The future of the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation
21 Feb 2017|

Image courtesy of Flickr user Edward Kimmel.

ASEAN’s various high-level commitments to cooperation on counterterrorism and transnational organised crime have proven difficult to operationalise into police-to-police action. There’s been no shortage of rhetoric from senior ASEAN officials and politicians supporting regional cooperation and collaboration. Unfortunately there are a number of significant cultural barriers to transforming this commitment into tangible action, not least of which is trust—or, rather, the mistrust that permeates many corners of ASEAN’s law enforcement communities.

Since 1981 the ASEAN Chiefs of Police have tried to ‘harmonise and standardise coordination and communication mechanisms amongst ASEAN police institutions.’ Unfortunately, ASEANAPOL’s rate of progress towards these goals has been glacial. In 2008, after 27 years of deliberation, ASEANAPOL established a permanent secretariat. Behind closed doors, some senior law enforcement critics are quick to point out that the group’s done very little to promote regional cooperation.

ASEANAPOL’s failure to drive action has as much to do with the region’s police culture as it does with political will. Police culture is one concerned with hard facts and operational investigations; organisational success is measured by seizures and arrests, not the delivery of policy intent. In this culture, there’s little incentive for operational police to share information that may result in a lost opportunity to arrest an offender or seize an illicit commodity.

Let’s not forget that ASEAN police forces’ operational activity, like that of the Australian Federal Police, is geographically limited in terms of legal jurisdictions. While that’s a convenient excuse for limiting cooperation, there should be no doubt that ASEAN member states have a strong aversion to interfering in each other’s domestic affairs. Such distaste hardly promotes an environment conducive for police-to-police information sharing.

For 13 years, the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation (JCLEC) has served as a regional rallying point for much-needed CT capacity development and cooperation. Since its inception in 2004, with strong bilateral support from the Australian government, JCLEC’s operating and donor environments have evolved considerably. The strong relationship between the Indonesian National Police (POLRI) and AFP that has raised and sustained JCLEC is in a state of decline. But JCLEC, with donor country support, continues to nurture the much needed interpersonal relationships between ASEAN police forces.

Regional partners and donors are now considering JCLEC’s future. There are some big decisions to be made, the most pressing of which is whether JCLEC should become a truly regional body or an institution of the Indonesian government.

Deciding on JCLEC’s future is without doubt time critical. The regional terrorism and organised crime threat picture is rather bleak. There are more terrorist attacks now globally than in 2001. There are multiple active terrorist groups across ASEAN, and Indonesia is once again dealing with an increasing terrorist threat from domestic groups encouraged by al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.

Transnational serious and organised crime groups are operating with near impunity in Myanmar and Laos. These groups are increasingly globally integrated and responsive to law enforcement. Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” isn’t disrupting high-level transnational organsied crime as much as it’s displacing it to the more far-flung corners of the region. ASEAN’s organised crime problem has become increasingly transnational, making the need for multijurisdictional investigations more commonplace.

ASEAN member states, and their global stakeholders, now face a security environment that’s more uncertain and more in need of international cooperation than ever before. The path that’s been laid by JCLEC to approach multijurisdictional crimes could be taken further in a quest to keep regional law enforcement cooperation in step with a rapidly changing Asia–Pacific.

JCLEC is far too valuable to ASEAN law enforcement and CT to be allowed to wither. To remain relevant to Indonesia, other ASEAN states and donor countries, JCLEC needs to change. In an ASPI report released today I argue on that JCLEC needs to be regionalised. I offer six recommendations to achieve that:

  1. The JCLEC board of patrons should consult ASEANAPOL and each ASEAN member’s national law enforcement representatives on the future of the Centre, with a view to producing a five-year strategy.
  2. The JCLEC board of patrons should implement measures that promote greater ASEAN and ASEANAPOL engagement in the Centre’s management and operation.
  3. JCLEC’s stakeholders should work together to achieve greater certainty on long-term resourcing.
  4. The board of patrons should commission an independent regional training needs analysis, which should focus on identifying capability gaps in existing national law enforcement training programs and emerging capability requirements.
  5. The board of patrons should consider further expanding the scope of JCLEC’s law enforcement focus to include a wider selection of stakeholders from the region’s criminal justice sector.
  6. The board of patrons should develop JCLEC’s human resource capacity so that the Centre’s staff can deliver as well as coordinate training.

ASEAN member states now face a security environment that’s more uncertain and more in need of international cooperation than ever before. Regional law enforcement cooperation at both the bilateral and the multilateral levels still has a long way to go. The next stage in JCLEC’s evolution should be a decisive step towards further regionalisation to ensure that benefits are shared across ASEAN.