USA’s Sanctions on ICC Officials Reveal Realities of a Political Monopoly & Incentives

Published on 15th September 2020

Recently, Donald Trump’s administration-imposed sanctions on senior officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC) notably, Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor, and Phakiso Mochochoko, head of the Jurisdiction, Complementarity and Cooperation Division.

The sanctions are a retaliation to ICC’s decision to investigate crimes committed by USA’s troops in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

Instead of haranguing about Washington’s inimical decision, it would be interesting to comprehend this dramatic move in terms of the workings of a political monopoly and the interplay of incentives.

Ordinarily, the term monopoly is mostly used in economics to refer to a market structure dominated by a single seller such that consumers are at a loss of enjoying benefits such as high quality products or relatively cheaper commodities or readily available goods and services.

But monopolies also exist in politics at the local, national and global levels usually characterized by dominance of a certain political entity that mostly sets the rules of the game and bends them when threatened by external forces. This is why single-party states like China or North Korea subvert the political will of the people. Globally, for most of the post-Cold War period, unilateralism, which has enabled USA to get away with a lot of blood in her hands, is a case of political monopoly.

There is the instance of absolute political monopolies such as China and North Korea but functional political monopolies do exist in abundance. Functional political monopolies, in this case, entail existence of an extremely dominant political formation in a multiparty set up. For instance, Uganda’s National Resistance Movement (NRM) or Tanzania’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) or Ethiopia’s Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition that morphed into the Prosperity Party in December 2019, are examples worth mentioning.

A nauseating feature of some of the functional political monopolies is holding regular elections in the guise of ‘being democratic’ but with already pre-determined outcomes thereby denying citizens opportunities to vote for some of the best candidates or policies.

Political monopolies are also manifested in polities where a ruling political formation oppresses citizens through violence and intimidation. Additionally, in nearly all countries/polities in the world, political elites call the shots and this is some form of a political monopoly which hinders formulation and implementation of the most progressive economic and social policies intended to move up masses on the socioeconomic ladder.

Therefore, we can state that the nature of political monopolies assumes various forms.

Any political action at the local, national, regional or global level ought to be understood on the basis of incentives. “An incentive,” as stated by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in Freakonomics, “is simply a means of urging people to do more of a good thing, and less of a bad thing.” But the bone of contention, in the case of incentives, is that a good thing could be bad for some and a bad thing could be good for others! This is evident through the political action by superpowers, elites or barons with machinations being the common denominator.

To understand USA’s sanctions on ICC officials, it is crucial to revisit key events in the post-war era such as the Cold War and moments in the post-Cold War era such as the so-called ‘War on Terror’, probably USA’s dumbest and biggest foreign policy failure.

Immediately after the end of World War II, the United Nations’ Organization (UN) was established and the wheels of the Cold War were also set in motion. The tussle for global superpower status between USA and the Soviet Union during the Cold War forms an interesting case of a political duopoly or a bilateral world especially with the eventual collapse of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Veto power is a curious case of political elitism at the global stage which the Security Council Report notes its usage by permanent members “to defend their national interests, to uphold a tenet of their foreign policy or, in some cases, to promote a single issue of particular importance to a state.”

Primarily, veto power serves the function of curtailing dominance of UN affairs or politics by one state. In other words, it is meant to prevent monopolization of UN affairs by one state but in the process, states with veto power cumulatively form a political monopoly, sometimes making awful decisions that other member states are forced to live with.

Disintegration of the Soviet Union and the subsequent end of the Cold War ushered unilateralism with USA as the superpower state. This was a crucial juncture which Washington has opportunistically exploited to further its foreign policy ambitions, quite noxious in most instances, thus affirming the destructive nature of a political monopoly.

Arguably, the ‘War on Terror’ is USA’s major foreign policy dictate in the post-Cold War era. The case for a monopoly and incentives could help further its understanding.

The 9/11 attack is primed as the genesis of the ‘War on Terror’. However, this is misleading since Washington’s war on terrorism was rife in Sudan and other African countries in 1990s. What is the monopolistic element in reference to the whacky ‘War on Terror’?

