Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The International Court of Justice and the Australian Open?

Australian television viewers watching Alicia Molik defeat Venus Williams on at the Australian Open were probably caught by surprise by TV commercials denouncing Australia's government, among other things, withdrawing from the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ. Australia withdrew from its acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction in 2002 to avoid allowing East Timor to start litigation in the ICJ over undersea oil and mining rights. An optometrist named Ian Melrose is leading the Timor Sea Justice Compaign and is pledging to continue to dog the government on this issue.

What's the lesson from all of this? One might be that even nice, international law-abiding countries like Australia (as opposed to not very nice ones like the U.S., at least in the eyes of many international lawyers) are not willing to have international tribunals assert jurisdiction when it comes to things they really care about. France, for instance, withdrew its acceptance once New Zealand tried to use the ICJ to block its nuclear test plans.

All of this self-interested state behavior may or may not be a good thing. But it is hardly behavior unique to the United States.