On Weapons, Ammunition and Explosives – An Afghanistan Threat Assessment

20 August 2021, Christoph Heusgen, former permanent representative of Germany to the United Nations, and former longtime foreign and security policy advisor to Chancellor Angela Merkel, found clear words. In an article on the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations headlined “Germany and Afghanistan: Time to ditch bad governments, not good governance“, he draws a comparison of the engagement in Afghanistan with the situation in Mali, West Africa. He begins with stating “After Afghanistan, countries such as Germany should reconsider their presence in Mali, unless the ruling class commits to good governance and democratic principles.”

In the above article he talks about “good governance”, not only about “democratic principles”. He carefully lists both terms connected with an “and”. They stand separate from each other. And he talks about “the ruling class”. I will come back to “good governance”, conditionality, but also moral responsibilities, towards the end.

At the time of this writing the new Emperor is dressing into governmental clothes: The Taleban are in a process of forming and announcing a new government. When the insurgency had reached Kabul’s outer perimeter, the former Afghan government imploded, literally, after the former President fled the country. In an earlier article on Afghanistan developments I wrote that the difference with this implosion of governance is that we were observing it being on the inside, not on the outside. And in my last piece as of September 02, 2021 I wrote about a country being “armed to the teeth”. This because, amongst many other, the implosion has extraordinary consequences for the amount and type of military and police equipment, weapons, ammunition, and explosives.

Roughly, my questions related to future threats are:

  • Is this gear now subject to new governmental control, and to which extent, and how?
  • What will this gear be used for in Afghanistan by those who claim legitimacy for their governing the country, or just do rule it without any process resembling legitimacy?
  • Will the new Emperor (so to speak) undertake a comprehensive effort to secure large stockpiles of weapons and ammunition before even more will disappear into dubious, criminal, and terrorist channels as for sure is the case already right now? And how will this be done, concretely looking at possible new faultlines of terror and organised crime, by creating new generations of people being subjected to cruelties?
  • Which consequences come from the implosion preceeding the victory? Where are soldiers, police officers, commanding officers of any rank, organisational structures? We hear stories of individuals hiding, of entire units fleeing into neighboring countries together with the equipment they were carrying. We don’t know who will partner up with warlords. We don’t know who will end up on the side of terrorist organisations. And by the way, we do hear about the hostility between IS and the Taleban. We do hear about disappointed Taleban joining the ranks of ISIS-K, who are historically hostile to the Taleban, and who are extremely radical in their religious beliefs. What does this mean for weapons being readily available? Which threats come from extremism and terror in the region, for other parts of the world, including, but not only, Europe?

I am not even pretending this list is complete. Neither I would make a comparison in detail about what happened in other country situations where governance imploded, such as in Libya. Except for the numbers of weapons out of control after Libya’s implosion which were ending up fueling the conflict cycles which haunt us in addition to Libya, thereafter. I talk about Mali and what I witnessed there throughout my travels 2013 and the following years. Today, nine years after the initial crisis in Mail, the fire which we try to extinguish is burning in neighbouring countries, and beyond.

What I say is that we have serious reasons for working on a profound threat assessment. In my conversations, I hear all sorts of opinions. Some would be on the cautious side. Others would say “There won’t be much happening”, or they would say “There is not much that will be a threat for Europe, Afghanistan is too far away”, or, “I am not interested”. The last one being something I heard very often when I listened to people on the streets.

If the catastrophic failure of all collective assessments of intelligence, diplomacy and politics led to the circumstances which we witnessed in July and August, with many voices likening it with an embarrassing “defeat of the West”, what more do we need as a wake-up call that we need to wrap our minds around everything which could be a potential threat for humanity, peace, and security? For the citizens in Afghanistan, in Afghanistan’s neighborhood, in countries closer to the European Union, and the EU itself?

There is no time for complacency any longer.

Just a recap: Until recently, we fought a war against the Taleban, considering them insurgents at least, but we would put them close to terrorism, or we would consider them committing acts of terror. We have, until now, all indications for Taleban forces being responsible for atrocities, for countless crimes against humanity. We have not only withdrawn from a war against the Taleban, with international forces fighting against the Taleban. Rather, the Afghan military and the Afghan Police apparatus has been built, trained, staffed, and equipped. With huge amounts of military and police gear.

This has not been an isolated U.S. endeavor. The U.S. was involved on their own, and being part of NATO. NATO, and NATO member States were in this, together with the United States. The European Union was in it, amongst many other topical areas the EU, and EU Member States, provided large financial contributions to what is known as LOTFA, the Law and Order Trust Fund. Throughout two decades, Afghanistan’s military and policing capacities and capabilities were defined through often mainly international decisions, and when the capacities were stood up, they were dependent on everything, including salaries, equipment, and training. We are talking about an entire Army, and an entire Police setup. From everything I know from public sources, there wasn’t much sustainable development at all if the entire security apparatus depends on salaries being paid through international trust funds, capabilities being generated as donations, with huge dependencies on foreign contractors working on maintenance and supply chains, and constant ongoing training.

Even in a “best case” scenario, I have difficulties imagining anything like a smooth transition of what we call a “chain of command” from one government to the next. It feels almost cynical to name it like that. Rather, I anticipate that sheer power of coercion by the Taleban, may be combined with tribal play which we hardly understand, will compete with resistance, dissolution, and the panic of individuals who fear for their life, and that of their families. There are news about the Taleban not living up to what they publicly claim, that they hunt and execute former police and military officials. What does this mean for weapons control, and for the fate of armed people who are desperate, and need a living at the same time?

Within days in August, the Talban took control. A short while later, the last U.S. airplane being part of the international evacuation and rescue effort, now hailed by the U.S. Secretary of State as the biggest air bridge ever, left Kabul 30 August, 23:59 hours. With that, the U.S. declared the war in Afghanistan being over. Already before, we froze all international aid, by far not only the humanitarian side of it. Who is paying salaries for soldiers and police, right now?

International attention, and attention of the general public, often has a short breath. I can already feel that some may say “Alright, we have lost that war, let us move on.” For twenty years, we were with the Afghan people. Like everyone else in Afghanistan, our military and police colleagues grew friends with us. Fought with us, risked their life for their people, and trusting our promise that we would not leave them alone. Afghan police and military were the ones who took unimaginable casualties (the police even more than the military), and won’t forget the civilian casualties from two decades of war, either. After all, the victims were family, or friends.

Thus, further instability may not only depend on how the Taleban act when delivering on what they claim: That they are different now. It also depends on whether we are able to create new trust amongst those who feel they have lost everything. This means that we can not only think about threats from Afghanistan we may have to contain in the closer and larger neighborhood. We have to seek ways how we can establish a dialogue inside Afghanistan as well. Here, conditionality will be critical.

Apart from any moral assessment of this, which has its legitimacy in its own right: From a pure threat assessment perspective we need to think about a situation where former friends may feel that we have handed them over to former enemies. Where does this lead us to? Our own actions decide about whether this points to future enemies, or scenarios of cooperation. I stop there, the humanist in me wants to, of course, think of even more.

It means that, concretely for the topic at hand – large amounts of weapons, ammunition and explosives – we need to look into long term strategies, waiting for opportunities and avenues allowing the support to containment, control, and demolition inside Afghanistan, and immediate strategies allowing to help in establishing conditions for networks addressing SALW control in Afghanistan’s neighborhood.

Weapons – Ammunition – Explosives – On Afghanistan – Numbers first and what we do not know

In my previous blog article I wrote about the core of my current line of work: Advising the German Federal Foreign Office on aspects of assistance related to systematic control of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). The categorization “Small Arms and Light Weapons” can be somewhat misleading, because of the attributes “small” and “light”. Like, light weapons being weapons requiring not more than three people carrying them. We don’t talk about toy weapons. We talk about everything including pistols, rifles, submachine guns, machine guns, and sorts of equipment capable of destroying tanks, or gunning aircrafts down, as long as this stuff can be moved around easily.

