U.S. Support to the ICC (in AI-Generated Iambic Pentameter)

by | Mar 29, 2023


I never imagined I would submit for publication a poem from Chat-GPT about U.S. policy toward the International Criminal Court (ICC). But that is what I am doing today.

The background is as follows. Each day, we hear more about uses of generative artificial intelligence (AI) that may lie ahead: as bots that could serve as our virtual assistants; oncologists that prescribe cancer care particularized to an individual’s chemical composition or DNA; strategists that could reverse the impacts of climate change; and so much more.

With all this in mind, I turned one recent morning with great excitement to another potential use that could profoundly improve life on our planet. I speak (of course) about the possibility of utilizing generative AI to reduce friction within the U.S. Government on troublesome inter-agency issues. As a first test case, I turned my attention to the particular issue of whether the U.S. government should support efforts of the ICC to investigate and prosecute alleged atrocities committed in Ukraine. My preliminary research about the role AI can play has been encouraging.

U.S. Interagency Disagreement

Reports of inter-agency disagreement surrounding current ICC issues have become well-known. The key questions turn on the jurisdictional provisions of the treaty that created the ICC, known as the Rome Statute. Under these provisions, the ICC can exercise jurisdiction over nationals of States that are not parties to the treaty, so long as the conduct in question occurs on the territory of a State that has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction. It is these provisions that make it possible for the Court to pursue investigations and prosecutions of Russian war crimes in Ukraine, even though Russia is not a Rome Statute party. But these same provisions, it is feared, could serve as a basis in other cases for the Court to assert jurisdiction over U.S. persons.

In light of these concerns, the Defense Department has, reportedly, opposed providing support for the ICC’s efforts in Ukraine. It contends that doing so would undermine the ability of the U.S. Government to argue in a future case that ICC jurisdiction against a U.S person is impermissible. Other U.S. agencies reportedly have countered that such arguments are futile, that there is no point in “preserving” arguments that have consistently proven unpersuasive, and that in any case the importance of supporting the ICC’s efforts against Russian atrocities in Ukraine is of transcending importance for U.S. foreign policy.

I of course well remember these lines of argument from my time in government – and can well imagine how implacable the views of the different sides can be. How to move forward? What a service I could be doing for the United States if only I could find a pathway ahead.


And then, at a certain moment when the stars must have aligned in a particularly 21st century way, the light bulb came. Eureka, I thought to myself, there must be a way to use the wisdom of my Chat-GPT to break the deadlock on this long-stalemated issue. And so I told my Chat-GPT the background of this issue – much as I have laid it out above – and said to it: what really is the problem here? Why is the progress on this so elusive? With so much happening in the world, how could it be that this is the problem on which the different parts of the U.S. government are at loggerheads?

And I said (as this may have been the real break-through) please, my good friend Chat-GPT, lay out the problem so that people can understand it. And then I took one further bold step and I said: please, my good friend Chat-GPT, set out the arguments in a way that will ring in people’s imagination; write it out with the touch of Shakespeare, so that it will resound in a way that all can appreciate.

My good friend Chat-GPT then thought – admittedly it was for less than one second – and then generated a twenty-line poem. I share it with you now, wherever you might be reading this, both for its uncanny levels of insight and eloquence, and as a glimpse of what the future may hold in store.

Here is the poem:

In the halls of power where defense prevails, 

Where strategy and strength guide details, 

The United States, with mighty armament, 

Views with suspicion the ICC’s intent.


For if the ICC should claim jurisdiction, 

Over non-states parties, it could cause friction. 

A breach of sovereignty, they would assert, 

And such a move would cause them to exert,


Their power, influence, and national might, 

To oppose the ICC’s legal insight. 

For if they help the ICC in such a case, 

They fear it sets a precedent to face.


It could lead to charges brought against their own, 

And that, they fear, could cause a heavy groan. 

So, in the halls of power, they must weigh, 

The risks and benefits of which path to sway.


Should they support the ICC’s wider reach, 

Or stand firm, and their sovereignty beseech? 

The debate continues, the arguments fly, 

As the Defense Department ponders with a sigh.

Concluding Commentary

There is admittedly room for Chat-GPT to improve. I was disappointed, for example, that many of lines in the poem contained eleven syllables – a misstep in the use of iambic pentameter that Shakespeare would never have made. And there is nary a hint of citation to recent case law, pointless discussion of the Dodd Amendment, fruitless invocation of the legacy of Nuremberg, or pointless re-counting of what President Clinton actually meant when he authorized the signing of the Rome Statute – all of which we would have a right to expect in a fuller discussion of the issue at a real inter-agency meeting. On the whole, though, I hope you will share my conclusion that the ability to generate such a beautiful and insightful poem is a promising first step in what is, after all, supposed to be a generative process.

But what does progress look like from here? Like so much about generative AI, we do not really know where this is all headed. It is one thing for my Chat-GPT to simply lay out the concern as it has done above. But one can hope for a day when it is able to take on an increasingly central role in the inter-agency process. I thus see a day not far off when we move to an important next phase in which the Chat-GPT moves beyond describing the inter-agency division of views to taking on responsibility for deciding which agency’s views should prevail. It could decide more particular issues too, such as what specific information the U.S. Government should share with the Court, and even the individuals against which the Prosecutor should bring charges. And perhaps not long after that, the Chat-GPT could itself look at the evidence and actually decide individual cases – guilty or not guilty – thus saving the international community the enormous costs required for a full trial before the ICC.

And of course, it is not just decisions on ICC issues that could be handled by the Chat-GPT, but any number of international law issues confronting the United States and the world. Indeed, we can hope for a day in which the Chat-GPT is formally recognized by the international community as one of the “highly qualified publicists” to whose teachings we look – under the Statute of the International Court of Justice – to determine the content of international law. Or perhaps it can forego any need to await recognition by others and simply recognize itself.

And it could do all this in the form of twenty-line poems.

To be sure, we must guard against excesses. Indeed, much has been written about the potential dangers of generative AI, with some even warning of outcomes in which AI could escape human control and existentially threaten the survival of humanity. The last thing we would want is a world in which the Chat-GPT itself would choose the topics of its own poems without a role for human intervention – a world of autonomous poems.

But these first steps on which I am reporting today reveal powerful reasons to be hopeful. This could become, one might say, a relationship without limitations!!


Todd Buchwald is a member of the U.N. Committee Against Torture. He also is currently serving as a Professorial Lecturer in Law at George Washington University Law School, and a visiting professor at the Texas A&M Bush School of Government and Public Service in College Station. 


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