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Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Friday | June 13, 2003

The Secretary of Everything strikes again

US threatens to boycott Belgium over war crimes law

Ian Black in Brussels and Ewen MacAskill
Friday June 13, 2003
The Guardian

The bitter dispute between the US and Europe over Iraq burst into the open again yesterday when the US threatened Belgium with a boycott and Germany and France registered protests at the UN about Washington's continued opposition to the international criminal court.

The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, warned Belgium at a Nato meeting to drop its controversial war crimes law or face a boycott of Nato's Brussels HQ.

Belgium, a founder member of Nato, has a law giving it jurisdiction to try war crimes, genocide and other crimes against humanity wherever they are committed. The government has already been trying to water it down.

Mr Rumsfeld condemned "divisive politicised lawsuits" such as the one threatening General Tommy Franks, the commander of US forces in Iraq.

The US is threatening to suspend its financial support for a new 400m (280m) building for Nato.

"It would obviously not be easy for US officials ... to come to Belgium," Mr Rumsfeld said. "It would not make much sense to build a new headquarters if they can't come here for meetings."

He refused to say whether the US wanted to see the headquarters moved from Brussels, but added: "It's perfectly possible to meet elsewhere."

So, is this the same man expecting Allied troops to swelter in the Iraqi desert?

He's making policy which is not his business to make. He's not secretary of state, he cannot make Belgium's laws. Does he not understand that this is the kind of thing which can cause a government to fall? If he disagrees, in the past, his comments would be made privately, and the Secretary of State would make the political, public objection. What does he want to do? Move NATO headquarters to Warsaw?

He is completely blind to the consequences of this kind of threat. Change your laws or we harm your economy is no way to make friends and support allies. Belgians live in a democracy. If this is a law that is passed by parliament, then we have to live with it.

If the Belgian government tries to change the law, they well could be forced from office and a new government elected to enforce it. Think it can't happen? Pym Fortune, a gay college professor was thisclose to having the leading block in the Dutch parliament before he was assassinated. Parliaments can change and the current Belgian goverment is under fire for its mishandling of a series of child molestation cases. It doesn't have a lot of room for manuever.

This idea that we can be exempt from international law and courts is a dangerous one and one which will eventually be used against us.

But this goes deeper than some Soprano-like thuggery his comments implied.

We cannot expect our allies to bend to our will without giving something. If we were members of the International Criminal Court, Rumsfeld's demand would not be unreasonable. It would be wrongheaded, but not unreasonable. But to eschew any international system for someone to bring Americans to justice undermines our credibility with our allies.

When allies refuse to pick up the slack in Iraq and the coalition of the billing refuses to send bodies without lavish payments and American soldiers are dying alone and isolated in Iraq, I wonder how Rumsfeld's smarmy comments will play then.

The fact that he plays well on TV obscures the fact that he is not only the most powerful secretary of defense since the post was created, but that his policies could very well lead to disaster.

Because allies will not share burdens when they and their laws are not respected.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 13, 2003 01:08 AM | Comments (216)


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