We talk about some of the most lethal gear which can be used in asymmetric warfare, organized crime, insurgency, violent extremism, and terrorism. If you want to binge, go to Youtube and look up those gun nerds who run channels where they use this type of weaponry on firing ranges for smashing just about everything, because it creates huge numbers of people watching it. Some of those people don’t only smash things, but also explain the weapons and ammunition in a very detailed, very professional way. Veterans of various wars, having found a retirement business model.

Just to set the record straight about the type of stuff I am looking at in the following paragraphs.


Since every assessment in my line of work starts with a threat assessment, I began to wonder about what we know about the amount of SALW which we can expect to be in Afghanistan after the takeover by the Taleban, and also, where this gear is from. I have no intention to go into a comprehensive research, but I would like to use some publicly available figures as an example, and some simple logical conclusions, in order to at least point into the direction of a staggering dimension of weapons we are talking about.

Let me begin, therefore, with a few things which we know, and a few things which we do not know much about, at least publicly.

We do know that the Taleban themselves have lots of weaponry. Perhaps we do not really know, or only have confidential knowledge about the numbers, and the type of weaponry. For making my argument this is less relevant. We do know that they have enough weapons, ammunition, and explosives which allowed them to fight an entire army and a set of police organisations in a warfare where the Afghan military and police were only able to hold their ground, still loosing control over significant swaths of Afghan territory as long as the international military campaign provided superior capacities and capabilities, meaning for example air support, reconnaissance, drone firepower, specialised ground forces, and a whole international supply chain enabling the Afghan defense against this insurgency. Yet, the Taleban had enough military capability to conduct their insurgency, carrying out horrible atrocities along the way. They had and have an own supply chain, and they had and have an own financial and logistical structure for this supply chain. BBC’s report “Afghanistan: How do the Taliban make money?” gives you a sense.

How many weapons do we talk about which never were under Afghan governmental control and not under control of the Taleban, meaning, weapons in the hands of ordinary citizens, criminals, and terrorists such as ISIS-K? For future analysis, also this question will be relevant. From every experience in other zones of conflict and war it is self-evident that weapons circulate for all kinds of self-defense purposes, criminal purposes, and as instruments of terror. The situation of Afghanistan being a core area of the world’s poppy cultivation, opium production and trade, and heroin production and trade adds. There is simply no way to discard the amount of weapons which never were under any form of organisational control, be it the previous government, or the insurgency. In itself, this amounts to significant amounts of weapons which should be under control, because they are a threat.

How many weapons were left behind by hastily leaving international forces? We simply do not know. We do know that the international military had huge amounts, of course, and hopefully took as much of this gear out as possible. There is, however, indication that not everything was taken out. Here is an example for large weapons stockpiles which were simply burned to the ground, in order to make them unusable: Taleban video footage which was gained by the New York Times, indicating how the CIA burned down own facilities in Kabul before leaving. Those weapons in that video footage seem to be destroyed, however, we also know, at least in relation to some type of military gear, that the advancing Taleban took control of it. There is a lot of coverage about Taleban posing in military gear obtained from former military bases of the international coalition.

How many weapons, how much ammunition, how many explosives were in the possession of the Afghan military and security apparatus before the Taleban took over? Here we may, at least, come up with some figures about what the international community donated to the security apparatus. Whether we do have oversight about the Afghan security forces own procurement processes, I don’t know. I’m a pessimist, I doubt we know much. And the knowledge about what type of gear came from international aid, it may be kept as sensitive information, may be also because of some shame we may feel. But here are two links to professional investigative research on this topic, and here they only serve as examples, proper work requires much more: (1)Staggering costs – staggering numbers”, a Forbes magazine attempt to look into military equipment and weapons left behind in Afghanistan because the equipment was donated to Afghan military and security; (2) “Afghanistan: Black Hawks and Humvees – military kit now with the Taliban”, BBC reporting also attempts to identify how much heavy military equipment now is under Taleban control. For starters, they list 43 MD-530 helicopters, 33 C208/AC208 planes, 33 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, 23 A-29 light attack air planes, 32 MI-17 helicopters, and 3 C-130 Hercules military cargo planes known as useable in-country as of 30 June 2021. They go on with staggering numbers of vehicles, including 3012 Humvees, and 31 Mobile Strike Force Vehicles. They also list at least 3598 M4 carbines. Like everyone else, BBC scrambles all qualified guesswork attempting to estimate how much of this equipment is in country, and unter Taleban control. Taken together, it is really not difficult to assume that the amount of Small Arms and Light Weapons which were part of the internationally donated equipment over twenty years will be in the milions.

These questions and examples are enough to make my point. We are talking about a country armed to the teeth.


Importantly, the next question relates to how much control there is over these weapons, and by whom. This leads to an attempted threat assessment, and I put that out in my next article.

Weapons – Ammunition – Explosives – A way how to assist in controlling them

I began my day by reading a guest essay in the New York Times by Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy. In “Afghanistan Was a Wake-Up Call. Europe Needs to Step Up.” the Union’s Foreign Policy Chief dives into security issues on a strategic level. Because, the situation in Afghanistan and its wider context is confronting us with a gargantuan collection of challenges which we only begin to understand. Of course, security implications require the same attention as the humanitarian suffering already does.

I want to focus on one specific aspect: Weapons, ammunition, explosives.

On Afghanistan I will do that in my next article, but before doing that I want to spend a few sentences on how we support a comprehensive initiative in the field of weapons, ammunition, and explosives, in the Western Balkans. We do this since several years together with France, increasingly with the European Union, and many others. Good news stories often go unnoticed when facing the onslaught of catastrophic news. So, before looking at something strongly appearing to be a big mess, here a positive story first.

My current work revolves around advising the German Federal Foreign Office on German assistance to systematic efforts of governments and societies controlling all aspects of what is known as Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW), their ammunition, and explosives. It is a very holistic approach, and here is a good entry point on global aspects of SALW.

What does our support mean? Here some examples:

  • It means to help partners in improving meeting international and European standards on how to regulate trade and export according to international treaties;
  • It is about how to ensure safe use, storage, and transport of such items both in the military and the civilian realm;
  • It is about prevention of diversion of legally owned weapons, ammunition and explosives into criminal channels;
  • It is about fighting the use of weapons for criminal purposes, about detecting and deterring organised criminals and terrorists trafficking in weapons or using weapons;
  • It is about prevention of crime, about addressing domestic violence, and violence against women, children, and vulnerable groups;
  • It is about strengthening the role of women in policymaking related to how societies and States want to control all legal aspects on SALW, and to fight all illegal aspects.

That’s already a long list, and more often than not the topic only catches the attention of the general public when there is a horrific terror attack, such as the Paris attacks of 2015. Since two weeks, the situation in Afghanistan is drawing increasingly attention to it.

The key principle is assistance to efforts coming from States and societies themselves. In the case of the Western Balkans it concretely means the joint efforts of six jurisdictions (I will refer to Kosovo with reference to UN Security Council Resolution 1244) Albania, Bosnia & Hercegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North-Macedonia and Serbia. With assistance, they have developed a systematic regional roadmap. These jurisdictions have given this roadmap to themselves, their legislators adopted it.

It began as an exercise where the Western Balkans appreciated help, and it developed into an endeavor that now brings partners in the Western Balkans and in the European Union ever closer together. Germany invests a lot of political support, expertise, and a significant financial contribution, into a coordinated support of donors and international implementing organisations who work together under a specific umbrella of coordination. Assistance is implemented by the United Nations Development Programme UNDP, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime UNODC, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe OSCE, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation NATO.

In a very comprehensive and coordinated way this goes beyond, but critically includes, the work of law enforcement and criminal justice within the six juridictions of the Western Balkans, and their cooperation with Interpol, Europol, Frontex, and others. Moreover, we now see partners acting in a joint interest, less and less as neighbors, more and more as being part of something joint. If you are interested in details, you will find an entry point into this whole universe of comprehensive assistance here, any quick web research will give you tons of more resources. And watch out for more news. There is a high-level conference coming up early September, taking stock half-way through the intitiative. I will post public statements here in my blog once I am authorised to do that.

