Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces

Afghan Police, near Kunduz, December 2006. Picture taken by the author
Makeshift police checkpoint near Kunduz, used by the Afghan police pictured above. Picture taken by the author, December 2006

Summer 2021, both the Afghan National Government and the international presence in Afghanistan imploded, in whichever sequence and dependency from each other. The Taleban took control. First they promised a more liberal approach, compared with the situation of their first brutal regime, after the collapse of the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan.

In what feels like an endless stream of bad news since then, May 20, 2022 the Taliban’s Ministry for the Prevention of Vice and the Promotion of Virtue ordered that all women must wear a face veil in public, or risk punishment – which was extended to TV presenters. Here one German news coverage on it. Some women protested and refused in public appearances. It is the most recent of many bold and shameful steps imposing restrictions on women. Threats of punishment in case of non-compliance being doled out to the women, their employers, and the familiy members of these journalists led to that the female news presenters had to succumb under pressure.

Do we have the capacity to keep our public awareness focused on what happened in a country in Central Asia, and how we were, and are, collectively contributing to the suffering of its people, whilst a war broke out in the Ukraine?

Are we able to come up with a satisfactory joint assessment of what happened in Afghanistan?

When the catastrophic events of August 2021 occurred, just ten months ago, we were all shocked. Then, new catastrophic events unfolded, and sure this will affect our ability to invest enough time in grappling with an understanding about the complexity of two decades of international engagement, leading to what, seemingly, is a failure of epic dimensions. 24 August 2021 I argued here that we would benefit from a collective forward-looking assessment. Basing conclusions on what is publicly available, not having privileged insider information, the mileage may vary.


May 12, 2022, SIGAR issued an Evaluation Report in the form of an Interim Report: “SIGAR 22-22-IP Collapse of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces: An Assessment of the Factors That Led to Its Demise“. Like other SIGAR-Reports, this one is available for the general global public.

SIGAR stands for “Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction”. This is an Office created by the United States Congress in 2008, to provide independent and objective oversight of Afghanistan reconstruction projects and activities.

May 24, BBC headlined “Afghanistan: UK’s withdrawal a disaster, inquiry concludes“, reporting about the results of an inquiry of the United Kingdom’s Foreign Affairs Committee.

Germany is still preparing to conduct a full fledged and self-critical holistic assessment of what went wrong, and led to the catastrophic situation in Afghanistan during summer 2021.

SIGAR considers that “the single most important near-term factor in the ANDSF’s collapse was the U.S. decision to withdraw the U.S. military and contractors from Afghanistan through the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February 2020, signed under the Trump Administration and confirmed by President Biden in an April 2021 address to the nation.

The statement above is one of six factors which, according to SIGAR, accelerated the collapse of the Afghan Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) in August 2021. Other factors identified are (2) the change in the U.S. military’s level of support to the ANDSF, (3) the ANDSF never achieving self-sustainment, (4) Afghan President Ashraf Ghani frequently changing ANDSF leaders and appointing loyalists, (5) the Afghan government’s failing to take responsibility for Afghan security through an implementation of a national security strategy, and (6) the Taliban’s military campaign effectively exploiting ANDSF weaknesses.


What is the “ANDSF”? The term ANDSF has been coined to describe what, in a simplification, can be understood as military, and police. If one looks “under the hood” of the development of policing and military capacities in Afghanistan, the number of different entities with abbreviations such as ANP for Afghan National Police, or others, looks more complicated. Using the term ANDSF, both military and policing capacities are being thrown into the same pot. Which is symptomatic for a problem that affected the support of Afghan reconstruction from the beginning.

Of course, SIGAR is taking a U.S. perspective in coming up with nine factors that have led to the situation that, to quote, “after 20 years and nearly $90 billion in U.S. security assistance, the ANDSF was ill-prepared to sustain security following a U.S. withdrawal.” Reading the SIGAR report, the U.S. views of the report may reflect parts of the fundamental problems which we all had, and all contributed to: The fragmentation of international efforts, and the seemingly unsurmountable challenges in facilitating a jointness of strategic viewpoints which would have allowed for, at the very least, more coherence than we witnessed.

In the summary section the report is listing nine factors, though only eight are numbered. SIGAR notes that “no country or agency had complete ownership of the ANDSF development mission, leading to an uncoordinated approach.”

Number 8 reads as follows: “(8) the U.S. and Afghan governments failed to develop a police force effective at providing justice and responsive to criminal activities that plagued the lives of Afghan citizens.”

Within the chapter “Background”, the report spends the three initial paragraphs on describing, in the briefest possible terms, how the United States began training the Afghan National Army ANA from 2002 onwards, and how “Coalition partners” accepted the responsibility for other efforts: “police reform (Germany), counternarcotics (United Kingdom), judicial reform (Italy), and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (Japan)“.

