THE RISKS AND WEAKNESSES OF THE
INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT
FROM AMERICA’S PERSPECTIVE
JOHN R. BOLTON*
In the aftermaths of both World War I and World War II, the United States
engaged in significant domestic political debates over its proper place in the
President Wilson’s brainchild, the League of Nations, was the center-
piece of the first debate, and the United Nations the centerpiece of the second.
The conventional wisdom is that the dark forces of isolationism defeated Wil-
son’s League in the Senate, and that the advent of the Cold War gridlocked the
nascent United Nations, preventing it from assuming the role intended for it in
preserving international peace and security.
While the mythology surrounding
both of these important debates is wrong and incoherent in many respects,
there is no doubt of the far-reaching implications of American political deci-
sions attendant on them.
Neither the debate over the League nor the one over the United Nations
settled the issue of America’s proper relationship with other governments and
During the Cold War, there was little or no occa-
sion for the debate to re-emerge in the United States because the life-or-death
struggle with Communism dominated U.S. attention, at least at the national
Nonetheless, below the surface, largely in academic circles, those debates
favoring international legal measures to constrain the independence of nation
states continued their efforts, both here and in Europe.
Although motivated by
a wide range of considerations, many of which were contradictory, one broad
theme was that it was the nation state itself, and the seemingly inescapable at-
Copyright © 2001 by John R. Bolton
This article is also available at http://www.law.duke.edu/journals/64LCPBolton.
* Senior Vice President, American Enterprise Institute; Assistant Secretary of State for Interna-
tional Organization Affairs, Bush Administration.
A substantially similar version of this article appeared in 41 VIRGINIA J. INT’L L. 186 (2000).
1. While there is no real opportunity here to discuss at length the subject of “American isolation-
ism,” it is in fact a very unsatisfactory historical template for evaluating U.S. foreign policy.
ism” as a characterization is conclusory and derogatory and, therefore, for those who wield it, needs
little supportive evidence or argument.
Indeed, for those most disturbed by it, “isolationism” is much
like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of “hard-core pornography”: “I know it when I see it.”
Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964) (Stewart, J., concurring).
Unfortunately, for analytical purposes at least, the opposing term “internationalism” itself obscures
more than it illuminates.
Those interested in pursuing the point may wish to see my essay
Is Not Isolationism
UNDERSTANDING THE UNILATERALISM IN AMERICAN FOREIGN RELATIONS
50-82 (Gwyn Prins ed., 2000).