The way how this roadmap has been developed by the governments in the Western Balkans themselves, and the way how donors and partners assist them in it, has found international recognition, including inside the European Union itself, and the United Nations. Recently, the UN explicitly praised the Western Balkans roadmap inititiative as a role model that could be adapted to other situations. And Germany already supports the interest which has been raised in the Carribean, or in West Africa. Both regions make good progress in developing their own tailormade approach.

Making it clear from where I look at select aspects of what can be seen as challenges within the Afghanistan context is meant to indicate two experiences which I support:

The relevance of weapons, ammunition and explosives in a global threat environment at times goes underrated, until a catastrophe is hitting the news again. The threat is constant, and in my experience it is growing;

There are successful models on assisting countries in conflict; countries emerging from conflict; countries being confronted with conflict in their immediate neighborhood; and countries that are well advanced on their long path into building lasting peace. We have alternatives to the failed models of the past. Initiatives like the one I have described above are important examples for something that can be used in many other topical and geographical areas.

They are relevant because of the key principles of assistance, partnership, and coherence of support efforts which I have touched upon above.


Afghanistan – Rear-Mirror-View or Looking Ahead?

At the time of this writing (August 24, 2021), its been 11 days ago that I published my first thoughts on the catastrophic events unfolding in Afghanistan, and the shockwaves within the International Community beginning to grasp the extent of our collective failure. At that time, the Taleban stood at the gates of Kabul. Two days later, then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled Kabul and his country, reportedly with a lot of money, according to this report, 169 million USD in cash. Following the implosion of the government, Taleban fighters and Taleban political representatives were in Kabul in no time. Afghanistan fell, may be except a little pocket, the Panjshir Valley, which appears to be under Taleban siege for now. No need to recollect the events that followed that implosion and collective failure of the International Community, and the Afghan Government. They will haunt us for years to come. Today, the G7 are convening a virtual meeting, called in by the current G7 chair, the United Kingdom. Much, if not all, will be about pressing the U.S. President into extending the deadline for the presence of U.S. troops at Kabul International Airport. Germany participates in a frantic multinational evacuation mission for own citizens and Afghan individuals being at imminent threat for life and limb. Two days ago, Al Jazeera estimated the total number of evacuated people being roughly 28.000, “tens of thousands more [are] still waiting“.

The breadth of discussions on all channels in relation to what went wrong is overwhelming in the West. The depth of these discussions varies. Like many of my friends, I am glued to these news. I belong to those who do not appreciate too much those discussions and statements that are varying mixtures of a broad bunch of mostly backward looking reflections, struggling to find simple answers, palatable for the digestion by the wider and less informed general public, addressing an intractable complexity which festered into twenty years of incoherence of international efforts. Strategic incoherence, because of political incoherence. There is no way to implement coherence if there is a lack of it at the top. Politicians trying to giving meaning in hindsight, overlooking the rubbles of an endeavor which lost its inner compass for a million of reasons. Of course many of these statements come with the unfailing appreciation for the services and sacrifices of soldiers, and humanitarian workers. Sometimes I notice that the police officers who were in this seem to be mentioned as well. But the rear-mirror-view needs to be put aside. Because of this sheer complexity, finding meaningful answers may need so much time that their use for the immediate and mid-term future is very limited.

I have begun to filter my input by looking for honesty in statements, hoping for more humility, wanting to see more apologies, and less self-reflection on national reasons why we were all in this. Because, we all are in this. For many reasons, I like this interview by my “boss”, the German Minister for Foreign Affairs, because I am desperate for any sense of humility combined with visionary forward-looking statements, messages that give us a sense of hope that we will find a way forward, beyond rescuing as many as we can, shivering in relation to how those feel who will, almost inevitably, be left behind.


I feel sorry and sad beyond words.

I am upset about the humanitarian crisis on an unimaginable scale. I am bitter and horrified about the incoming news on alleged summary executions in places outside Kabul. Today, the top United Nations human rights official says she has received credible reports of serious violations committed by the Taliban in Afghanistan, including summary executions of civilians and restrictions on women and on protests against their rule. The executions appear to also include former government officials and members of police and military.

I began to write this article to get my personal context connecting me to the cause of the Afghan people out of the way. I wanted to explain briefly that I am not just a “concerned citizen”, but that, and how, I have been involved in everything since 2001, since the very beginning. Writing the above, I realised that my reflex simply was to add even more noise to the Rear-Mirror-View. So I’m not doing this.


In my line of actual work I have begun to analyse those implications coming from the catastrophic events which I can see, or anticipate, right now. The discussions which I had about it since a few days, they relate to the consequences of, again, an implosion of security, law and order, an implosion of governance, and all our experiences we have made with how crime, transnational organized crime, violent extremism and international terrorism thrive under conditions like these. We, or I, have seen this so often. At the same time, these discussions made clear that even this segment (crime&security) is only a small element of all possible implications of something which seems to be a catastrophic event, but by no means is a local event. The situation has uncounted interdependencies to other factors in our globalised world which contribute to further instability, and further failure.

That’s why I argue that we need to find vision, energy, compassion, strength, and humility for an urgent brainstorming which would advise us on what we can do, beyond rescue operations, inside Afghanistan, inside the Region, and in all kinds of regional neigborhoods, including Europe, and the European Union.

Fast, please. And together, please. Let us stop talking about “us” and “them”. This is not about the West. This is about us. All of us.

Schulfunk – Waffenschmugglern auf der Spur – Tracking weapons traffickers

Schulfunk – An almost forgotten German expression from my childhood: Starting as a radio broadcasting service 70 years ago, meant to contribute to re-educating post-war Germany, Schulfunk developed into effective knowledge transfer, supplementing school education. Contemporary follow-on programs still exist, but the ancient label “Schulfunk” may get forgotten at some point. Today, it is about public broadcasters serving on their obligation to contribute to fact-based educational programs.

In a more sarcastic sense, I labeled any True Crime movie, or fictional reporting about crime, and movies about detectives solving crime cases, “Schulfunk”. Starting my professional career as a detective police officer myself, I was never too much interested in spending my evenings watching True Crime stories, or detective fiction. I found these stories too much detached from reality. Believe it or not, I preferred, and prefer until today, Science Fiction and Fantasy movies. Everyone has a weirdo side, right?

So, starting off a little bit on the funny side this morning, the screenshot below is about a piece of investigative journalism which was broadcasted by the German news channel “ZDF” March 24, 2021. Until March 24, 2023, you can watch this piece using the following link: https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zdfzoom/zdfzoom-waffenschmugglern-auf-der-spur-100.html

It pretty much is about my current line of work. It is in German language, but my small complaint sits with another issue, not the language.

Part of why I sarcastically labeled crime stories “Schulfunk”, distancing myself a little bit, has to do with the drama which appears to be a necessary part of broadcasting. Whether TV, movies on the big screen, or Youtube, nothing goes without music, and nothing goes without some sensational takes with which the subject matter at hand is presented in a way causing interest on the side of people looking for something to watch.

I get it, it is part of the human nature. I used it myself, when I was designing media campaigns for my colleagues and friends in Bosnia & Herzegovina during my time as Head of the European Union Police Mission. Just on a personal note, I find the dramatic music in this piece about weapons trafficking from the Western Balkans a little bit too heavy for my personal taste.

But after getting that out the way, I just wanted to reference this piece of journalism in my blog. And I wanted to do this without too much commenting, explaining, or describing my part in the work of my government, together with colleagues from France, and the European Union, in supporting the implementation of a strategic initiative which the six jurisdictions of the Western Balkans have agreed upon themselves. (We talk about jurisdictions, instead of States, in order to include Kosovo under the United Nations Resolution 1244 within a politically sensitive context).


