Peacekeeping: It's All About The Policing, Stupid


November 29,2008: What peacekeepers are finding out, again and again, is that the first line of defense is not soldiers, but police. Peacekeepers are needed, in the first place, because local policing efforts have failed. Afghanistan never had effective police, with whatever law and order there was being provided by tribal muscle. Iraq lost its local police during Saddam's three decades of misrule. Saddam kept the police in place, doing little, while what controlled crime, and kept the people in line, was an elaborate collection of secret police agencies and organized street thugs.

In Africa, where most of the peacekeeping need currently resides, there has always been a shortage of police. In Pakistan's tribal areas, where al Qaeda is making its last stand, the first target of the Islamic terrorists has been the locally recruited police. Never very numerous or well equipped to begin with, the Pakistani police in the tribal areas are particularly vulnerable to pro-Taliban tribesmen, who often know who the police are, and have caused hundreds to quit their jobs in the last year, or face kidnapping or assassination. The Pakistani army is coming in to deal with the Taliban and al Qaeda gangs, so that the police again have a chance to keep the peace.

As a result of all this experience, the United Nations has become more enthusiastic about peacekeeping that is more policing than military operation. Peacemaking, using force to get warring factions to stop fighting, does require combat troops. But once the peacekeepers go in, they find the biggest problem is crime and terrorism. Soldiers can scare and scatter the gangsters, but they can't do much to stop the crime.

The UN has long sent in police, but mainly to train new police, recruited from locals. But what the people need immediately is some policing, some effort to restore order so the economy can revive and give young men an alternative to banditry and plunder. In response to this, UNPOL (the UN Police Division) has gone from 8,000 personnel at the end of 2005, to nearly 18,000 now. UNPOL personnel are drawn from police forces in over a hundred nations, and are currently deployed in 19 peacekeeping operations.

UNPOL has had to develop new tactics, some which combine police and military operations. This approach uses troops to bust up the larger gangs, and prevents new warlords from developing. But then you have lots more smaller gangs, all hustling and killing. This is where the recent Israeli and American experience against Islamic terrorists comes in handy. These two countries developed new intelligence collecting and analysis techniques. The criminals hide in the shadows, but the new intel methods light up those dark corners. The gangsters have to spend more time avoiding capture, giving them less time to be bad guys.

The sooner the gangs and crime rates are brought down, the sooner the local police and justice systems can be built up. The ultimate solution is always local. You cannot recruit enough foreign police to shut down the crime in any of these peacekeeping missions. So you harass the crooks until you can recruit and train a local police force. This can take years, and all that time, the crooks are fighting to stay in business.





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