The report goes on by saying that, following a United Nations Report in 2004, “in 2005, the United States assumed the lead for developing the ANA and the ANP. In 2006, the U.S. military created CSTC-A as a temporary entity responsible for training, advising, assisting, and equipping the Afghan security forces.

This section is riddled with military terms, and this is indicative for the motivating rationale. Two sentences stand out proving this: “Meanwhile, the Afghan security forces lacked appropriate equipment, which threatened their combat readiness. According to a 2005 U.S. military report, some ANP units had less than 15 percent of the required weapons and communications systems on hand.

Meaning: ANP, the police, being assessed as being “combat ready”, by the U.S. military. It is indicative for what follows, within a sound, though U.S.-centered politico/military analysis of the factors leading to the developments culminating in August 2021. For many pages, the lingo is entirely military, whilst the collective term ANDSF is used for uniformed capacities of the Afghan State. Policing appears to become somewhat an annex. This continues mostly until page 16 of the report, where, for the first time, some substantial reference is made to police issues, by referring to “President Ghani replaced more than half of Afghanistan’s district police chiefs, along with almost all ANA corps commanders, the chief of the army, and the ministers of defense (once) and interior (twice).” After that, the term “police” is only getting some prominence on page 22 again, within a narrative describing Taleban efforts to coerce district police chiefs into surrendering.

Following this detailed narrative, the report explains on page 24 and following pages the nine factors which SIGAR assesses as contribution to “U.S. and Afghan government’s ineffectiveness and inefficiencies in reconstructing Afghanistan’s entire security sector over the 20-year mission.”

In explaining the first factor, namely that “no single country or agency had complete ownership of the ANDSF development” there is another long and self-critical assessment which includes the sentence “Lead responsibility for constructing the Afghan National Police was initially given to Germany in 2002, but was quickly transferred to State, and then to DOD.” This reads like this decision has been a U.S. decision, and that it was taken back. Insofar, the entire report is indicative of a catastrophic development which I witnessed also personally during 2006 and the following years, in my then capacity within the European Union External Action Service. Importantly, I do not challenge the factual correctness of this U.S. view, inside a U.S.-centered perception of what happened. But from all I have been part of, this view will not go unchallenged by others in the international community. For many, this was not a U.S. unilateral decision, like, “to give” lead responsibility to partners. There is a whole record of international conferences from the early years of the development which would describe this very differently. And at the same time, if an internal U.S. decision then “took this back”, my memories do not include neither clear communication, nor that there would have been consent. Riddled with uncommunicated issues, this certainly contributes to the correctly described chaos, in SIGAR’s report.

In explaining the seventh factor, namely that “the U.S. and Afghan governments failed to develop a police force effective at providing justice and responding to criminal activities that plagued the daily lives of Afghan citizens”, the report presents two disappointing paragraphs on page 31. Whilst remaining highly critical about history, reputation, and systemic shortfalls of policing concepts and the Afghan National Police in general, and rightly stressing the importance of community policing and law enforcement capabilities in general, there is an entire absence of mentioning any efforts, whether under German Lead Nation activities, other bilateral, or European Union, efforts which attempted to contribute to Afghanistan’s efforts developing policing concepts, capacities, and capabilities. They often clashed with the U.S. conceptual framework, and the entire SIGAR report in itself is pointing into the direction that this is a crucial part of what happened throughout 20 years.


Mindful of not overstepping mostly self-imposed limitations on how I would like to contribute to public discussion and opinion-making through the means of this little blog, I will, however, make a personal statement:

I have never counted them, but I believe the numbers of police officers who contributed to the effort providing Afghanistan with a capable Police, not a Police “Force”, go into the thousands.

Like all other of these thousands, we were in Afghanistan under the umbrella of Lead Nation concepts, such as the German Police Project Office GPPO, and its later successor, the German Police Project Team GPPT, under national deployments into Provincial Reconstruction Teams PRT or other forms of bilateral contributions, or embedded into military deployment, or under the European Union Civilian Crisis Management Mission to Afghanistan dubbed EUPOL AFGHANISTAN, or in the form of small scale advisory functions within the United Nations Mission UNAMA, and else.

