Subject: AU: Give stretched police an overseas break

The Australian Elsina Wainwright: Give stretched police an overseas break

February 05, 2004

THE Australian Government's announcement on Monday that it would establish an international deployment group of 500 personnel within the Australian Federal Police makes a great deal of sense. Increasingly, those on the front-line of maintaining our security abroad wear blue uniforms, not green. More than 7per cent of AFP personnel are on overseas deployments. That is nearly twice the percentage of the Australian Defence Force - an organisation specifically designed for such deployments - which stands at less than 4 per cent.

In a paper the Australian Strategic Policy Institute releases today, we propose a similar enhancement of the AFP's international policing capability. Put simply, the police should be given the right tools to do the job that they keep being asked to do.

Police involvement in peace and capacity-building operations is not new - AFP personnel have been part of the UN mission in Cyprus since 1964. But their level of involvement in such operations has risen sharply in recent years.

In 1999, AFP personnel were deployed to East Timor as part of the UN assistance mission. AFP and state and territory police continue to play a valuable role in the UN mission in East Timor.

In 2003, the AFP's international commitments grew significantly with the police-led assistance mission in the Solomon Islands. About 200 AFP personnel are in the Solomons. They have helped restore law and order to that once stricken state and are pursuing criminal investigations and assisting with the rebuilding of the Royal Solomon Islands Police.

And this year will likely see the biggest overseas operation yet -- the planned deployment of 230 AFP and state and territory police to Papua New Guinea as part of Australia's package to help PNG address its law-and-order and governance challenges.

In addition to these peace and capacity-building operations, the AFP has its domestic responsibilities, including combating fraud and drug crime and policing in the ACT. Its counter-terrorism and transnational crime investigation duties have also expanded, and a team of AFP and state and territory police played a crucial role in the Bali bombing investigation.

The result of this intense activity is an AFP that has been greatly stretched. The AFP is not organised or resourced for large and sustained overseas deployments. The Government has provided separate tied funds for operations such as the Solomon Islands mission. This has inhibited the AFP's long-term planning capacity, and means it has to respond to demands on an ad hoc basis as they arise.

Although the AFP has grown in terms of personnel and budget over the past few years, the demands upon it have risen faster. And four long-term trends suggest that these demands will continue.

First, domestic situations in a number of neighbouring states have deteriorated, in particular in the Solomons and PNG. Second, awareness has increased that this deterioration presents a security challenge to Australia and other states in the region. Third, there has been a growing appreciation that Australia has an obligation to help its smaller neighbours arrest their internal decline and have better, more prosperous futures.

And fourth, there has been increasing worldwide acceptance of international peacekeeping and state-building operations in disrupted or post-conflict states, as the reconstruction efforts in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor attest. Clearly, police deployments help to re-establish the rule of law in shattered communities, pursue criminal investigations and rebuild local police forces so they can do the job themselves. These are crucial tasks. And they differ from and complement the role of the military in such operations, which is to establish control and keep warring parties apart.

There is a clear need to expand the AFP's capacity for overseas deployments, so that it can more sustainably perform the tasks it has and prepare for ones that might arise. The establishment of an international deployment group should be accompanied by a broader strategic review of the AFP's future tasks and needs. This will help the AFP to keep fulfilling its increased role.

Of course, police assistance operations are just part of broader state-building support, which includes comprehensive aid, development and governance programs.

The aim of such support is to help other states become more stable and prosperous. The consent of and good relations with the partner governments - and the acceptance of the broader region - are critical to such policing deployments.

And the participation of the broader region - as in the Solomon Islands mission - is optimal.

Elsina Wainwright is program director at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. These are her personal views. The ASPI's strategic insight, Police Join the Front-line: Building Australia's International Policing Capability, is released today.

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