Police and peacekeeping: not just an afterthought

An Australian Federal Police Officer deployed to UN Peacekeeping  Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP).  Cyprus is Australia's longest peacekeeping mission, having commenced in 1964.

Last week the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2151—its first stand-alone resolution on security sector reform (SSR). It’s not the first time that the issue of SSR has been considered by the Council. Indeed, references to it in Security Council resolutions have increased noticeably in recent years. Still, the adoption of resolution 2151 is significant as it reaffirms the centrality of SSR to the organisation’s work, particularly peacekeeping operations and political missions.

As you’d expect, Australia—as a Security Council member—actively participated in the negotiations on resolution 2151. Our history of regional engagement means that we have considerable experience supporting SSR efforts in Timor-Leste and the Solomon Islands—experience highlighted in Australia’s statement to the Security Council. In that statement, Ambassador Quinlan spoke about the centrality of policing to SSR efforts and urged the Council to focus on that as part of its mandating process. He noted that the Council had just authorised a large police component to be deployed to the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Of particular note, resolution 2151 acknowledges the significant role of UN police in supporting SSR efforts. That’s not to say SSR is the exclusive responsibility of police—far from it, as the resolution points out. But policing is given particular attention, with the resolution recognising the importance of developing ‘professional, accessible, and accountable policing capabilities’ as part of a more integrated approach to reforming the security architecture.

The ongoing expansion of multidimensional peacekeeping missions with SSR mandates partly explains why there has been a noticeable increase in the number of UN police over the last 20 years. According to the UN Secretary-General’s report on UN Police (PDF) from 2011, there were 1,677 police deployed in 1994. That number grew to 14,333 police in 2012. While the number has dropped to 12,094 police as of April 2014, we can expect a high level to continue with the authorisation of a large police component to MINUSCA, as well as an unmet demand for UN police in Mali and South Sudan. It’s a trend that’s unlikely to reverse quickly.

At the centre of Australia’s policing efforts over the last decade has been the Australian Federal Police’s (AFP) International Deployment Group (IDG). It’s a unique capacity. Few countries have a readily deployable group of police that can be trained and ready for overseas missions—or provide officers who understand community-based policing and investigation. Yet, our deployments have dropped in the last two years, down from 75 police deployed to UN missions in March 2012, to 16 police as of March 2014. Our police contributions to UN peacekeeping aren’t matching international developments.

Nor is the current budget of the IDG. The 2013-14 allocation for this program fell by $23m (or 7 per cent) from the previous year. The cause of that decrease was ‘a reduction to official development assistance expenditure, offset measures and the effect of efficiency and targeted savings’. That pattern is set to continue over the next three years. IDG funding is set to fall a further 16% (around $50m) over that period from this year’s level unless there’s a new operation. The decreased funding for IDG raises questions about whether the Government’s resourcing for international deployments aligns with the position being taken in the UN.

It also highlights a paradox whereby Defence funding is being maintained in the short term and increased in the longer term, while resources for other equally crucial national security agencies are being cut. That might mean non-Defence agencies—with Foreign Affairs being included here—not being well-positioned to respond quickly to the next international crisis with an effective contribution.

But it’s not only about response time: it’s also about ensuring that governments have options to meet crisis situations. Reducing IDG funding is likely to impact upon its ability to deploy a range of police skills quickly, especially where there’s a need to replace a collapsed law and justice sector. It also increases the risk that ad hoc contingents will have to be formed to meet unusual situations. And that risk is increasing at a time when, as mentioned above, police are becoming more important in interventions.

The claim for increasing importance is based upon two important lessons from our recent experience. The first is that people in collapsed societies want security, justice and prosperity: but they won’t necessarily be satisfied if those are offered only in that order. The military is a one-dimensional tool in such operations: soldiers may stop combatants from fighting, but they don’t stop the extortion and incidental violence that accompanies societies in conflict. Soldiers might open markets, but they don’t necessarily help fair trade. Those additional needs require both a skill-set and a mandate that belongs to the law and justice sector—to which IDG makes a critical contribution.

David Connery is a senior analyst and Lisa Sharland is an analyst at ASPI. Image courtesy of the Australian Federal Police.