None of this finds mentioning in the SIGAR report. In December 2006 I was leading a European Union Factfinding Mission which contributed to the establishment of EUPOL AFGHANISTAN. For the following years, I contributed to EU headquarters efforts making the EU contribution a part of the international efforts, and hoping for making a difference. Thus, I have personal memories of talks with highest representatives of the international and Afghan national authorities during that time, and they are indicative for the fundamental underlying problems which are outlined in the SIGAR report, as well as for the fact that even how this report is being written from a politico/military U.S.-centric perspective is profound testimony for some of the central elements which haunted us for 20 years. Collectively. I’m seriously stressing that this is, by no means, a criticism towards U.S. policy and implementation. I do stress that we collectively, all of us, were unable to find the coherence which any international assistance to the cause of Afghanistan required.

Many of these thousands of police women and men who have spent tours of duty in Afghanistan have invested hugely, putting lifes and personal relationships at risk, and they all have made friends with Afghani women and men. Many of us felt, like our military friends and colleagues who got attached to Afghanistan’s people, an enduring pain seeing our friends being in danger, having had to flee, to hide, to take duck and cover, attempting to escape from the brutal regime which the Taliban appear to reestablish, within some thinly veiled deception that is vanishing more and more. I am sure that the single-handed absence of any of these parts of the story, within this undoubtedly important SIGAR interim report, hurts many of us.

On a personal level, the experiences with, in, and around Afghanistan have been a key motivating factor to work on answering the question as to whether it is possible to come up with a universal denominator on what we all should, under the umbrella of the United Nations, understand as principles for policing. I have written about the United Nations Strategic Guidance Framework on this blog since its inception. Likewise, the recent article “On Coherence of International Assistance” is motivated by experiences including the international incoherence over 20 years in Afghanistan.


Conducting honest and self-critical assessments on two decades of international military and civilian presence in Afghanistan, following the events in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, is critically important. We need to establish fact-based knowledge how the failure and implosion of the Afghan system of governance under former President Ashraf Ghani was intertwined with the circumstances and the demise of international efforts in Afghanistan. For reasons of accountability, honesty, and as an element which at least will inform us how we can avoid future mistakes.

Starting with honest assessments, secondly a public discussion which assesses how we want to avoid this in the future, and thirdly visibly delivering on conclusions, these three steps together are necessary.

Demonstrating the strengths of a democratic understanding of accountability must be based on the principle that attraction is more important than promotion. Even more important is a collectively accepted international peace&security architecture centered around the United Nations providing perspectives for all of us, globally, and notwithstanding the different cultural, political and faith frameworks within the societies we live in.

National assessments such as the ones which I have referenced in this blog are for starters only. I wish I could be looking forward to an effort to get all of us, Afghanis and “Internationals”, into a concerted effort to come up with an analytical narrative to which we all agree. It may never happen, and it would be really very challenging, and depend on sound political commitment on the side of many.

But it would be more than worth it.

“We Have a Lot of Evidence” – Pressure Growing on Frontex Chief from Pushbacks Investigation – DER SPIEGEL reporting on an OLAF Investigation

The English version of the online edition of the German newspaper DER SPIEGEL today issued a comprehensive article on an investigation of the European Union’s anti-corruption agency OLAF, related to decisions and behavior of four senior managers of the EU’s Border agency FRONTEX. It appears that strong evidence -partly revealed in the article including through disturbing pictures- exists about inaction of FRONTEX, even alleged efforts to cover up illegal push-back activities of national border/coast guards of a Member State of the EU, violating international and EU law, forcing migrants and asylum seekers back into a non EU country, depriving them from their right to claim asylum and to subject themselves to due and legal scrutiny whether it can be granted, or not.

The article is a very good read, in terms of quality, and it is a very disturbing article, within a longer row of similar reporting in international media since long. But now, with the Head of OLAF presenting the findings to lawmakers in Brussels, the findings appear to be complete, and action on the findings need to be considered. This, of course, is a thorough technical process, whilst being profoundly political at the same time.

I do believe this matter needs to be taken forward not only with all due diligence, as thorough and unbiased as possible, and as fast as possible. Most importantly, I believe this process requires utmost transparency and dedication to holding individuals and agencies, whether national or international, publicly accountable.

Why? Not only because this should be good practice in democracies and nations adhering to the rule of law anyway. But also because otherwise we may add to a bad taste: The push-backs are alleged to have happened at the EU’s southern/southeastern border to the mediterranian sea. Persons attempting to reach the EU from there come from many countries and conflict zones, whether in Africa or in Asia, including Afghanistan.

At the same time of this reporting, the EU and her Member States undertake a terrific effort, to be praised and applauded in the highest terms possible, to welcome, host, cater for, and assist refugees from the Ukraine. Public opinion across the board is overwhelmingly supporting these refugees from the Ukraine, who have gone through nightmares, in the middle of Europe.

I have, looking into the many comments on social media, also noticed that sometimes there is an expression of fear that we all too easily forget those uncounted individuals who seek help in so many conflict zones a bit farther away, such as in Afghanistan, or in African countries.

