Talk about a match made in international institution heaven: Interpol and United Nations Peacekeeping entered into a partnership this week that gives UN Police access to Interpol’s vast database of international criminal activity. I’ve been writing about UN Peacekeeping for a long time, and I actually interned at Interpol in my younger years, so needless to say I find this marriage particularly interesting.
Interpol is probably one the most least understood international institution. Contra Carmen Sandiego or the Bourne series, Interpol is not a squad of elite police officers that rove the globe to catch bad guys. There is, in fact, no such thing as an Interpol police officer. Rather, Interpol is more like a criminal intelligence relay station where police officers from 187 member states exchange and analyze information coming to them from local and national law enforcement agencies. Since 2001, Interpol has managed a secured database of criminal information (like on easily-forged “stolen blank” passports, counterfeit currencies, human trafficking networks, and child pornography rings) that can be accessed by national law enforcement agencies in real time. The agreement gives UN police deployed to peacekeeping missions access to this database and sets out other ways Interpol can support UN Peacekeeping.
Why is this important? A constant problem in countries recovering from conflict is the destabilizing effect of the illicit economy and organized crime. In places like Afghanistan, for example, poppy trafficking fuels an insurgency. In Liberia, criminal groups profit from timber smuggling. In both cases, the illicit activity creates an independent power base for groups that can challenge weak governing institutions. Combating these criminal networks is therefore critical to successful state building efforts, which is the ultimate goal of UN Peacekeeping.
It is here that Interpol can lend its expertise and add value to UN efforts to combat organized crime. For countries in which there is a UN peacekeeping mission, this new partnership can help strengthen nascent governing institutions. For the rest of the world, this effort can help contain the export of things like arms or women or drugs from post-conflict countries to the rest of the world.
All in all, this is a pretty helpful collaboration.