If you want to understand what the Roadmap for a sustainable solution to the illegal possession, misuse and trafficking of SALW and their ammunition in the Western Balkans by 2024, is about, I would invite you to begin with browsing the website of SEESAC (https://www.seesac.org). SEESAC is the South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons. It holds an instrumental role in supporting the implementation of this Roadmap, which was jointly developed by the Western Balkans Authorities, under the auspices of Germany and France, in coordination with the European Union, and with SEESAC’s technical assistance.

The Roadmap is the most comprehensive arms control exercise in the region, covering all key aspects from securing the stockpiles of weapons and ammunition to mainstreaming gender in SALW control and countering firearms trafficking. It represents a firm commitment to addressing the threats posed by the misuse and illicit possession of weapons in the Western Balkans and Europe at large and is a result of strong cooperation on SALW control in the region which SEESAC has fostered since 2002.


I especially like the final stretches of the reportage. After some good investigative work attempting to make connections between trafficking of weapons, ammunition and explosives through crime and organised criminal groups on the one side and some disturbing indications about some of these weapons and explosives ending up increasingly in the hands of right-wing extremists in Germany, the documentary ends with explaining the Roadmap which I referenced above. Bojana Balon, the Head of SEESAC, is being interviewed. And some impressive pictures deal with what we prefer to do with these weapons: Seizing them, and destroying them.

So, in the best tradition of the gun with the knot in its barrel which you find on the compound of United Nations Headquarters, here a few pictures. No need to reference any copyright, I took all these pictures myself.

Never stop reminding

Every now and then I browse through the folder with draft blog articles. At times, I am just jotting down a link about something that caught my attention when I was reading it. On other occasions, a thought crosses my mind and I am writing it down. And at some point, something materializes from it as a real piece of writing. It is a creative process and the direction into which my writing takes me is not a straigthforward path.


The title of this blog entry came first, and I archived links on stories which did upset me at the time of reading a few weeks ago:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/asien/afghanistan-gefaengnisse-folter-101.html: A heartbreaking article published by German news provider “Tagesschau” on torture in Afghan prisons.

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-56021205: BBC reporting about the first phone call between U.S. President Joe Biden and China’s President Xi Jinping, in which Joe Biden is raising the issue of human rights abuses in China, including the detention of more than a million Uighurs in what China calls “re-education programs”.

There are so many more. Looking into each and every corner of the World, serious concerns can be brought up here in a list of articles which would be long, longer, never ending. Nobody is able to keep track, neither being able to notice them all, nor being able to speak out on them all. But does it mean to give up?

Thoughts about this made me chosing the title “Never stop reminding”, not least because part of the strategy of human rights abusers, of autocrats, dictatorial governments, corporate enterprises confronted with criticism, or any individual accused of abusive behavioir is to sit it out, to wait, to see the story disappear.

Like individual conscience requires to constantly register what is wrong, or right, or justified, the same is true on a societal level. And just leaving it to others, or to media, or watchdogs, it amounts to becoming complicit, first through looking away, then through inaction.


After I wrote the second blog entry on violence against women, “An upsetting update – Violence against Women“, a friend sent me an article from the German newspaper “TAZ”: “Die Feigheit der Maenner” or “The Cowardice of Men”. The OpEd by Waltraud Schwab states that men who are integer and sensible to gender issues, but remain silent, become complicit with perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.

Inaction can take many forms, like, looking away or pretending to not being aware. Inaction of this type can happen whilst the same individual will take a decisive position against sexual violence and abuse in meetings. I have witnessed it often: Managers coming back from meeting their superiors, passing the message about gender equality policy down the chain of command, and then, in the hallways, you will hear them talking under their breath. And others, who notice this schizophrenic attitude, remaining silent. Or, as the TAZ notes: Becoming complicit.


Of course it is not easy to speak up. It may be uncomfortable. It may create alienation. It may lead to being labeled self-righteous, dogmatic, fundamentalist, zealous, or naively idealistic. It is not easy to find the right balance in this. Once an individual is labeled this way, ostracising him or her serves the silent majority, and the perpetrators. But, what is the result of remaining silent? Pretty much the same outcome, in terms of serving those who abuse.

So, as always, it is a matter of balance. Yet, the healthiness of a society can also be measured by whether, and to which extent, this society keeps a living register of things considered to be wrong, unethical, fundamentally harmful for individuals and communities, or outright criminal. Such a living register is comprised of formal elements like public institutions of governance, or institutions which should be constitutionally protected in their independence, such as media, and the set of registers also requires maximum involvement of civil society.

But nothing of that can take away the responsibility of an individual to be actively part of it.


Does it make sense? Or is it just self-righteous rambling? Well, that is very much depending on the attitude with which the above is being judged. And at the end, I rather like to be looked at as rambling than being looked at as someone who contributes to the silence of the lambs.


Therefore, here two more news from today:

https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/eu-sanktionen-117.html: The European Union is imposing sanctions on China because of human rights violations related to the Uighurs.

And a masterpiece of investigative journalism uncovering the hydra of organized crime circumventing sanctions against North Korea, supplying the Dictator’s regime with oil.


Enjoy your Monday! My next article will be more focused again. Except, if it will not: https://zdfheute-stories-scroll.zdf.de/corona_psyche/index.html is a brilliant piece in German, about how the ongoing pandemic-lockdown has neurophysiological impact on the brain, including fatigue, inability to remember, or to focus.

The Pandemic and its Impact on Domestic Abuse and Violence

This -slightly longer- article focuses on gender-related aspects of domestic violence. After some introductory comments, I will present a view on the general scope of an endemic problem. I will also look into the specific context of the role of weapons, especially firearms, in that context, and the significantly higher victimisation of women including through the use of firearms. After that, I will discuss the alarming rise of domestic violence which we observe as a consequence of various measures undertaken to contain the Covid-19 pandemic. I will advocate the protection of the most vulnerable first. In this, I will focus especially on women and children.

As an introduction:

I began this blog entry based on discussions with friends on the consequences of the pandemic for women through heightened levels of aggression, abuse, and violence. So I wanted to write about the impact of the restrictions and lockdowns on domestic abuse and violence experienced by women. Though this still is a major thread in my writing here, after some research and thinking my reflections on the topic of domestic abuse during the pandemic became broader.

Physical and emotional abuse including violence are a disturbing reality in intimate relationships and families. I will reference data published by the NCADV and other information a few paragraphs below, but for starters: Already before the pandemic, in the United States, 1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner. At least once in their life, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. And according to statistical data just taken from the United States, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men has been raped during their lifetime. 1 in 10 women suffer from rape within what they would consider their own zone of safety and comfort: Within an intimate relationship. I don’t have to look for other data sources but can state due to heuristical and professional experience that the situation, for example in countries in Europe, will not reflect a significantly less disturbing picture. Exact numbers might vary, but we are not talking about a fringe problem. We are talking about a huge challenge.

However, there is an emerging body of data indicating that phenomena of domestic abuse and violence are on the increase throughout the pandemic. As the pandemic lasts, lockdowns are protracted and are getting more and more rigid throughout this winter. It is all but certain that the problem will continue to grow, perhaps exponentially, the longer and more severe these restrictions are. As the fight against the pandemic is now reaching a full year of implementation, and will continue, there is no reasonable doubt that these developments will have a medium and long term negative impact.