I believe we have a chance here to rise to the opportunity and value the fundamental rights of refugees notwithstanding their origin, avoiding adding fuel to a claimed impression, whether true or not, that we care more about some than about others. Putting the alleged FRONTEX actions under public scrutiny, not sparing any effort to demonstrate this in all openness, will in my view be beneficial to make a public stand demonstrating how high we hold the universality of affected fundamental human rights of refugees, and persons who try to relocate or migrate for other reasons than fear from suppression, harm, and death.

Pushing them back, whether it is about cases like this one, or cases of alleged push-backs including brutalisation of migrants attempting to cross land borders into the EU, this is something we shall have zero-tolerance for.

On a request to establish a Peace Operation in the Ukraine

16 March 2022, the international news is reporting about a visit of the heads of the governments of the Czech Republic, Poland, and Slovenia to the Ukrainian government. Three weeks into a war of aggression against the Ukraine, prepared in a way meeting the immense security challenges, the highest officials of these governments traveled to Kyiv by train, meeting President Selenskyj of Ukraine. Amongst other, the delegation included Vice President Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Poland. Vice President Kaczynski went public following the meeting by demanding an armed “NATO Peace Operation”, acting with approval by the Ukrainian President, on Ukrainian territory. That request is generating a flurry of public comments, covering the full spectrum of why this would be very complicated, or unlikely, or way too early.

Time to have a select look on the state of peace operations, why current operations struggle, leading to some thoughts on basic preconditions for peace operations, ensuring the unfolding of civilian aid and assistance.

To start with a term the United Nations got used to: “Robust Peacekeeping” was coined some years ago within the United Nations. It was used even by highest officials to describe the environment in which Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) of the UN increasingly found themselves: Being tasked with peacekeeping where there is little or no peace to keep. There is a notion of exasperation and despair in this term which I so vividly remember from many speeches. In the doctrinal framework of the UN, “peacekeeping” sets in after a peace settlement has been achieved, or, after at least some ceasefire agreement has begun to take shape. PKO such as MINUSMA in Mali, or MINUSCA in the Central African Republic provide the painful experiences which forced peacekeepers to adapt to situations where their real raison d’etre was a lofty dream. Never before the UN lost so many lifes, and the UN tried to adapt by making PKO more robust. So, that’s how the term “Robust Peacekeeping” was born. Member States of the UN and the UN Secretariat even accepted a path of providing the PKO MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a specially equipped and trained military intervention brigade authorised to “neutralize” elements. A term used for describing offensive lethal operations, not limited to the objective of defending the PKO and its mandate. Much has been written about this extraordinary step going beyond the concept of armed military or police mission elements for self-defence and defense of the mandate in a UN PKO.

There always were some blurry lines between how the UN uses the term “peacekeeping”, NATO is using the term “peace support operation” (PSO), or, in a similar way, how the African Union (AU) describes their own engagement in Somalia through AMISOM. Yet, in broad strokes, there is a distinction between “peacekeeping”, “peace support”, and “peace enforcement”. The UN limits itself to “peacekeeping”, current missions of the European Union in the field of civilian and military crisis management follow that line, NATO has experience in “peace support” and certainly in “peace enforcement”, the AU in “peacekeeping” and “peace support”. All these missions broadly are “peace operations”.

Of course and by contrast, any use of the term “peacekeeping” by the Russian Federation in relation to the horrible invasion of, and war in, the Ukraine by Russia is not only misleading propaganda, but a blatant abuse of the term “peacekeeping”. Taken together with the use of the term “special military operation” it is trying to evade the accusation of a violation of the Charta of the UN: That Russia is waging war against another sovereign State, a Member State of the United Nations. In order to get a common position allowing 141 Member States to condemn, only 35 Member States to abstent, and just Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Russia and Syria to vote against, the Resolution had to speak of “military operations”. We often hear the phrase “being on the right side” today. On that right side, this military operation is a war. It is ongoing, and it is escalating, and there is no current publicly visible sign hinting towards a path of peace negotiations. Even talks about humanitarian corridors for evacuation of civilian populations utterly fail.

The fact that Russia appears, in addition to violating Art. 2 of the UN Charter, to commit war crimes against the civilian population in the Ukraine, stands separate. 16 March 2022, U.S. President Biden took the unprecendented step calling President Putin of Russia a “war criminal”. Taken the violation of the UN Charter and the alleged committment of acts constituting war crimes together, this is making the use of the term “peacekeeping” by the Russian Federation an insult to anyone who has worn a light blue UN beret, a dark blue EU beret, or the green beret of the African Union.

