Justice vs. Peace
By Taylor Marvin
An ICC prosecutor has requested an arrest warrant for Qadaffi. This is unlikely to have any tangible change on the conflict in Libya — the ICC has a poor track record of actually apprehending wanted national leaders, and it is unlikely the ICC warrant will encourage any Libyans still loyal to Qadaffi to abandon him. However, the ICC’s decision could perversly prolong the Libyan civil war by discouraging the defection of senior Libyan government officials. Being a leader in the midst of a civil war is a miserable experience — it’s hugely stressful and personally uncomfortable, and Qadaffi’s lost family members and presumably lives in constant fear of a NATO airstrike finally finding him. In many dictatorships government officials hold their positions more for personal gain rather than ideological devotion and if their comfortable lifestyles seem threatened there’s a huge incentive to flee the country and go into exile, as many former dictators have done. However, now that the ICC has committed to prosecuting Qadaffi’s the option to defect is closed — many senior civil Libyan officials are unlikely to survive surrender to the rebels, and there’s a strong possibility of facing ICC prosecution if they flee abroad. At this point, the Qadaffi government’s only option is to fight until the end, and he has every incentive to try and outlast the patience of NATO-member states’ domestic constituencies.
ICC prosecution of national leaders, even war criminals, sets a bad precedent because it discourages threatened dictators from fleeing uprisings and likely prolongs civil wars. Ironically, it would likely be better from the standpoint of encouraging democratic uprisings to offer immunity to dictators and even guaranteeing them an income once they’re deposed. Given that the international community doesn’t have many other options to influence the actions of dictators like Qadaffi or Bashar al-Assad, recognizing that even ideologically motivated dictators place some value on their personal comfort is a valuable tool in encouraging compliance.