A guest post by Andie Hider
We have just seen the rise and fall of a military coup in Turkey. Many of the details have yet to become clear but one thing that is known is during the attempted coup factions of the military leading the uprising targeted Turkish police headquarters and killed 17 police. This pattern of military or insurgent groups targeting police has been seen in many other internal conflicts elsewhere in the world.
An article published in The Age newspaper (Ruby Hamad, ‘The devastating irony of calling UN troops “peacekeepers”’, 12 May 2016) detailed atrocities committed by members of UN peace and stabilisation missions and a systemic failure to address these atrocities. The article included a quote from Maya Goodfellow about UN peacekeepers: ‘… they’re applauded for bravely choosing to bring decency into a country where citizens are too barbaric to look after themselves. It’s this good vs. bad narrative that clears the way for violence’. The article, including quotes like this, suggests that the root of the problem was a simplistic view of UN police as ‘good guys’. It has been my experience from years of working in this field that the real cause of the problem is a much deeper misunderstanding of the role of police, and that of the military.
What might generally be referred to and seen in action in Australia as liberal democratic policing is much rarer than most people understand it to be. Only a small percentage of the richest countries in the world have police that function in this way. Independent and impartial policing is considered a foundation of established rule of law and critical to a civil-led society. Across the rest of the world many ‘police’ do not perform the role we see here in Australia. ‘Policing’ in these countries can be carried out by the military or criminalised police who use their position to brutilise and oppress the civilian population for personal gain, through colonial policing that enables elites (whether political, social, economic, military, or criminal) to extract power and wealth from the population, to policing that looks much like Australia but gives overly preferential treatment to elites.
A police uniform does not make a person a police officer. In some countries in the world a visitor or member of the local community would place themselves in more peril if they were to approach a ‘police officer’ for assistance after a crime. Policing is a values-based profession and no amount of training, provision of equipment, or appropriate remuneration will make someone a police officer if they start out with the wrong values base. The reverse is more often true – we train and equip them to become far more dangerous to the civil population than they were beforehand, a situation we have seen many times across the world.
Nor does a military uniform make a police officer. The military has a role that is, and should remain, very different to that of police. An environment into which it is more appropriate to send soldiers to stabilise is no place for legitimate civil police as they, like any other mechanism of civil government, are nothing more than additional targets for enemy combatants. The military are deployed to these environments because their primary role is to engage enemy combatants and disrupt military or military-like (e.g., insurgency, warlordism, widespread internecine violence, etc.) operations to the point that civil mechanisms of government can again take back control and deliver effective civil governance.
In the case of the UN, there simply are not enough liberal democratic police available to be deployed to post-conflict peace operations. As a result of this, the UN is put in the difficult position where it must often accept contributing ‘police’ from nations that do not uphold the values of the UN. Quite often these nations contribute what are frequently referred to as ‘Formed Police Units’ (FPU). FPU are made up of military or paramilitary personnel ‘rebranded’ as police. If lucky, a country receives contributing FPU members made up of ‘benign’ groups such as postal workers; in a worse case scenario they could be something far more dangerous.
It is a mistake to think of the criminalised or militarised police I mentioned earlier as some sort of ‘rogue’ element in their country of origin; likewise, the FPUs that these same countries use domestically or deploy internationally. They perform the function their government expects of them and employs them to do. This is the reason complaints about their conduct go largely unaddressed. When deployed by the UN they will apply those same values to maintaining ‘order’ in the countries to which they are deployed. The root cause of observations about inappropriate UN peacekeeper behaviour is not that they are seen as ‘good guys’, but that they are seen as police when they are not.
Nowhere is this contrast between the military and liberal democratic police seen more clearly than in situations like the one we recently saw in Turkey. One of the first acts by the leaders of the coup was to target police headquarters because the police are the legitimate civil mechanism for maintaining order. It is therefore in the interest of a military coup to remove independent and impartial police from the picture, thus leaving the military as the only mechanism capable of enforcing any sort of order. It speaks volumes to the desire for the rule of law in Turkey that the civil population rose up in response to this military threat to civil governance. In places like Afghanistan where police are targeted for the same reasons, civil society is unable to exert the same influence. Impartial police are the natural enemy of any group that wants to remove civil governance.
Yesterday the Turnbull coalition announced plans to have the ADF, rather than Australian police, train paramilitary police in Iraq. Mr Turnbull was quoted as saying: ‘At the moment our training mandate is restricted to training the Iraqi army. And as we discussed, one of the most important objectives now in Iraq is to ensure that the Iraqi police forces, their gendarmerie forces, are able to maintain the peace in areas that have been liberated from Daesh or ISIL as the Iraqi security forces and counter-terrorism forces progress’ (David Wroe, ‘Australian troops to train Iraqi paramilitary police in expansion of role’, The Age 19 July 2016).
The ADF are a supremely professional and capable military, and operate internationally with ethical standards equal to the best in the world. They have an excellent reputation for training members of the military from other countries. The ADF are not, however, police. What Mr Turbull is suggesting is that the ADF assist in the building and training of what by any other name would be called FPUs. To put our military in a situation like this is ill advised at best, dangerous at worst. Australia should not be involved in any way in the training of paramilitary police. If the situation in Iraq is seen to require the use of a paramilitary approach to policing, then the situation calls for a military response and not police. In these circumstances it is entirely appropriate to have ADF personnel train the Iraqi military, but it is not yet a situation for the wearer of any uniform that suggests that wearer is ‘police’.
Australia, through the AFPs International Deployment Group, has contributed professional and impartial state and federal police to some of the most difficult and dangerous UN peacekeeping missions across the world. As one of the few countries that can contribute police of such a high standard we should ensure we exemplify the separation between policing and military that is such a critical foundation of the rule of law. IDG deployments are about reinforcing civil governance mechanisms. During one crisis in the Pacific region there was concern expressed by the Howard Government about media footage showing an ADF member, rather than a police officer, handcuffing someone. It is right for our Government to express such a concern when deployments are intended to substitute civil governance for military, not replace one military with another. Conversely it is very disturbing that our current government thinks this is acceptable given other views about security on the domestic front.
Australia must contribute appropriate training in appropriate circumstances. This means ADF members training military staff, and Australian police training other police. This differentiation is non-negotiable. It is not enough to suggest the AFP will advise the ADF in this regard. To quote the character William Adama in the television series Battlestar Galactica: ‘There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people’. The writers hit the nail on the head. Wise words, best heeded by our Government and their advisors.