Vice President Kaczynski’s suggestion to establish a NATO peace operation needs to be specified in terms of what this would mean, and it never is too early to think about what comes ahead. In whichever way the catastrophe strangling the Ukrainians will unfold further, we shall never give up efforts and hope that this can be stopped. From what I understand from the public comments of Vice President Kaczynski, a “peace operation” would require a peace agreement, or a ceasefire declaration, meaning it is not “peace enforcement”. More likely, it would be understood as something resembling “robust peacekeeping”. Then, Russia, and [the Ukraine] would have to agree how to move forward on the incredibly winded road restoring peace & security. Note the square brackets: The Russian President decided to recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics declarations of independence just hours before starting his military operations, or, in my view, war. Which led to widespread international condemnation, in return. How a Peace Agreement, or the rationale for a ceasefire declaration would play out will be incredibly difficult, and any international mediation will be a nightmare. But nothing is more important in order to define a difference between a peace operation having a chance of supporting return to peace, and a peace operation where there is no peace to keep. It is the single defining difference for the immense suffering of human beings in the Ukraine.

Many also push against the idea of a NATO peace operation, for the obvious reasons which brought Vladimir Putin to the point of attacking the Ukraine, and demanding its demilitarisation. On top of it, he wants to decapitate the Ukrainian government, claiming a “denazification”. But that is another horrible story, another lie. Here the question would be, in case of any chance for a peace agreement or ceasefire declaration whatsoever, who the implementing organisation or entity would be that could be tasked with a peace operation. From what I have read, Vice President Kaczynski is rather pragmatic: It can be NATO, it can be others. So it can be the UN, the EU, OSCE, NATO, or any combination of those. All of those have done peace operations, in the form of peacekeeping operations of the UN, crisis management operations of the EU, peace support operations of NATO, peace enforcement operations of NATO, or OSCE missions.

As mentioned, it never is too early to begin thinking about what comes after. Too often the results from planning are less than optimal otherwise. Mistakes haunting the international community for years have been made right in the beginning, during the conceptualisation and design phase, and reasons do not only include unalterable facts of the political environment for these planners, but also severe shortcuts because of time constraints. The earlier the thought process and the better the results, the less suffering for people after this war is stopped.

It is suggested that this operation is including at least armed elements, provided with a possible mandate of armed self-defense. Nothing more specific, so far. Also not about which civilian tasks would require armed protection. The request for armed means especially makes a case for a mandate by the UN Security Council (UNSC), since obviously a sole request from the Ukraine would not suffice in the given dispute, and also specifically in light of a historical dispute on interventions, where there was no such mandate by the UNSC. Assuming no veto by any of the five permanent members, the implementation by any suitable international organisation would be possible.

Without a UNSC Resolution, any operation would not survive the first day of our coining it a “peace operation”. It would be treated as a military aggression, escalating the existing conflict, perhaps in dramatic ways. However, it is important to be clear that nothing like that could hope to fly under the brand name of “peace operation”.


Final thoughts on mandate elements of a “peace operation”: Little to nothing has been thought about in the public which elements such an operation would have (military, police, civilian). Nothing is clear in relation to that armed capability, how robust, for which purpose, and whether it will entail military elements only, or also police elements, and whether they would be robustly equipped too, and for which purpose.

On earlier occasions, this blog contains many articles which point towards the vast experience available in the field of international policing and its cooperation with military elements, both in the UN and the EU (including the External Action Service itself, but also specific initiatives started by groupings of EU Member States, such as the European Gendarmerie Force EGF and the Center of Excellence for Stability Police CoESPU). There also is institutional knowledge about these topics within the NATO Center of Excellence for Stability Police.


On the rule of law and trusting it in times of misinformation and manipulation spread using social media

I finished my reading of the book “How Civil Wars Start And How To Stop Them”, written by Barbara F. Walter (Crown, 2022, Ebook ISBN 9780593137796). I wrote about it in my article “Anocracies – And Thoughts on International Efforts Related to Conflict Prevention“. There I said that I was impressed with the detailed historical account on the many civil wars, and what political science learned about their predictability. I also said that I will comment less on the second part of the book, where the author is applying those experiences on the current state of affairs in the United States of America. But here is a brief personal impression:

Purely from an emotional perspective, the first part of the book felt gripping, the second part felt like something was missing. Because the first part tells the story of not only why things went haywire, but also how they went haywire. The first part of the book talks about catastrophies that happened. Because the current situation in the U.S. is troubling, and partly deeply concerning, but has NOT led to a worst case scenario (yet?), the book is speculative in this regard, because, simply, it has to.

