Book review: The New International Policing, by B.K. Greener

Mathieu Deflem
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This is a copy of a review in Global Change, Peace and Security 22(1):152-153, 2010.

Also available as PDF file.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2010. Review of The New International Policing, by B.K. Greener. Global Change, Peace and Security 22(1):152-153.

The world of international policing is extremely varied and extensive, today more so than ever before. The rise of international policing is not only a function of the increasing demands for the policing of international crime, but also relates to the variation in international policing on a conceptual level as various forms can be distinguished. Traditionally most developed has been the study of comparative police systems across the world. Effectively linking the police systems of different nations, international police cooperation among the world’s law enforcement agencies, both on bilateral and multilateral levels, has taken on increasing relevance from the early twentieth century onwards. And, arguably of most growing relevance in recent decades has been the involvement of civilian police in peacekeeping missions in various post-war societies. Interestingly, there existed a literature that was especially well developed in the period between the two world wars of the previous century that went under the heading of “international police,” but that dealt, not with law enforcement, but with the establishment and maintenance of international peace among nations. What is interesting about recent developments is that international peacekeeping missions have increasingly included criminal law enforcement tasks, thereby effectively transforming the former metaphor of international policing into a reality involving civilian police institutions.

Within the broader field of international policing, Beth Greener’s book specifically focuses on the involvement by civilian police in peacekeeping missions in a variety of contexts. Noting that such efforts are on the rise under the auspices of political bodies such as the United Nations, the European Union, and various nations, Greener’s study is concerned with unraveling the history and present dynamics of the police involvement in peacekeeping operations. The work is oriented at both the audience of international relations scholars and police professionals. Her analysis starts with a brief overview of the history of police involvement in peacekeeping. Noting that such efforts were already taken after World War II, when the allied powers sought to restore civilian police in Germany and Japan, Greener observes a trend for the United Nations to take on such tasks as CIVPOL (civilian police) operations, denoting clearly the difference with the UN’s military operations. In various post-conflict societies, such as Cyprus in the 1960s and Namibia and Panama in the 1980s, CIVPOL programs were implemented. These efforts evolved from relatively passive monitoring programs to more active efforts, involving police development through training as well as participation in law enforcement operations.

In the remainder of the book, Greener analyzes various cases of civilian police in peacekeeping in more detail. In a chapter on Kosovo and East Timor, the author pays particular attention to the problems associated with the UN strategies to develop new police institutions as part of a comprehensive law-and-order approach. The imbeddedness of policing in a broader field of social and political factors is acutely felt in these societies. The chapter on the Solomon Islands, a chain of more than 900 islands north of Australia, narrates the involvement in police missions by the Australian Federal police and the police from other nations in the region. Initiated in 2003, following a period of ethnic tensions on the islands, this program has been fairly successful as it has relied on a considerable foreign presence and was tailored towards the specific needs of the region. Turning attention to the cases of Iraq and Afghanistan, it is shown that enormous difficulties can be faced in the police missions of peacekeeping operations. In the case of the building of a new civilian police in Afghanistan, where German police took on a leading role, the focus was too narrowly tailored towards law enforcement issues irrespective of larger societal conditions. In the case of Iraq, central problems emerged with the US-led efforts to form an Iraqi civilian police because of the reliance on military forces and private contractors as the United States does not have an appropriate national police to handle such tasks.

In the book’s final two chapters, Greener discusses the challenges and future of police involvement in peacekeeping missions. Most central are the problems with the changing relationship between police and military, whereby it may become necessary for police to take on military roles, leading to a militarization of policing, but whereby it is also more likely that the military takes on traditional police tasks. Given the likelihood that police efforts in peacekeeping operations will continue to take place in the near future, Greener recommends that police officials are aware of and be prepared to take on necessary operational challenges, yet also that broader social and political conditions are adequately addressed.

The literature on various aspects of international policing has expanded very considerably over the past two decades. Greener’s book is a welcome addition to this scholarship especially in that it discusses an often ignored aspect in the world of international policing as well as in the scholarship on international relations and global peace. Rather than being analytically oriented at developing or applying a theoretically informed social-science perspective on policing and/or nation-states, the book is primarily informative in describing the involvement of police in various peacekeeping missions. This focus is acceptable, in my mind, given the relative novelty of the book’s topic. I would only have wished that Greener had been more clear in specifying that the involvement of civilian police in peacekeeping is only one dimension of international policing. The author’s use of the term ‘international policing’ might obscure the fact that police agencies are in a variety of ways no longer restricted in their activities to the boundaries of national states and otherwise confined localities. However, in thoughtfully addressing aspects of the law enforcement role in post-conflict societies, which is arguably the as yet most neglected aspect of international policing, Greener’s work may serve as a useful guide for our further exploration of the shifting relations and possibly blurring boundaries between police and military in times of both war and peace.

See related writings on international policing.