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James Dolphin '12 analyzes the U.S. relationship with the International Criminal Court

Nearly a decade after the International Criminal Court was created by a collection of foreign nations to prosecute those responsible for genocide and other crimes against humanity, the United States remains one of the world powers not to have ratified its founding treaty or joined the court.

In his work, “American Exceptionalism and the International Criminal Court,” James Dolphin '12 set out to research why that is the case. Inspired by an international relations scholar who theorized that nations use four explanations for their actions, Dolphin created a scale to measure comments made by American leaders and compared their remarks to those explanations: realism, culturalism, institutionalism and political conservatism.

He found that leaders largely rely on realism to justify their actions, the notion that the United States should act purely in its own best interests without consideration of other factors. The second most common explanation was that of institutionalism, where policy makers argued against the court because American systems of justice would conflict with the expectations of the international body. If anything, that’s a good thing, he says.

“If realism arguments are the most prominent used, there’s more of an opportunity for a change in the relationship. Realism is a lot more fickle,” he says. “If it’s issues with the institutions of the country … there’s no way we’re ever going to accede to the (treaty).”

Nor is the United States hostile to the International Criminal Court. Dolphin describes a subtle shift in American foreign policy favoring the ICC. One way for the court to bring state leaders to trial is through the United Nations Security Council, of which the United States holds veto power, and two pending cases - one from Sudan, the other from Libya - were initiated this way. Dolphin said the United States inherently validated the role of the court by not issuing a veto.

Assistant Professor Safia Swimelar, who mentored Dolphin, says this project is making a contribution to our understanding of U.S. foreign policy and international law, specifically human rights and global justice, by analyzing the competing theories for why the U.S. does not support or join the International Criminal Court.

Dolphin, an Elon College fellow, is attending law school at Emory University this fall. His hope is to specialize in either international law or constitutional law.