The author attempts to come up with a future scenario of how a descent into civil war in the U.S. could look like. When I read it, it felt incomplete. It had to. I believe the scenario had to necessarily stay away from including a potential role of individual actors which brought us to the brink of that abyss. Otherwise the book would have become speculative and politically antagonizing. The role of “Number 45” is being described in how the U.S. witnessed it’s downgrading from a starling democracy into the field of anocracies. But the book’s scenario on possible further descent stays away from involving contemporary individual actors. An that is why the scenario feels hypothetical. The absence of this link allows for concluding that we are, perhaps, far away from seeing one of the most stable democracies of the world itching closer to internal chaos. Which we are not, as I believe.

Here are two recent news articles which may make you better understand where my concerns are, still allowing me to stay out of the same trap. Make your own conclusions on whether the future may bring us closer to worst-case, just by reading and thinking about this one, and this one. We are a far cry away from being out of trouble. The mid-term elections in the U.S. are coming up, I feel we are in for a very bumpy 2022. From a European perspective, the current stabilisation of transatlantic jointness is extremely fragile, depending on future development.

At one point I was wondering what would happen if a future presidential candidate would claim his right for using Twitter back. It feels like “You’re damned if he is allowed, and you’re damned if he is not”. The claim of the far-right that it is fighting a corrupt, even pedophile global cabale, including depicting the free press as the enemy of the people, it will see a new and even more intense replication: The next round of racism, xenophobia, white supremacy, male domination, conspiracy theories challenging the efforts to fight the pandemic, and global warming, attempting to establish a narrative fighting Western democracies, it is just coming up. And the use of social media will be pivotal for those who attack, and those who defend.

The jury is out how this unfolds. And then there is the nutshell of Barbara F. Walter’s point how a fragile and unstable further descent into becoming an anocracy can be turned around. Here, the author refers to a piece of work she was commissioned with in 2014, for the World Bank. Like other scholars, the author found three factors standing out by far as being critical for preventing descent into conflict and chaos, including civil war: (1) The Rule of Law; (2) Voice and Accountability; (3) Government effectiveness. So, we will have to think about how we translate these fundamentals into concrete action allowing people all over the world to trust the form of governance which we say is the best of all alternatives we have been able to come up with so far.

So, here we are again. It is why any effort getting us collectively out of the currently very troubled waters must look at the rule of law, which Walter describes as “the equal and impartial application of legal procedure”. I stick to the definition of the rule of law as adopted by the United Nations: “For the United Nations (UN) system, the rule of law is a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency.

However, my experience entails that in order to establish any rule of law, there needs to be a large consent of the respective society in how this principle is applied, and this consent must go beyond any larger factionalisation in that society. Any large faction of a society must accept this larger principle, rather than challenging the application of a rule of law as being biased, being imposed on them by other factions. Those who stir conflict for advancing their own objectives, they always will establish a narrative that there is no justice for their constituency. They will portray the rule of law as being a weapon wielded by their enemies against them. What these individuals do is to undermine the trust of their followers in a rule of law applied to their society as a whole. Which points to a second invisible feature of any successful establishing a rule of law: Trust.

It is about trust accepting the specific rule of law, for myself, and others, for the powerful and the less powerful. And it is about trusting that justice will always attempt to prevail, no matter how long it takes. Because very often, it can take a long time. And still, after many years, cases may be unresolved, often are. A society at large must trust the course which justice takes, even if individual members experience pain because their grievances are open and festering wounds for many years, before closure is possible, or sometimes even never.

For me, this challenge can be seen nowhere else with all clarity than in situations where I contributed to the efforts to re-establish a rule of law in a society where it had broken down. May be I will write more about a few of those experiences. Here it would be too long, because I want to finally focus again on the critical role of social media. Here is just one example:

There were two main ethnic factions in Kosovo before and after the violence ending in 1999. Under the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 Kosovo found herself with a majority and a minority faction, no form of own governance at all, and no rule of law beyond what UNSCR 1244 tasked us with. The Old had broken down and had to disengage. The New was not there. It was to be established, and being part of the international community engaging in assisting in finding a new New, I was representing the international interim police.

Whilst, on a technical level of developing policing, and helping a new Kosovo Police to emerge, being more and more successful, we found ourselves in a classical “Catch-22-situation”: All factions involved were blaming us not being able to provide security, and justice. Each side would accuse us to act on the interest of the other side’s agenda. And practically it meant that in case of any evidence of a severe crime which would allow us to make arrests, and prosecute suspects of grievious crime, there would not be a societal consent, or trust beyond factions. At least at the beginning. During those early years, any action by us leading to an arrest would be perceived by one faction as a biased, if not politically motivated, action in favor of the other faction. I have many examples for both factions.