Why should this make all of us concerned? Like every parent I want to see my children experiencing only safe friendships, happy relationships, and I want to see them becoming capable of raising happy children of their own. The thought of witnessing a beloved child being on the receiving or giving end of an abusive relationship is a horror scenario for every loving and caring parent. It is only natural to push this thought aside, hoping that this may be something that my children, our children, won’t have to go through. Parents may engage in wishful thinking, and some denial, hoping that this may not happen to own daughters and sons, but may just be some distant risk, a risk more for other societies, other communities, may be for less privileged people, or just plain and simple for others. The reality is starkly different: Your daughter has a high chance to experience violence in sexual relationships, your son may be significantly at risk becoming a perpetrator, and to a lesser extent, a victim. Both your daughter and your son may experience helplessness and mutual abuse in toxic relationships. Both will experience the stress of raising children, many will experience single-parenting, and they will likely experience the crushing defeat when, despite best intentions, they yell at their own children, or slap them, or worse. It has happened to most of us in various shades of grey, let us be honest. We have been on the receiving side, and we have been on the giving side. And this prediction, based on time-tested statistical data, is one main reason why to focus not only on women, but equally pressing on the suffering of children experiencing violence and abuse in domestic environments, and their social neighborhood: Every statistical data will confirm that those who have been victimised in their childhood are way more likely to repeat this abuse, or to subject themselves to abuse, by way of what psychology calls re-enactment, once they have grown out of age. In addition, their proneness to alcohol, substance, and behavioral abuse leading to addiction is exponentially higher. What we do to our children, our children will carry this into their parenting and into their intimate relationships, and into their coping strategies.

That is why we need to be concerned about the widespread phenomenon of domestic violence and abuse. And that is why it’s increase throughout the pandemic is so much a concern for all of us.

So, on Covid-19: Statistical data and personal experience in a vast network of friends make it clear to me that this already existing problem is amplified by how we try to contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus. We need to talk about how to protect the vulnerable, and how to capacitate people so that they are able to withstand the frustration, fear, and anger, instead of leashing out against the vulnerable. Of course, we need a sound combination of prevention together with deterring measures, we need education as much as vigilance in detecting abuse. We need zero-tolerance. But all of that starts with numbers, and with understanding the problem, and then the challenge.

As a consequence, an already serious problem is becoming even more dangerous, and especially so for vulnerable groups including women and children. This matters to all of us, because it can happen to ourselves, and to our loved ones. This is not a scenario one can stay distanced from. Like I, many readers will be able to reference situations within their own social circle where violence happened. We need to find solutions, and we need to collectively engage now. Shaming and fingerpointing is no option, people who we deeply care about may find themselves being victims, or perpetrators, tomorrow.

Some more detail on the general problem of domestic violence and violence in sexual and intimate relationships:

Throughout my international work violence against vulnerable community members and against women and children has been a constant experience I am faced with in literally every heart-numbing aspect. Of course this is especially visible in situations of conflict and war. I have written several times about the fundamental impact of trauma that victims of such horrible violence have to experience.

Letting war and conflict aside for a moment, domestic violence against vulnerable individuals, often women and children, is a tragic daily mass-occurence within all societies. It affects the fabric of families and communities and is often not allowed to be visible, because of taboo, denial, and shame. It is challenging to see in all its aspects for external observers because of this built-in hide-and-deny-mechanism. It requires active communication to see it. International humanitarian workers see it, of course. Social workers see it, directly or indirectly, of course. You have to be “within” to be able to see.

My national policing work before I entered into international work was riddled with experiences of this domestic violence against women and children, and violence against members of the LGBTQ-community. My understanding of the primary reasons for why it can be challenging to detect such abuse roots in this time. It also transcends into my international experiences, because this mechanism of how domestic violence is being kept away from visibility as much as perpetrators and victims can manage (and neighbors looking the other way), it appears to be pretty universal. It is the same in all societies I have been in.

When I talk about violence in domestic contexts, I do not mean physical violence only. As horrible as forms of physical violence are, they are a sub-set. There are forms of emotional abuse and violence which equal the severity of impact and consequences and in some cases create even more pain, suffering, and long-term damage. Victims of violence can also be men, and perpetrators can be women, even children. Statistical data exists aplenty. Here are a few reference points for a more general narrative: A Deutsche Welle article, and one in The Guardian. For an initial mapping of the scope of the problem, I will refer as an example to statistical data published by “The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV)“, a U.S. NGO. Some excerpts:

“1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, intimate partner contact sexual violence, and/or intimate partner stalking with impacts such as injury, fearfulness, post-traumatic stress disorder, use of victim services, contraction of sexually transmitted diseases, etc. 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner. This includes a range of behaviors (e.g. slapping, shoving, pushing) and in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence.”

1 in 7 women and 1 in 25 men have been injured by an intimate partner.” “1 in 10 women have been raped by an intimate partner. Data is unavailable on male victims.“1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men have been victims of severe physical violence (e.g. beating, burning, strangling) by an intimate partner in their lifetime.”

“The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19% of domestic violence involves a weapon.”

“1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States has been raped in their lifetime.”

So, before focusing on aspects of violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, I needed to set the record straight by at least indicating that women and children form a majority of victims, but that violence against men, carried out by their female or male partners, is not the rare expection, but albeit smaller, a considerable case group.

On the role of weapons in cases of domestic violence:

For the United States, NCADV states that “The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of homicide by 500%. … 19 % of domestic violence involves a weapon.” This points directly towards the area of support by the German Federal Foreign Office assisting other countries in reducing the illicit impact of small arms and light weapons and effectively controlling the legal aspects around them. This support policy of the German government is very broad in its strategic motivations, it includes, for example, reducing stock and illicit possession of leftover weapons from war and conflict, support to harmonization of law, policy, enforcement and criminal justice aspects, curbing the illicit flow and criminal use of weapons by organised crime and terror inside and outside the European Union, and more. However, in this holistic undertaking the German government places strong emphasis on all gender related aspects. Germany has founded the “Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control GENSAC” as a global initiative. On this website you find the following description: “The Gender Equality Network for Small Arms Control (GENSAC) aims to make Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) control more gender responsive and amplify international, regional, national and local best practices of those who have been doing “arms control behind the curtain”, including representatives from civil society organizations, women’s groups, conflict prevention and development communities.”

Like the scope of the problem of domestic violence and the significant over-representation of women becoming victims is huge, so is the role of firearms and other weapons in it. At the same time, practioners like myself stress that women are under-represented when it comes to policy-making in areas where they are much more affected by a problem than male members of a society. We want this to change, and it includes the dangerous role that weapons play in cases of domestic violence. I invite you to look into the very comprehensive material which has been made available by one main partner of the German government in my current line of work, the “South Eastern and Eastern Europe Clearinghouse for the Control of Small Arms and Light Weapons (SEESAC)“. On their very comprehensive website, gender in Security Sector Reform features high, and you will find various publications and research on domestic violence and the over-representation of female society members in the group of victims. The gemstones of gender related analysis which can be acccessed in SEESAC’s publication library are numerous. Scratching the surface, here some select fast facts, this time valid for South-East Europe (SEE):

97.2% of all legally owned firearms in SEE are owned by men. Men committed 98.4% of firearm-related criminal offenses in South-East Europe, 98.5% of all firearm-related incidents and 98% of all firearm- related homicides. Men account for 83.8% of victims of firearm-related homicide compared to 16.2% of women.

Most telling is SEESAC’s Fast Fact – collection on the misuse of firearms in domestic violence in South East Europe: Homicide committed by a family member is the most common form of femicide in SEE. 61% of all killed women were killed by a family member, compared to 12.4% of all killed men. 38.6% of all killed women and 1.2% of all killed men were killed by an intimate partner. 43.5% of all women killed by an intimate partner in SEE were killed with firearms. 68.9% of women killed with firearms were killed in their homes, apartments or yards. 37.4% of reported domestic violence incidents which involved firearms had a lethal outcome.

Interim conclusion: Because of it’s short-, medium, and long-term damaging consequences including for future generations, domestic violence must be considered a zero-tolerance-topic, and the highest investment into how to prevent and to tackle consequences must focus on violence against women and children.

