In a few days I will celebrate my 65th birthday. I became a German police officer in the detective branch at the age of 18. Almost 44 years later, in January 2020, I was up for mandatory retirement. About half of these four decades I rose through the ranks of a national Police in Germany. The other half I spent abroad, in senior headquarter and field positions of the United Nations and the European Union. In these functions of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and EU crisis management, policing always was a cornerstone of my work. In my current work as an adviser contracted by the German Federal Foreign Office, policing is an important element within a larger and holistic framework of support action, too.
So, 45 years of policing experience. Related to work in Germany, South-East and East Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, the Carribean. Living in many places in Germany, and in Belgrade, Brussels, New York, Pristina, Sarajevo.
In my article “Seeing Deeper” I reflected on my personal experience with the fundamental shifts, including within the international peace&security architecture, over those two decades of my contribution to it. Of course, the historical timelines which are preceding the colossal changes of these days, they go way back. Some of those I witnessed in a national capacity, some during my international time. Events like, for example, the fall of the Berlin wall, or 9/11, they are examples for moments that we associate with being triggers for fundamental shifts. Sometimes they are. Sometimes they are just the coordinates in space-time where the underlying energies pop up with explosive momentum. Much later, through an analysis of United Nations peacekeeping, I would revisit the bigger picture in which some of these key events played a role, where they had an impact on what I was involved in at that time, the role of policing in peace operations. I have written about some specific aspects related to what we call “international policing” here.
Over those more than 23 years within an international context of peace&security, I witnessed times when there was a lot of enthusiasm about what policing could contribute to supporting peace processes. Policing, done right, is a key component for supporting processes towards lasting peace, and reconciliation. Therefore, support to the establishment of capable policing, deeply anchored in values and international principles and standards, can be a key enabler for lasting peace, and so much more. Think, for example, gender equality, protection of the vulnerable, protection of minorities, ensuring democratic forms of governance, contributing to justice, and in its very core, promoting human rights.
Because of the many years of my own involvement, I witnessed success and failure. The reasons for it are highly complex. Some sit with grappling to understand and to properly implement policing assistance. Some reasons sit way beyond and made it challenging for all actors with military, police, or civilian tasks, to deliver on what they were expected to. On the policing side, where some of my core experience sits, it includes that we, the so-called international community, struggled with making these policing contributions relevant. Sometimes our collective proverbial mouth was not where our money was. Sometimes the political design of international assistance in or after a conflict or war struggled with applying coherence to expectations, objectives and their implementation, either narrowly speaking for what policing could bring to the table, or related to the respective peace operation at large. When we were successful, we had to see that good news stories rarely stick, they are unfortunately not as visible as their bad-news-siblings. At the same time we saw the political development leading to the erosion of the peace&security architecture into its current deplorable state of affairs. This made it more and more difficult for any form of collective international assistance to prove its positive impact.
We now live in a period where a discussion about policing may feel very counter-intuitive compared to the huge focus on military engagement. Just recently, I argued that in my personal opinion it is time to make a decision to provide the Ukraine with heavy battle tanks. That’s not policing. What I am concerned with is to contribute to a discussion in which we do not loose sight about which ingredients are vital for a peaceful society, and that we include lessons from the past into how we want to move forward in a world in which previous rules of engagement may increasingly become outdated.
“essays on policing” is offering a thematically focused window into my work. My writing about my experiences with policing is not motivated by “setting a record straight about a past long gone”. It is not about a sad look back into the “good old times”. It is not about giving advice with an attitude.
It is about incentivizing a quest in order to find contributions to contemporary challenges, and there is no other way than also to make reference to how we did, and failed, or succeeded, during previous challenges. We can learn only by looking into the past, without getting stuck in it.
I feel the best format for doing this is to choose the writing format of essays. This format allows me to find a balance between solid research and truthful facts, and the inevitable personal and subjective element which forms an essential for my contribution. To some extent it will be a walk on the memoir side of things, but thematically grouped. It won’t be a linear historical account of my work experiences. I will jump back and forth, weaving a narrative for how I came to look at specific things from a vantage point of own experiences, good and bad. It hopefully allows me to stay humble. As I said, it is less about advice and more about storytelling within an ongoing discourse in which we all struggle to find meaningful ways forward, keeping us all together.
“essays on policing” is part of a larger set of writing projects. I have ideas for “essays on peace&security”, for “essays on trauma&reconciliation”. In all of them, there is a deep professional and a deep personal element of experience. Looking at the statistics of this blog, some of the articles which create the most, and the most longstanding interest, are about policing. It feels natural, therefore, to start here.
My plan is that this set of essays is forming a book. As a book, I do not plan to publish it here. I do not even know whether I go for self-publishing, or whether I find a publisher. I am not motivated by profit, but I won’t do it for free either. This is going to be intense work, and a lot of time and effort will go into it.
I plan to regularly update you on the project, here on this blog. Once the structure and the outline of planned content is presented here, my thoughts about how I want to publish, and how you could purchase the book, in case you’re interested, will become clear.
I am inviting you to participate. Please do so by sending me a mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Proceeds will go into the future of my youngest children. It will be a tiny part of my efforts to make up for time lost, because of my work, and to make good on where I failed to be sufficiently available for them, for reasons which only include my work, but go far beyond. But that will deserve a closer look within “essays on trauma&reconciliation”.
I am working on a dedicated page on this site where you track progress, and where I will describe the content of essays. Meanwhile, my writing here will continue to go all over the place.