I believe that, over time, some trust could be instilled. Not only that the Kosovan society at large moved forward towards healing from own wounds. Not only that our persistent sticking to a common rule of law for All slowly helped in setting some foundations for trust. Not only that the real success story is the work on the credibility of the Kosovo Police itself, establishing itself as a trusted actor within an emerging rule of law. But any development until today also shows how fragile this trust is. Including in recent times, operational situations can demonstrate how quickly old tensions, mistrust, and biased interpretation of events can break up. But what I want to demonstrate here is exactly that: That any rule of law is critical for peace&security in a society, and that this does go way beyond the technical application of such a principle.

It requires acceptance of that rule of law by a majority of all constituencies in a society, and it requires a sound trust in the equal application and adjucation of that rule of law, beyond personal grievances, and existing factions.

As said earlier (in my first blog article on this book), this holds true both for a society moving towards a rule of law, and it applies to a society where the efforts of trusting a rule of law are heavily undermined by the spreading of misinformation and fake news. Whether the society moves into a positive direction or a negative direction, it is the middle zone between the Old and the New which makes the situation most volatile.

All three factors mentioned by Barbara F. Walter, (1) The Rule of Law; (2) Voice and Accountability; (3) Government effectiveness played into any descent into chaos I have personally witnessed.

In 2022, the means to disrupt by using manipulative voice and amplifying non-accountability are a global challenge: Social media has become a bull-horn for those who know how to exploit fragility, and to further it.

So, how to translate Barbara F. Walter’s message, that civil wars can be avoided, into practice?

By taking responsibility for own action, and making our voices of reason being heard, day by day. Neil Young requested from Spotify to remove his music from the platform because Spotify is hosting “The Joe Rogan Experience”. Neil Young did not want to be on a platform which prominently features a protagonist for this type of spreading misinformation, lies, and manipulation, including wildest conspiracy theories about some mass-hypnosis being used by a global cabale enslaving citizens. Joni Mitchell followed suit, and she is not the only one.

This fight is taking us on a long haul, it is far from being over. Every personal contribution matters.

To Serve and To Protect

Yesterday my friend shared a story from the Washington Post with me. Under the headline “Kentucky Senate votes to criminalize insulting police in way that could cause ‘violent response’“, the digital edition of the newspaper reported on March 12 on a bill which passed the State Senate.

I quote from the article:

The bill, passed two days before the anniversary of the fatal police shooting of Breonna Taylor, would make it a misdemeanor to taunt or challenge an officer with words or gestures “that would have a direct tendency to provoke a violent response from the perspective of a reasonable and prudent person.” Conviction would be punishable by up to 90 days in jail and fines of up to $250.

State Sen. Danny Carroll (R), who sponsored the bill, said it would enable officers to arrest someone inflaming them before the encounter turns violent. The provision is meant to apply to comments that are “obviously designed to elicit a response from the officer — something to push them to making a mistake, pushing them to violence,” he said, although courts would have the final say in interpreting the rule.

“You don’t have a right to accost a police officer,” Carroll said.”


Apart from the mindblowing detail of the bill itself (I looked up the link above), think about it: In Kentucky it will constitute a crime if I use words or gestures towards a police officer which, in the interpretation of this or another officer, could be deemed provocative, to the extent that my words or gesture may lead to a “tendency for a violent response” by that police offficer.

As my friend wrote: “It implies cops have no self-control and are inherently violent. If I was a cop, I would be livid.”

It turns any people-centered policing understanding upside down. Don’t touch that cop. Don’t even look into his or her face. Keep your head down. Keep your hands down. Respond politely with “Yes Sir”. Do what you’re told, it is the law. Anything else may lead to that the copmachine is turning violent. Or that the cop now can arrest you beforehand, in order to avoid becoming violent.

This is escalative “enforcement of the law”-attitude at its worst. It leads to that “enforcement” is nothing else than exerting control. No need for consensus, no need for explanation, no need for communication. Why communicate, why listen, why explain? It is enough to arrest anybody standing in the way of law enforcement officers.

Don’t call this policing, please. You may call it controlling. Policing is based on consent, and applying force is the last resort.

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.

Police Reform – Bottom Up and Top Down

If somebody were to tell me that there is a kind of a universal blueprint which must be used for successful reform of police, I would be very suspicious. My experiences, good and bad, relate to addressing corruption and crime in medium size police precincts, warrior mentality in a police station under constant mental siege in a hostile environment, establishing community-oriented policing primacy in a large and diverse, yet national police organization, harmonising a joint understanding of service-oriented and accountable policing in extremely complex and diverse international executive policing environments, and in countless ways assisting jurisdictions ermerging and recovering from conflict in coming to terms with policing allowing to contribute to societal healing, and representing the communities they serve.