On emerging data related to the Covid-19 pandemic:

November 25, 2020, German news media reported warnings issued by the United Nations and the European Union: Lockdowns in Europe cause a worrying increase of registered cases of domestic violence against women and girls. December 19, 2020, the magazine “The Economist” focused on this increase with the headline “Covid-19 threatens girls’ gigantic global gains“. December 21, 2020, “The Wall Street Journal”, in its article “Covid-19 Is Pushing Women Out of Work. Just Look at Italy.” focused on structural abuse harming gender equality. December 26, 2020, German news media reported about warnings issued by the German victims protection organisation “Der Weisse Ring”, a highly renowned NGO. According to their own data, approximately 10 % more victims of domestic violence called their helpline during the first ten months of 2020. December 28, 2020, German new media reported a warning issued by EUROPOL. According to EUROPOL, cases of sexual abuse of children during the pandemic are strongly on the rise and perpetrators of pedophile behavior do not only increasingly look for child pornography in the Internet, but also attempt to increasingly contact children for purposes of abusing them. And concluding a list of disturbing data reference points, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD, a global organisation, issued a report “Women at the core of the fight against COVID-19 crisis“, starting with the sentence “The COVID-19 pandemic is harming health, social and economic well-being worldwide, with women at the centre.”

Enough references. There is a ton more. However, whenever I make a statement, I try to provide evidence. Evidence still matters, truth still matters. And the truth is: An already existing worrying phenomenon with implications for all of us and for our children is becoming worse, the longer the pandemic lasts. In my prediction, this is not a linear deterioration, but will resemble exponential developments.

If I wanted to come up with a list of comprehensive action points, I think I would fail. And perhaps, nobody would continue reading this already long article.

However, a few points based on what I say at various points in my writing:

  • Domestic violence is a wide-spread phenomenon with very damaging short-, medium, and long-term, including generational, harming consequences.
  • With children being victims through witnessing this violence, or being subjected to it, long-term damage to their entire lifes is likely. For reference, I refer to my blog articles on trauma.
  • Prevention and deterrence has to focus on the most vulnerable groups first, and that includes especially women and children. Every prevented case of violence contributes to less domestic violence in future generations.
  • Women are under-represented when it comes to discussing, and implementing policy that affects, globally, their own well-being, economic, and security interests. This has to change.
  • The more relaxed the weapons policy of a country, the more likely is that women and children disproportionately suffer from severe forms of abuse, and violence, including through homicide and femicide. We have to continue to outlaw “male behavior” that equals masculinity with possessing and displaying weapons. Personally, I do encourage parents to even consider limiting the existence of toy-weapons in their households. Whilst I have professionally operated a large variety of small arms as a police officer, my children have not seen us parents encouraging, or condoning, the use of toy weapons.
  • Counter-measures curbing the spread of infections during the Covid-19 pandemic increase anger, frustration, fear, and aggression. At the same time the opportunities to “vent” these emotions in a healthy way have become unavailable. We have to increase a policy-discussion about this, and we have to do this now, instead of hoping that vaccinations may bring us to the end of the crisis quickly. We are, still, witnessing the darkest chapters of the pandemic, and this is not changing anytime soon enough.

Social Media Manipulation – An Example

So, here is a little story: STRATCOM is the NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence. Recently, they re-ran a test of “the ability of social media companies to identify and remove manipulation”. The result is published, the report can be viewed and downloaded here. It is titled “Social Media Manipulation 2020”.

What did they do, in a nutshell? The researchers used thirty-nine authentic posts on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Tic Toc. As far as I see from related news, for this they cooperated with two U.S. politicians, one a Republican, the other one a Democrat. The German news about it can be found on the German tech-news-site HEISE. Using these thirty-nine posts on social media, STRATCOM bought fake engagement on these posts from three specialised Russian service providers. Providers like these offer manipulated engagement with existing posts, for example. I guess they also offer much more, but this is just an example in which authentic posts of legitimate and appropriate information content were used, since this is NATO. The researchers paid the ridiculously small amount of 300 Euro to these Russian providers.

What did they get in return? 1150 comments, 9690 likes, 323202 views, and 3726 shares! Meaning plain and simple: I can create content on social media, with good, questionable or malicious intentions, and instead of hoping that I will attract many comments, likes, and views on my own, I can buy fake ones. Comments, likes and views increase the “digital weight” of the post. The more of this “digital value”, the more likely other people will look on these pieces of information or disinformation, and the more likely also these posts will be ranked higher by Internet search engines, such as Google. Finally, I can also buy distribution, through shares, of these artificially boosted posts. The more “oomph” I have in getting these informations pieces out into the right target groups, the more I increase chances of further distribution. And I pay very little money for it.

So, let me use a hypothetical example, but one which is commonly being used for manipulation purposes: I create a story with specific target groups in mind. Examples are countless. Like fake news stories which were designed for target groups of color in the U.S. in 2016. They were designed to raise doubt within these groups that a contender, in that case the democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, would be really interested in matters of grave concern for those communities of color. The unauthentic or fake pieces of news were designed to reduce the willingness of people in these target groups to participate in the elections. Many of us, I guess and hope, know about this form of manipulation. It also happened 2020, and it is fair to say that both domestic actors and foreign forces all over the world use this tactic in order to influence the outcome of an electoral process. It happens everywhere, it is commonplace. And it is manipulation at least, and more often violating law in many jurisdictions. But what it chiefly does: It contributes to burning credibility of truth to ashes. It leads to so much confusion about which information I can trust, and which not, that people may give up, or they just decide to only believe what their “friends” say.

By the way, coming to think of it: When sites like FaceBook (I don’t remember who came up with it first) began to abuse the term “friend” for the process of clicking a button asking somebody to “be my friend” and the invited party just accepting this request, I had a revolting feeling in my stomach. It lasts until today and is one of the reasons why I only engage minimally on social media. The notion of reducing the term “friend” to a digital connection with no real deeper meaning feels like the strike of an evil genius to me. It leads to the craving of having as many friends as possible, it is part of the addictive design of social media sites. It hollows out any real understanding of what friendship means. Terms like “friend” and “follower” are almost equal in their meaning. I need these digital friends for status and validation. Having friends has become an online currency. It is like a material possession, not an internal value which gives me the comfort of a deeper emotional, intellectual and spiritual connection to another person in whose well-being I take an interest. It adds to real-world-isolation because it strips the notion of having friends from what the term means in real social life. May be that is for a deeper reflection in another blog article. But ultimately, this manipulation can be used in order to get people into a network of “friends” for purposes of influencing them, depriving them from other sources of information, making them pawns in a game they do not understand, but crave to be part of. Emotions like the wish to belong mix with emotions such as fear, and anger, fake information is being used as a narrative giving them a feeling of meaning.

Back to the STRATCOM report: The first remarkable fact in the results of this research for me was the price for this form of manipulation. 300 Euro is so cheap that this service can be used as a mass tool, whenever this suits own devious interests. 

Secondly, this is a shadowy grey and a criminal market. The methodology can be used by State actors with sophisticated technology and staff at hand. Or money, just hiding traces and buying a service from some groups like the above. Likewise, non-State actors can use it for political purposes, for ideological purposes, for religious purposes, or as a marketing tool. Which is a hint towards how wide the scope of potential manipulation is. The targets are you and I, and we may, very often, not ever know that we were manipulated. So, this is a profound ethical issue with consequences for whether, and how, we want to regulate it, how we want to deal with it.

Thirdly, STRATCOM re-ran the test because they did it before. They did that because the industry promised they would get better at identifying manipulation like this, better at identifying fake, or robot, accounts. Better at curbing influence. The conclusions of the report state that “platforms continue to vary in their ability to counter manipulation of their services”. Read the details, I’m not going to rank services here myself. But there are platforms where manipulation requires a small effort and where costs are one thenth of what is to be invested on other platforms.

Fourthly, the report makes it clear that these actors are not a few, they are an industry. One chapter is titled “The Social Media Manipulation Industry”. With market rules which survived efforts to fight this industry. Quoting the report: “Social media manipulation remains widely available, cheap, and efficient, and continues to be used by antagonists and spoilers seeking to influence elections, polarise public opinion, sidetrack legitimate political discussions, and manipulate commercial interests online.” 