Narrative control and disinformation is an everlasting stench in a monopoly arrangement. With USA as the global superpower, her word on who qualifies or doesn’t qualify as a terrorist has an element of finality. The game or scheme of incentives underlies the warranted or unwarranted qualification.

Invasion of Somalia and bombing of Sudan’s pharmaceutical plant in 1990s, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen among others was purely based on narrative control or disinformation, otherwise known as propaganda. A one-sided story is always a justification by monopolies and this is why very few people in the world would want to openly term USA’s ‘War on Terror’ as erroneous or even unjustified or simply consider Washington as the chief perpetrator of terrorist acts.

But as earlier stated, incentives are the major drivers of the failed ‘War on Terror’ which as we shall see later on, form the subject of USA’s sanctions on ICC officials.

Before embarking on the specific incentives, it is fundamentally important to understand the types of incentives, otherwise referred to as the basic flavors of incentives by Levitt and Dubner, namely, economic, social and moral incentives.

The economic incentive of the supposed ‘War on Terror’ is accumulation of wealth by private entities in connivance with Washington and precipitated by America’s military-industrial complex. USA’s military industry is the largest in the world and can only profit when there are wars, both real and imagined. The social incentive for the interventionist wars, fashioned by USA, is the notion of propagating individual rights and freedom normally packaged in terms of establishing democratic institutions. The moral incentive, in view of the wild interventions, is USA’s sole duty as the global superpower to approve or disapprove socio-political organization of other states on account of her own terms like the proverbial moral police!

All the three incentives denote the excesses of a political monopoly that hardly recognizes human diversity but instead advances its agenda principally hinged on the clash of civilizations. Basically, the fangs of the imperial American Empire.

Creation of ICC should be viewed as an attempt to cut the excesses of political monopolies by specifically disincentivizing factors likely to cause war crimes.

Sanctions imposed on ICC senior officials are disincentives meant to deter the Court from investigating possible commission of war crimes by USA in Afghanistan. Well, USA is not a member of the ICC including two other UN veto power states; Russia and China. Their non-membership could have been by design so that they could possibly get away with any war crimes. Underneath, though, it is a game of incentives.

The sanctions are also poised to socially and morally boost the fast-waning image of USA in a world shifting towards multilateralism amid gradual deconstruction of the folly American Exceptionalism narrative hence serving as social and moral incentives.

Economically speaking, war generates lots of profits (but for a handful of individuals) and as earlier stated, the military-industrial complex is a dangerous pathogen to global security. The sanctions, in part, are fear-mongering antics that will ultimately allow USA’s military-industrial complex to act in cahoots with Washington to profit from past, present and future wars.

Depiction of ICC as a kangaroo court by USA is enough proof why regulation is necessary to avert excesses of a political monopoly on the global stage. How can this be done? The ICC should directly operate under the UN so that all member states conform to the Court’s principles. But the caveat could be the existence of veto powers.

Veto powers should be dismantled and all UN member states accorded equal voting rights. Why, though? The cost of lobbying, or simply bribing for votes, in case of such an arrangement, could turn out to be a very expensive exercise. This could be a disincentive for powerful states to willingly engage in wars and also be investigated or face trial if war crimes are committed, but an incentive that could accelerate global multilateralism.

Realistically, though, it is highly unlikely that such reformations could ever happen amid calls for removal of veto power among other proposed reformations.

But where do we go from here? USA and Israel plus their allies need to be prosecuted for committing war crimes. A two-state solution to grant the Palestinian people ‘independence’ will be inadequate if past Israeli and American presidents with their allies do not face trial. Citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and other states subjected to Western imperialism will not find peace if former heads of states and governments of the likes of USA, Britain etc. do not stand trial.

This is a case for disincentives to curb intervention wars, incentives to promote peace and prosperity for all and dismantling of the global political monopoly camouflaged in USA’s unilateralism agenda. It is a case for global multilateralism.

By Sitati Wasilwa

The writer is a political economist.

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