Nothing would allow me to refer to experiences how to alter policing in a setup where people estimate that a country has approximately 18.000 agencies responsible for policing. That is the situation in the United States of America, and that is the scope of the challenge over there. But I continue to stress that this is not about “Us and Them”. Rather, a critical examination of reform needs requires to take a self-critical look. It simply is a gargantuan task. Here just one from countless examples.

People take the streets all over the U.S. and globally in large numbers. Polls in the U.S. show that there is majority support for a profound change.

Not undertaking reform is not an option. Compared to the needs to change global bias and selfishness which expresses itself in so many forms, like racism and religious hatred, xenophobia, discriminating minorities, leaving impoverished societies to their own devices, or is depriving women or members of the LGBTQ community from equality in all its aspects, the task of reforming policing appears minuscule, though gargantuan in itself. I don’t want to ramble, but just the other day Greta Thunberg is reminding us, again, about tackling climate change being equal to tackling the Covid-19-pandemic.

We’ve got to shoulder this, otherwise we will be helpless and complicit bystanders: Anger never is a good adviser, but people are angry for many reasons these days, and on a profound level. Some actors follow the principle “If I can make you angry, I have already won over you.” If reactionary forces prevail in “weathering the storm”, muting the discussion and controlling it again, chances are that we may see chaos, rather than evolutionary development from which we collectively benefit. “Us and Them”-thinking will lead to a lot of collateral damage and we may wake up in a world one day which none of us wanted.

To find a meaningful entry point into a contribution, I suggest to look at a recent article “What happened when a city disbanded its Police”:

Two factors came together in Minneapolis which allowed for a sweeping reform of policing:

  1. Top Down: The commitment from highest leadership levels to embark on an undertaking with many risks, including risks for reputation and own job security;
  2. Bottom Up: A deep desire on a grass-root-level for change: Communities were fed up with the way how they were policed.

In my previous articles, I have reiterated where I stand on “how to police”. I have referred to a common denominator of policing: The United Nations’ “Strategic Guidance Framework” is incorporating principles such as the principle of community-orientend policing. I see the same principles at the heart of the re-design of policing which has been the result of a reform effort in Minneapolis.

The question how to design a police organization which is following such principles can lead to an evolutionary development of an existing organization, or, like here, to disbanding an existing police and to build a new one from scratch.

Both scenarios lead to disappointment amongst those who may feel that they have fallen victim to such a reform, like police officers who have lost their jobs, or police chiefs and leaders all the way down to first-line-supervisers who have been reassigned in course of the reform. The higher their numbers, the more difficult it will be to get the dissatisfaction voiced by them being absorbed within the discourse in a larger community, or society. One of the biggest mistakes of the Coalition Provisional Authority following the 2003 invasion of Iraq was “Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 2″: It disbanded the Iraqi military, security, and intelligence infrastructure of President Saddam Hussein. Many of those who lost their jobs ended up becoming members of insurgency groups and terrorist organizations and networks which brought chaos and death over Iraq and the wider region.

Painful decisions which will always leave some feeling being on the side of those who have lost from reform require a thorough process of thinking before springing into “less-than-thought-through-action”. Of course, Iraq is not the U.S., or Europe, and American police is lightyears away from forces which have been instrumental in a brutal dictator’s oppression of his own population, but this is universal psychology and it is a classic example of a toll which can be directly tracked to decisions which have not been based on a carefully synchronised discourse “top down” and “bottom up”. In any large scale reform, antagonization must be mitigated, without loosing sight of the dedication to achieve a fundamental change. Otherwise, reform will be watered down into mediocrity at best, or will lead to cosmetic reform with no chances for sustainability of efforts, or being entirely outrun by reactionary forces resisting change.

That is why real reformers will be measured by 

  1. Whether, including the top-levels, they mean what they say, and put action to where their mouth is;
  2. Whether they lead an inclusive discourse, from the top down, rather than following the path of antagonization and radicalisation of an “Us-and-Them”-rhethoric;
  3. Whether they listen to communities on the ground, including permanent and more than symbolic engagement by top leaders, and base their reform decisions entirely on including communities on the ground into shaping a joint vision of the future;
  4.  Whether they are ready to rely on the participation of communities on the ground in all aspects of implementing a reform effort, holding themselves accountable to those communities which shape the form of policing which these communities want, for themselves.

 

In following blog entries, I will touch upon two other elements which I see for successful police reform: A reform of insufficient training, and representative policing, which needs to focus on the role of persons and communities of color, on minorities, and the role of women as agents of transformational change.

 

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.