Next time someone says that international criminal justice is “just too expensive,” that the international criminal courts at work since 1993 “do too little,” here’s an answer: The United States just did nothing for 16 days, at a cost of $24 billion. That’s about 7 times more than the international community spent on international criminal justice in the last decade and a half.
The total cost of the war crimes tribunals” was “roughly $3.43 billion from 1993 to 2009,” wrote former U.S. Ambassador David Scheffer in his 2012 memoir, All the Missing Souls: A Personal History of the War Crimes Tribunals. Scheffer proceeded to put the figure in perspective, writing at page 28 that this amount
‘fell below the program costs of two Stealth bombers and equaled the two-week budget of American military operations in Iraq. Expenditures for two flights of the Space Shuttle, or about 17 percent of the cash bonuses paid out by Wall Street firms in 2008, could cover the entire international budget of the war crimes tribunals during this sixteen-year period.’
I quoted him around pages 9-14 of “A Janus Look at International Criminal Justice,” published this year in the Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, and further estimated that the total annual budget for international criminal justice is in the neighborhood of half a billion dollars. (Because of different accounting methods and other reasons, a precise number is hard to pin down.) A report by Fordham Law’s Leitner Center added more comparisons. At page 77, the report projected that the 22-year cost of international criminal justice, from 1993 through 2015, would be $6.28 billion. It then likened this amount to a host of other expenditures – including the $15 billion spent on the 2012 London Summer Olympics.
But the Olympians did something – a lot, in fact, over the better part of 3 weeks. And their games still came in at half what the United States squandered in 16 days of doing nothing.