Fifthly, the report states that this industry prospered during 2020. I finish with quoting the three core insights which the researchers came up with:

  1. “The scale of the industry is immense. The infrastructure for developing and maintaining social media manipulation software, generating ficticious accounts, and providing mobile proxies is vast. We have identified hundreds of providers. Several have many employees and generate significant revenues. It is clear that the problem of inauthentic activity is extensive and growing.
  2. During the past year the manipulation industry had become increasingly global and interconnected. A European service provider will likely depend on Russian manipulation software and infrastructure providers who, in turn, will use contractors from Asia for much of the manual labour required. Social media is now a global industry with global implications.
  3. The openness of this industry is striking. Rather than lurking a shadowy underworld, it is an easily accessible marketplace that most web users can reach with little effort through any search engine. In fact, manipulation service providers still advertise openly on major social media platforms and search engines.” 

What do do? Of course, we have a regulation debate. Part of the findings relate to that social media promised earlier to root out this phenomenon, but that they have not become good at it. To me it feels like the contrary, may be because of unwillingness, sloppiness, or the sheer size of the problem. Or any combination of these three. However, regulation always leads to an escalation, or attempts to evade, if the business model generates revenue. Which it clearly does.

My take is to focus on education. I am not a young nerd. I am a nerd in my early sixties. This world rapidly changes, and often I don’t like the course. But disengagement is, I feel, not an option. It is about giving people the knowledge and skills to make their own informed decisions. That is a core principle of open societies based on democratic rules. Truth matters, so we need to know about how truth is demolished in the digital invisible world of the Internet. We need to be able to learn, staying curious about learning, engaging in meaningful discussions, empower people to better identify manipulation when it occurs, giving them the skillset needed for quality decisions for their own lives.

When I talk to my youngest children about how much of their personal information is sucked from their smartphones, iPads, and computers without their knowledge, I am often presented with a sense of “why bother, I don’t feel it, I don’t feel harmed, or hurting”. May be we need to find ways how to reinforce the understanding as to which extent the digital and the real world are interconnected. People seem to discriminate between these two worlds. 

Education is more relevant than regulation. Which motivated me writing this article. Hope you enjoyed reading it.

On Defunding the Police – Proportionality

Legitimacy:

Whether measures taken are legal and have been proportional

Whether agreed procedures have been respected

Whether there is accountability of the service and its personnel for their actions

 

June 14, 2020, I am waking up to an updated report from CNN about protesters flooding the streets of Atlanta after Rayshard Brooks, an Afro-American U.S. citizen was being shot dead Friday, June 12, by a white American Police officer. A restaurant was set ablaze, a highway was blocked by protesters. Police deploying tear gas, violent altercations in the video footage.

Whilst it is way too early to judge established facts about the circumstances of the killing of Rayshard Brooks in detail, I note that the officer has been terminated, a second officer was placed on administrative duty, Atlanta’s police chief stepped down and Atlanta’s mayor called for the officer who shot Brooks to be fired.

This morning I also read about the continuation of protests against racism and police violence all over the world, and about the discussions within societies over here in Europe about it, including my country, Germany. We have serious discussions over here on changing our constitution, related to the term “race”.

And I read about the emergence of violent right-wing extremists in London, I see pictures with them attacking police officers, and the police attempting to prevent altercations between right-wing extremist protesters and protesters of the Black-Life-Matters-movement.

For good measure, a friend of mine sending me an outstanding article from the NYT on Police Reform.

That is how I woke up.

I feel tired, upset, most of all I feel deeply saddened for another person dying at the hands of police officers in what would appear to be a serious violation of any application of proportionality of the use of force. I join those who say “Enough is enough, when does this end?”. I am upset about those who maintain these are single isolated cases. I can hear those already who will point towards Rayshard Brooks’ fight against being arrested, who will hold his fleeing from the police against him. It looks like he discharged a taser, which he took away from one officer, whilst fleeing, and I can hear those who will say “See…”.

Let me summarize from what I know from preliminary looking at reported facts: Someone is falling asleep in a car. The car does not move, but it is in the way of other cars wanting to use a parking lot, they have to drive around the car. A police patrol controls the car, the person who slept in the car is subjected to a test whether he is intoxicated. He fails the test. Again, the car is not moving. An altercation between the person and police officers can be seen on video footage, the officers attempting to arrest the person, the person violently refusing. At some point in the struggle, the person takes control over a taser which is part of a police officers’ personal equipment, and manages to run away. Police officers pursue him. He appears to discharge the taser in direction of the pursuing officers. He runs away. He is getting shot and killed.

I had already begun writing on an article on proportionality which I had started with the following sentence, a few days earlier:

June 11, 2020, CNN reported about Tulsa police releasing video footage of an arrest of two black teenagers being handcuffed for – you hear right – jaywalking. Not bystander videos, footage from the body cams of the police officers engaging the teenagers.

And now another example, pointing into the same direction: Where is the proportionality of police action, and to which extent does the police themselves contribute to escalating an action which then is justified for the use of disproportionate force? And why is this, in its overwhelming majority, happening to non-white persons? 

It is mind-boggling. In all my experience, it is systemic. The biased selection of persons of color being the subject of police control, it is an extremely well documented pattern. We have a corresponding discussion here in Europe about the question whether the police is biased by preferential selection of members of specific groups when deciding to take action: Minorities, persons of color, persons of Muslim faith, migrants. 

We also need to look at how the police is conducting themselves after deciding to engage in a situation. We name it “discretion in deciding whether to act” and “discretion in choosing the means with which to act“: The former: Does the police apply the same criteria for deciding to take action on equal criteria, notwithstanding, for example, the color of the skin? The latter: Is it more likely that the police will use excessive and disproportionate force, depending on the color of the skin?

Notwithstanding racial bias, the American policing system is very different from the system which I belong to, in terms of inherent readiness to apply force in all kinds of policing situations. I would say that the American system is very different in relation to when, and how, to apply force, from any system in the European Union. From my viewpoint, the entire system is based on an understanding of coercion by force which is entirely disproportionate. This, more often than not insanely disproportionate application of force perhaps is the single most contributing factor to escalation of violence in interactions between the police and citizens, and communities. Taken together with that the overwhelming number of persons subjected to it are black citizens, is justifying to state that American policing contributes to systemic measures of control of Afro-American communities. That is racism.

American policing is based on a culture which prefers flashing signs from police patrol cars such as “Stop – It’s the Law”, allowing officers to just hide behind “the law” instead of explaining why they are interacting with a citizen. A culture of control through a “Law and Order” attitude leaves no space for communication.

Cops are no saints. No public servants are. Being put into a position of power, individuals tend to exercise that power, and more often than not their reflex is to say: “Because I can”. In my police system, decades ago, we undertook deep rooted reform efforts addressing it: Being in a position of power requires, in our understanding, a profound humility, and a desire to use these powers only as a last resort. The opposite to it is trigger-happy-policing. And we make sure management is being held accountable to hold police officers accountable. Which is very challenging: Line supervisers tend to fraternise. Police Unions do. In the U.S., they even carry that attitude in their names: Fraternal Order. Management and leadership tends to avoid discomfort by standing up against a culture of fraternisation. After all, supervisers are human beings who prefer to be liked by their subordinates. Unfortunately,  it does not always work that way.

Twenty years ago I was at the helm of an international police comprised of roughly 4.500 officers from 53 United Nations Member States. In Kosovo, setting up executive policing whilst building the foundations of a new Kosovo Police provided a field laboratory in which all different national policing models and attitudes struggled to find a common denominator. We “were the law”, but which law? We were the police, but which police? We learned everything from scratch. The United States deployed roughly 500 police officers into this UN police, with colleagues from many different nations patrolling the streets, upholding order, investigating crime, making arrests.

And every single arrest carried out by American police officers, notwithstanding the circumstances, whether a murder, or a traffic citation, led to handcuffing.

Even more: Every single action leading to temporary restriction of movement of an individual, like, for identification purposes, or further establishing facts at a police station, was called an arrest. Which led to handcuffing. In this, the American policing attitude stood out compared to practice of literally any other national police contingent in this police organisation which we formed from scratch, with no available blueprint. 

