Team Europe: World Police!

Over at the Small Wars Journal‘s blog, they’re wondering if part of the problem in dealing with failed states, the aftermath of wars, peacekeeping and the like is that it’s nobody’s job to provide a police force, and specifically a real civilian one that does things like investigating crimes.

This was, of course, a bitter problem in the Balkans, and one that was never really solved. To begin with, the job simply devolved on IFOR (and later, KFOR)’s provost units and whatever troops were nearby. Later, a UN police force was constituted for Bosnia, but the less said, the better – arguably it was the source of more crime than it solved, and it was eventually wound up and replaced by an EU police mission. Kosovo was a similarly bad experience.

However, John Sullivan writes, neither the US nor NATO-as-an-organisation have any answers. He praises the EU for setting up a (putative) rapid reaction police force that can call on member states for up to 5,500 cops. And it certainly seems like a task that the EU is suited to, whilst not touching too many of the constitutional pressure points. It’s not specifically military, it’s not “an EU police” although no doubt the Sun would call it one if any of its editor knew it existed, it doesn’t annoy the Poles or Russians specifically, nor does it touch on the subsidy world. It also fits nicely with the wide variety of governmental tasks the EU can take on, alone among international institutions.

Mind you, I have my doubts. European official circles, institutions, thinktanks and so on have been pushing this around the plate since Maastricht without making many decisions. It used to be fashionable enough that NATO also got in on it – I recall a briefing at NATO SHAPE in late 2000 which concentrated almost entirely on enlargement, policing, and civil operations, something borne out by the fact the briefers included a French gendarmerie colonel, a Polish air force officer, and a British civil servant.

5 thoughts on “Team Europe: World Police!

  1. There’s quite a lot of this about, you know – from the postwar decolonisation period onwards, the Brits were sending out police missions to trouble spots. Cyprus was the biggest. See a forthcoming article (by me and my mate Georgie)in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History on this and related topics.

    Since 1990, there’s also been a succession of UN-style interventions outside Europe, notably in Somalia, where allegedly the Aussies did rather well, although everyone else failed to score.

    Plus ca change department: In the late 1870s, the British were trying to set up an Ottoman Gendarmerie. Coope, William Jesse, The history of the imperial Ottoman Gendarmerie (London : W. H. Allen, 1880). It’s in the BL. [Orientalism warning = high].

  2. Constabulary missions may often conspicuous by their absence. However, the same can also be said for more muscular peace enforcement. Care must be taken lest the EU et al seek to make a virtue of a necessity by insisting something is a civilian problem so they do not have to employ military means to ameliorate it. If peacekeeping is not a soldier’s job (a debateable assertion at best that becomes no more true for being endlessly repeated) – is peace enforcement that of a policeman?

    In the case of Europe, it should also be noted that police forces are far from uniform in their approach. Some of the more paramilitary type outfits could also make matters worse. One British Army officer has related to me how, in the Balkans, an Italian Carabinieri commander who was chomping at the bit to deploy his sniper teams had little else to offer that would not inflame a situation that soldiers had already spent some months calming.

    Policing is part of the solution, but are we at risk of getting ahead of ourselves?

  3. I’ve always been rather astonished by the suggestion that the Northern Irish police are ideally suited to these missions, being used to guns and mobs. Look, they’re not exactly…peaceful…are they? Or at least the PSNI is still at the stage of receiving security sector reform, rather than giving it.

  4. Well, the PNSI have an exceptionally robust structure of accountability, from the local boards to the Ombudsperson. Although I’m usually a bit cynical, I do think that with only a little squinting you could paint them as having undergone a half-decent transition from nasty settler force to some kind of C21st police for everyone. This puts them in the frame for managing transition rather than quelling riots, of course.

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