By the time you read this a new law will have taken effect in 35 countries that will make acts of national aggression a violation of international law. New Zealand however, will not be an immediate signatory.
National aggression refers to a hostile act against another country such as military invasion, aerial or other bombardment. It is not just a simple case of making aggressive statements or threatening aggression against another nation – the threatened aggression actually has to happen.
When it became law at midnight New Zealand did not immediately join, having cited the need to amend existing legislation to accommodate it. The legislation that would need to be amended to enable the new law to work includes the International Crimes and Criminal Court Act 2000.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Acting Prime Minister Winston Peters has indicated that the laws will need to be changed and that New Zealand attempt to join at a later date when the necessary changes have been passed by Parliament. The new law takes effect in the 35 other countries on Thursday.
One of the concerns around national aggression is what it is used for, and the near certainty that in different jurisdictions different interpretations will be applied. What therefore might be the interpretation of the law in Samoa, might not be applicable in say, Germany even though both will have the new law from tomorrow.
The law has some weaknesses in that key nations such as the United States and Russia are not part of the International Criminal Court. Others such as China, India, Saudi Arabia never have been members. Those same nations by their geopolitical doctrines and past international record, are not likely to support this, and see it as an attack on their right to self defence.
Another concern is how it will deal with the manufacturing, export and import of illegal arms. United States, Britain, China, Russia, France, Italy, Germany and others are all arms exporters and some of them have regimes known to have committed war crimes among their customers. Saudi Arabia for example has purchased cluster munitions, from Britain and the United States which have been found in Yemen around sites of alleged war crimes, as well as delivery systems for them.
A third one is whether the new law will affect New Zealand decisions to become involved in wars where we see a clear benefit, but which might not be sanctioned by the United Nations. Such events may include intervening in a South Pacific dispute, especially if it involves a larger power. It might also include events where the United Nations has – as it frequently is – deadlocked whilst a demonstrable case to act exists.
All in all the law is a good idea and I think New Zealand is right to join it. However the delay is just and Kennedy Graham and any one else who believes New Zealand should sign immediately are not putting the national interest first.