This is where my work on a common denominator on policing started. The way we did it was by beginning to talk about these differences. Talking leads to compromises on all sides. My colleagues and friends from U.S. police departments lowered their threshold of when to engage using force. My German colleagues accepted standards they were not used to in their home country. We all benefited. And we established the groundwork of  an understanding of community-oriented policing which transpired into the new Kosovo Police. In this transformation, my fellow American colleagues were instrumental.

I tend to write articles which are too long. Not this one. Or too academic, too complicated. Not this one.

Proportionality of action is, at the end of the day, depending on the values which underpin a system of policing. By all means, the discussion of how to reform policing in America must be based on American values. But I am not sure whether the excessive readiness of the use of force within the entire American system of policing can be used as a gold-standard. In my view, the opposite is true. It is not representing American values. Otherwise, there would not be so much opposition against it. 

This can get out of control if people taking to the streets are not being heard. Every defiant cop thinking this storm can be weathered is part of a very explosive mix. I congratulate the Atlanta Police Commissioner to taking immediate and decisive action, and then to resign, in order to support the case for police reform. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Defunding the Police – Policing as a Function

Policing refers to a function of governance responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of crime; protection of persons and property; and the maintenance of public order and safety. Police and law enforcement officials have the obligation to respect and protect human rights, including the right to life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other relevant instruments.

 

Main argument

In this part I am presenting the argument that it is necessary to identify the core role of policing in a jurisdiction. Funding then needs to prioritize the effective and efficient implementation of that core role, and provide the means to ensure that policing is carried out within the framework of rules which reflect on the values that underpin that implementation of policing.

I also say that it is entirely common to look at which functions a police organization could carry out in addition to their core mandate. Of course, there is funding needed for this as well. However, responsible governance needs to make sure that additional tasks for a police department do not negatively affect the core mandate of that department. Responsible governance also has to question whether police is well-suited for additional tasks that may require specific, or different training. Police training is different from customs training, from military training, from training for correctional services, or from training for social services. Do not use a hammer for screws, or a screwdriver for nails. It destroys hammer, nail, screwdriver, and screws.

It is entirely legitimate to look at whether there would be better ways to implement the additional tasks given to a police organisation, by other means, such as strengthened social services. That, again, would require to re-allocate the necessary funding. Which is a form of defunding the police.

Thirdly, law enforcement needs to be equipped for carrying out its tasks. There is a direct line between the identification of “what” I want to do “how”, and what I decide to use as a technical means of assistance. If a police department decides to procure or to accept military style equipment for carrying out its tasks, that will change the attitude of officers in how they understand the task of policing. If that is leading to problems (which is evident in the United States), then reform efforts may lead to giving up purchase and use of military style equipment. Defunding the purchase of military equipment may allow both for funding core tasks of policing better (such as giving more resources to community-oriented policing), or free funds for support the work of other parts of government, such as social services.

Taken together, all three lines of what is named “defunding” are no reason to believe law enforcement and their staff would be “punished”. Instead, the reform leads to better policing, and more of it, and it leads to better other services of governance, such as social services.


Supporting arguments

It is all too easy to throw out the baby together with the used water in the bathtub if one doesn’t take the necessary time for a careful look.

The current debate about reforming policing has gone way beyond the borders of the United States of America, and it is happening on grounds of both long simmering discontent and because of current justified anger and immense outrage. Crimes such as the murder of George Floyd have triggered it, and the confrontational and at times horribly abusive handling of the protests by the system of governance is escalating it: It proves the case that something is flawed on a fundamental level. This in turn has led to so much growth of the protest movement in size that we may see, for the first time, a real chance for substantial change.

The sheer size of the demand to reform policing in its fundamental aspects is inevitably causing tension between those who advocate reform, and those who hold conservative views. That is good for a constructive democratic discourse.

Comparing how things are done elsewhere can help, as long as those who describe what they do elsewhere, and how they do it, don’t pretend that they have better ideas and solutions. We all cook with water, hypocrisy is poison to the debate.

I see, however, that there is an element in this discussion which goes beyond the constructive exchange of arguments in a reform discussion:

There are those who dig in. Reactionist forces attempt to quell the reform movement by a combination of (1) de-legitimizing reformers’ motivations; (2) de-legitimizing reformers as persons “per se” by demonizing them; and (3) pretending to associate with the cause, in order to take out the energy for change. The longer the successful application of this strategy, chances are that reform runs out of steam. And like events in 2016 allowed reactionists to boldly roll back honest and deep-looking reform efforts, the same threat is looming over 2020.

An example for de-legitimizing reformer’s motivations: Accuse them collectively and with no supporting evidence that they want to abolish the police entirely, or to de-construct the State.

An example for de-legitimizing reformers by demonizing them: Accuse them of anti-constitutional attitude, label them “radical left”, or even “domestic terrorists”, and freely make use of de-humanizing them, talking about “low-lifes”, “loosers”, or even worse.

An example for pretending to associate with the cause: Jump on the band-wagon of talking about how serious the problem is, express sympathies, be a bit emotional if you can, make sure to spread your hollow words of empathy and sympathy widely, say that you fully agree, throw in a “however”, and talk about anything but the core argument that leads to the reform necessity. Make no efforts to turn your pretended sympathies to the cause into any action.

So: What is the core argument?

The core is related to the question what the function of policing is about. No more, no less. A reform discourse needs to look at this one first.

Second comes the discussion about how (aka by which organizational means) the function of policing is implemented. Here, things become complicated, because the way how policing is being implemented is based on historical developments that are entirely localised. America’s culture is different from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Sweden, Tanzania, South-Sudan, Jordan, Egypt. Or any of the 193 countries forming the United Nations. All are different. Because of their history.

But does it mean we can only talk about one country’s policing approach, and does it mean there is no possibility to come to a common denominator which we all agree upon? Do we have to engage in a never ending “My toy is fancier than yours”-debate?

The answer is: It is very much possible to come to a unified minimum understanding, because we have done and achieved exactly that. I have witnessed that, by participating in it. It took us give or take ten years from voicing the dream, through finding support, learning how to do it, until we had written it down and agreed. The result includes what I quoted in my “Statement of Solidarity“.

And this result is not a collection of lofty sentences. As the United Nations, we needed to put a common understanding of what is policing and how it should be done front and center, for purpose of maximum transparency: This is what you get when we help you, this is what we need you to agree upon when we help you, because we have a few red lines which we all must not cross in this partnership. This is what any UN Police officer will understand as her or his function, notwithstanding from where that officer comes. This is how we expect police officers to be trained before they deploy into a United Nations Mission meant to assist in handling a conflict, or recovering from conflict.

If you look up the entire work which began with the document I quoted from, you see that we broke it down into a detailed understanding: We do have a common understanding about how to carry out community-oriented policing. We share detailed understanding about intelligence-led policing. We do know what a tactical group of the Police, such as a company sized “Formed Police Unit” should do when protecting peaceful demonstrations, and how to engage with those who disturb the peace, become violent, carry out crimes. We do know how police should establish functions that ensure accountability towards the law and towards citizens. We do know how police officers should use force as the last resort.

We have written that all down, and much more. And all along the way, the United States of America was part of a truly global support for further development of this framework, stressing the need that it has to be operationalized through training. Which is what we do, all over the world, and including heavy support by the United States of America. For which I am grateful beyond words.

Does, therefore, police have to look the same anywhere? No. But it does mean that one always should look at whether we have gotten the implementation of the core function of policing right. You can assign additional functions of any kind. The discourse about whether this makes sense, or not, usually carries many practical and political arguments with weight in the specific local context. But it should always prioritize the question whether the additional tasks impede core tasks, and whether police departments are suitable and capable to carry out that task. Like any other profession, training and organization of work in the police creates specific mindsets, highly capable of implementing policing. But it does not mean that this mindset, or training, is the right one for the additional tasks that are being expected to be handled.

The way to ensure this is called management. And any reform of something which has taken root is no less than an art.

Sometimes, less tasks for the police will create much more satisfaction with results.