mr. Boucher acknowledged that the immediate effect of the sanctions will be minimal — because most of the money allotted this year has been spent — especially in the case of the six future NATO members. They will get automatic exemptions as soon as they join the alliance next year.
Officials from those nations — all in Central and Eastern Europe — said yesterday that they were not surprised by the White House decision, although they had been hoping for waivers and a clean slate. Those that expect to become hosts of U.S. military bases in the near future had been particularly hopeful.
A senior official in one such country, Bulgaria, which stood by the United States in the United Nations’ Security Council throughout the Iraq debate, said the U.S. penalties will not affect the government’s military budget because it was drawn up not to include Washington’s assistance.
“We don’t expect the decision to affect any future consideration of having American military bases in Bulgaria, either,” the official said by telephone from Sofia, the capital, noting that the support among the population for hosting such bases has increased since the war in Iraq.
Some officials in Eastern Europe — or “new Europe,” as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld calls it — voiced frustration that they had been forced to choose between siding either with the United States or the European Union on the ICC.
The Bush administration opposes the court because of the potential for politically motivated prosecution of Americans.
Shortly before the treaty entered into force a year ago, the administration withdrew the U.S. signature, which President Clinton had placed just before leaving office.
Colombia, one of the largest recipients of U.S. military assistance, was supposed to receive $100 million this year, and all but $5 million had been expended, Mr. Boucher said.
The Latin American nation was to get $600 million from the aid budget for this year, but most of it was part of an antidrug fund that is not considered military aid, even though some of the money goes to the Colombian armed forces.
If it does not sign an agreement with the United States, Colombia will lose much more next year. Of the $575 million requested by the Bush administration, about $112 million could be jeopardized, according to State Department figures.
“But our hope is to continue to work with governments to secure and ratify Article 98 agreements that protect American service members from arbitrary or political prosecution by the international court,” Mr. Boucher said.